Let’s face it, backups are essential. Most of us don’t do them enough. One of the problems we here at GottaBeMobile.com experience is that in testing lots of software, drivers and such, with varying degrees of success and desired results, we have need to be able to quickly restore our systems to a pre-experimental state. Imaging software allows us to do that with a fraction of the time involved to otherwise partition, format, install OS and application software and then restore user data, etc. We, like everyone else, also need to keep current backups for the inevitable failure of a drive. Throw in virus infections, “critical updates” that aren’t, etc. Well you get the picture. Imaging utilities are a great time saver. Trying the latest Vista OS tweeker… better back it up!
Check out this How-To for suggestions on how get started creating your backup image. Here’s how…
GBM How-To Series #16 : Imaging your Tablet PC/UMPC Hard Drive
So just what is an hard drive image anyway? Well “imaging” is the process of making an EXACT copy of a specified hard drive. Every little bit (no puns intended) is copied to a single file or multiple files if specified. When you elect to restore from an image, you are able to return the drive to the exact state in which you backed it up. Partitions, OS, programs, data, the whole works. Remember that there is a difference between “imaging” and “cloning” a drive. Cloning a drive involves copying the low level information from the source drive to another drive during an upgrade to a larger drive, etc. This is a very useful tool, but one that you don’t use often. So before your drive goes down in flames, be sure to back it up.
Step 1 : Choose your software for the job
There are several packages on the market today. Symantec Ghost, and Acronis True Image are a couple that I personally have experience with. For years, I used Symantec/Norton Ghost with great results but I now prefer the Acronis product due to it’s reliability, price and ease of use. Install the software on the system you wish to image by following the manufacturers instructions. In my experience, installation of both of these products is flawless and completes as expected. The steps outlined below follow the Acronis software closely.
Step 2 : Prepare your system (and your wallet) for backup
As a matter of practice, I don’t trust that one backup is enough, that’s why I like to do a couple. Just in case. The down side to doing extra backups is the extra (and sometimes significant) capacity required to perform them. For imaging backups, the only practical way to do them is to mass storage device such as a Zip Drive or USB external HDD. With the prices of mass storage dropping every day, you can pickup external drives that are completely USB powered (such as this Western Digital Passport 160G from Costco) and therefore very mobile for around $120.00. I like to delete any files that I know are not necessary to save disk space and time. You can save a bit more space by deleting temporary Internet files and disabling hibernation if it is turned on. Disabling hibernation will free up the space that your hibernation file would normally occupy and therefore not have to be backed up.
Step 3 : Performing the backup
Performing the backup is generally a painless process that is aided by a wizard in the application. About the most significant decision to be made is the type of backup you are going to do. Complete computer, data only, program settings, email, etc. You get the idea. Next select the drives and/or partitions to include. Select if you will be doing a Complete, Incremental or Differentiation backup. Explanation of each backup type follows..
Complete is as the name implies, complete. Everything is backed up regardless of date or archive bit.
Incremental backups only get changes that occurred since the last backup and you must create a full backup before you can create an incremental. Each incremental backup will record only those changes since your last incremental backup. They require less storage space, but for restoration from the archive, you will be prompted to provide the base full archive and all subsequent incremental backups.
Differential backs only pick up changes that occurred since the last full backup. They require less storage space than a full backup but more space than an incremental one. For restoration from a differential backup, you will be prompted to provide the base full archive and differential backup only.
Select any options that are available such as passwords, priority, compression levels, verification, notification, comments about the backup, etc. Now, proceed with the backup. As you are hopefully backing up to a HDD device, you should be talking about minutes, not hours.
Step 4 : Verify the backup
I am paranoid about backups. I do a couple and then I still have butterflies in my stomach when it’s time to rely on them. For that reason, I also do a native OS backup of my data as well. In Windows XP, I use NTBACKUP; in Vista, use Backup and Restore Center. I know, it’s most likely not necessary, but it makes me feel better knowing I am not relying on a single technology to ensure my precious data is safe. With both backup techniques, I like to restore a file or two to verify that the backup can be successfully read from. Acronis has a handy feature that allows you to mount the image as if it were a physical drive. If you are successful in restoring from the backup, chances are good that you will be able to when it’s really needed.
Tips and Notes:
- Make backing up a part of your normal scheduled daily tasks
- Don’t count on anyone else to back your data up for you
- It is a good idea to have at least three different backups of your data and think about where you keep your backup
- Store a full backup at another location to protect against fire, theft, or other disaster
- If your data is critical it may be a good idea to have a quarterly and yearly backup as well so that you can recover files that may have been deleted, but not discovered until months later