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making a "system image" backup, how?


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#1 rp88

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 01:55 PM

I do not know for sure if system image is the right word to describe what i am looking to do, i will describe what i want so you can tell me if it is what a system image does or if it is something else.

 

The thing i am looking to do is as follows, write the necessary stuff to a USB drive at time T=0. Then at time T=later if something went wrong  (my system hardware, or i had a severe virus infection, or something went wrong with my software, or even if i had to dump the original system hardware completely and get a brand new piece of hardware to run my system on) i could plug this USB stick into the repaired/brand new/wiped machine and after a few "hours-minutes-back to hours-now it's days-oh sorry just 10 seconds left " of file copy dialog (or whatever the equivalent is for copying the stuff across under these circumstances) my old system as it was at time T=0 would now be running on the repaired, wiped or brand new hardware. Is this what a system image does or is a system image more limited in it's abilities than that? I'm looking for a method where in an emergency you could wipe a system completely, or find a new one, and use this USB to install onto it the old system exactly as it was at T=0. 

 

For whatever process is needed to create that "emergency repair" USB drive (which would allow a user to recreate an old system exactly as it was at a previous time on repaired/wiped/new hardware  ) can someone please provide a clear tutorial using free software only. Also a tutorial showing how to use that emergency usb drive if the worst comes to the worst. I would also like a full list of limitations of this sort of backing up of systems.

 

Thanks


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#2 kokomodrums

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 02:16 PM

You are correct, this would be referred to as a system image backup. When you say USB stick, keep in mind that the drive you store the system image file needs to be atleast as big as the "used" space on your hard drive. You probably will need an external hard drive which has more storage capacity than a USB stick.

 

There are a few free programs that can do this, but Windows has this function built-in.

 

There is actually a great article here on BC about creating a Windows 7/8 system image backup: http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/tutorials/create-system-image-in-windows-7-8/. Just scroll down to the section How to create a backup system image in Windows 7 and Windows 8 for instructions on creating a manual backup.

 

As far as restoring the system image, here is another BC article that walks you through the process: http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/tutorials/system-image-recovery-in-windows-7-8/

 

Keep in mind that unless you paid for a Retail Windows license, you can't install Windows on a new computer, or even the same computer with a different motherboard. If your computer came with Windows, the license only applies to that computer. However, if you buy a new computer that comes with Windows, there should be a way to work around the licensing issue, as the new computer comes with it's own license (but only if the new computer has the exact same version of Windows as your old computer). Isn't Windows licensing just super fun?  :hysterical:


-- Matt


#3 rockysosua

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 02:26 PM

This is a feature available in Vista, 7 & 8, but I have yet to find it in 8.1.


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#4 kokomodrums

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 02:37 PM

rockysosua - http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/what-happened-to-backup-restore

 

Just search for and open File History, and at the bottom left of that window you'll see "System Image Backup".


-- Matt


#5 rockysosua

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 05:25 PM

Thanks Matt.


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#6 rp88

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 05:57 PM

Could the system image be done just for system and program files whilst not bothering with personal files, i have all my docs/pics/vids etc backed up elsewhere, would that make it small enough for a large (32 gigabyte) usb stick? as for your mentions of the motherboard, is motherboard damage pretty rare? Can a virus harm this part of a computer? if the motherboard was the dead component could the new computer onto which the backup was being applied be made to believe it was the old motherboard rather than a new one(delete and forget that point if you don't want it asked on this site)? Also i see the article mentions doing it over multiple dvds, can it be done over multiple USBs instead  if one usb is not big enough to hold it all.regarding the process of restoring from a system image, how damaged can the system be for it to work, surely some viruses could prevent booting in the recovery environment from working?  another question with system images is the best principle just to do one when you know the system is in good order and leave it in a safe place or to do them periodically so that newer images will contain updates rather than having to reinstall months/years worth of updates as one would if restoring from a very old system image? can you please list the types of damage to a machine which would mean that system images would no longer be enough to repair it?

 

thanks

and also thanks for such a quick response


Back on this site, for a while anyway, been so busy the last year.

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#7 kokomodrums

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 10:11 PM

Could the system image be done just for system and program files whilst not bothering with personal files, i have all my docs/pics/vids etc backed up elsewhere, would that make it small enough for a large (32 gigabyte) usb stick?

 
If this is your concern, you might consider having two partitions on your hard drive: a 32GB system partition that only holds your system files and programs, and a larger partition to store your files. I don't believe the Windows built in system image backup can backup just a single partition. You might want to look into a third party program. I have succesfully used EaseUS Todo Backup Free in the past.
 

as for your mentions of the motherboard, is motherboard damage pretty rare? Can a virus harm this part of a computer? if the motherboard was the dead component could the new computer onto which the backup was being applied be made to believe it was the old motherboard rather than a new one(delete and forget that point if you don't want it asked on this site)?

 
Yes, motherboard issues are some of the least common hardware issues, at least in my experience. Only extremely rare malware created specifically for your specific motherboard could infect a motherboard. So in all reality, no. I'm not sure about the last question, but I imagine if it is possible, it's extremely difficult to accomplish and not worth the effort.
 

Also i see the article mentions doing it over multiple dvds, can it be done over multiple USBs instead  if one usb is not big enough to hold it all.

 
I don't believe you can use multiple USB drives, it probably depends on the program you're using though. I would highly recommend investing in an external USB hard drive that's as large as your hard drive. I just bought a 4TB external drive for $140 a few days ago, FYI.
 

regarding the process of restoring from a system image, how damaged can the system be for it to work, surely some viruses could prevent booting in the recovery environment from working? 

 
The built-in Windows system image backup can also be restored in the recovery environment on a Windows install or recovery disk, I would recommend getting/making one if you haven't already. Some third party tools have their own boot disk as well that you can use to recover the backup no matter how messed up the system is.
 

another question with system images is the best principle just to do one when you know the system is in good order and leave it in a safe place or to do them periodically so that newer images will contain updates rather than having to reinstall months/years worth of updates as one would if restoring from a very old system image?

 
There isn't really a best practice, it all depends on what result you want. If you want a definitely clean backup, just do one when you know the system is 100% clean, like after a reinstall. You could also make multiple backups instead of just one.
 

can you please list the types of damage to a machine which would mean that system images would no longer be enough to repair it?

 
Just hardware failures. You will always be able to use a bootable recovery disk (either Windows or third party) to install a recovery image. Your real concern needs to be backing up that system image properly. Storing it on a single USB stick is not a safe backup plan. If that USB stick dies, your system image backup is gone. Storing it on 2/3 USB sticks and testing them on a regular basis would be a decent backup system.

Edited by kokomodrums, 16 September 2014 - 10:11 PM.

-- Matt


#8 rp88

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 09:22 AM

Your first point, my computer has two "drives" c and d, i think they are partitions or something on one physical drive rather than having two separate hardware devices inside the laptop. i don't know how this affects system imaging.

 

 Your second point, glad to know that. I'm guessing that having no moving parts helps make them long lasting.

 

Your third point , £70 for 4TB is pretty cost efficient. Do you know for certain that windows' own system imaging utility cannot do multiple USBs, I'm not thinking of using third party tools now i know this is contained in windows so i'm not so bothered about whether third party programs can cope with multiple USBs or not.

 

Your fourth point, thanks for the advice. how do i make a recovery disc, how many megabytes/gigabytes will it need? How different is a recovery disc from a system image.

 

Your fifth point, thanks. As for knowing it's 100% clean i guess that is a matter of making as many different antivirus scans as can be done.

 

Your sixth point, Can one make multiple system images at once so one can have backup copies of the system image? I didn't think USB sticks died when left safely in dry room temperature conditions, it thought one had to physically damage them or use them many times.


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#9 kokomodrums

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 10:42 AM

Your first point, my computer has two "drives" c and d, i think they are partitions or something on one physical drive rather than having two separate hardware devices inside the laptop. i don't know how this affects system imaging.

 
Yes, a lot of new computers are set up this way by default. I finally found some more information about Windows system image backup utility, you CAN backup just the system partition (C drive). So you wouldn't need to use a third party app for this feature.
 

Do you know for certain that windows' own system imaging utility cannot do multiple USBs

 
Unfortunately I don't have much personal experience with the Windows system image backup utility, and the documentation is lacking. It also appears that you my only be able to backup to a hard drive, and won't be able to use a USB stick. Windows can tell the difference between a USB stick and an external hard drive.
 

Your fourth point, thanks for the advice. how do i make a recovery disc, how many megabytes/gigabytes will it need? How different is a recovery disc from a system image.

 
Here's an article from Microsoft explaining how to create a recovery USB drive in Windows 8: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/create-usb-recovery-drive. Windows will tell you how big of a drive you need.
 
The difference is that a recovery disk is a clean install of Windows, with none of your programs or files. So a recovery disk can only be used to restore the computer to it's original setup. Also, a recovery disk can be booted to perform maintenance like using the Recovery Console. A system image is just a backup of your current system, it can't be used to create a clean install or run recovery utilities. It's just a backup.
 

Your sixth point, Can one make multiple system images at once so one can have backup copies of the system image? I didn't think USB sticks died when left safely in dry room temperature conditions, it thought one had to physically damage them or use them many times.

 
USB drives can (and will) fail in any situation. Even if the USB drive doesn't physically fail, the data can become corrupt from cosmic radiation. It's a problem known as "bit rot". I would recommend just repeating the process on two different drives. Also, you will want to test the backups occasionally to verify that they still work.
 
Unfortunately it's not an easy process to "test" a system image backup--you would need to restore the backup to a real hard drive (or another computer). You could buy another "internal" hard drive to test your recovery setup. Just remove your current hard drive, insert a new empty hard drive, and see if you can successfully restore the backup. This also allows you to have a "live" clone of your hard drive you could just swap in and go if you have issues. Although if you end up deciding on buying another internal hard drive, you might just want to look into hard drive "cloning". Both of the free programs above include a cloning functionality.
 
I can give you more detailed instructions on how to setup a reliable backup system, just look through the options and decide what makes the most sense for YOU.


-- Matt


#10 rp88

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 11:14 AM

"Windows can tell the difference between a USB stick and an external hard drive." is there a difference, i thought that the only difference between a usb stick and a solid state drive was the amount of data it stored. As for cosmic ray impacts affecting USB sticks they must be pretty rare, most cosmic rays are absorbed in our upper atmosphere and i hardly imagine a flash memory device is vulnerable to normal low level background radiation.

 

For  a reliable backup then is this the best solution?

1. a recovery disc burned when the system appears to be in a clean state. I have some 750 megabyte discs around right now, i also might have some 4 or 8gig usb sticks around right now. Will recovery discs/sticks be corrupted/infected if they are made when the system is not in a perfect state?

2. as soon as possible make a system image on an external media device, if it will do it onto small things i could do that right now, otherwise i'll need to buy an external hard drive (is a particular type of drive needed for this purpose? i wouldn't need an external hard drive for anything else so it would not need to be bigger than the system image). get two if possible so i can have two separate copies of the system image, store these copies in a metal safe.

3. loads of backups of personal files to usb/cd-rw/online backups, done every time i do something important to a file.


Edited by rp88, 17 September 2014 - 11:15 AM.

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#11 kokomodrums

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 11:44 AM

"Windows can tell the difference between a USB stick and an external hard drive." is there a difference, i thought that the only difference between a usb stick and a solid state drive was the amount of data it stored.

 
Yes, the device itself registers with Windows as either a removable drive (USB "stick") or an external hard drive (SATA/SSD). On Windows 7, you would actually see this distinction in the Computer window. External hard drives would show up on the top under "Hard Disk Drives", and USB sticks show up on the bottom in the section "Devices with Removable Storage".
 

As for cosmic ray impacts affecting USB sticks they must be pretty rare, most cosmic rays are absorbed in our upper atmosphere and i hardly imagine a flash memory device is vulnerable to normal low level background radiation.

 
It's not about each specific risk involved with data failure, it's that fact that you should never keep a backup on one point of failure. A backup implies that you have an extra copy in case your main source fails. Cosmic radiation IS rare, and was just an example
 
I couldn't give you a list of ways USB sticks fail, but I've always gathered that the general consensus is USB flash drives are not reliable forms of storage, they are mostly suited for day to day file transferring, not permanent storage. I'm sure you could do some research on the topic to find more relevant information and make your decision based on your own findings.  :)
 

1. a recovery disc burned when the system appears to be in a clean state. I have some 750 megabyte discs around right now, i also might have some 4 or 8gig usb sticks around right now. Will recovery discs/sticks be corrupted/infected if they are made when the system is not in a perfect state?

 
They can be, yes, but it isn't very common for the recovery partition to be infected. You could try booting from the recovery partition to make sure it is atleast bootable before making a recovery disk. Or just test the recovery disk after you make it.
 

2. as soon as possible make a system image on an external media device, if it will do it onto small things i could do that right now, otherwise i'll need to buy an external hard drive (is a particular type of drive needed for this purpose? i wouldn't need an external hard drive for anything else so it would not need to be bigger than the system image). get two if possible so i can have two separate copies of the system image, store these copies in a metal safe.

 
If you already have your system (C drive) partitioned separately from your data, and the partition is small enough to fit on a device you already have, you will be good to go. The only requirements for the external hard drive is that it works with your computer (duh!) and it is large enough to hold your system image. If you bought a Mac formatted external hard drive for whatever reason you would need to reformat it to NTFS though. You might want to store the two external hard drives in separate locations if possible, which adds another layer of integrity in case of physical damage/loss. Again, it's all about how much protection you want/are willing to spend the effort on.
 

3. loads of backups of personal files to usb/cd-rw/online backups, done every time i do something important to a file.

 
On Windows 8 you can use the built-in File History utility to back up files. Here is a Microsoft article that explains the utility and how to set it up: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/dn448546.aspx

Edited by kokomodrums, 17 September 2014 - 11:45 AM.

-- Matt


#12 rp88

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 05:40 PM

"You could try booting from the recovery partition to make sure it is atleast bootable before making a recovery disk. Or just test the recovery disk after you make it."

I am not sure how to do either of those things.

 

You mention that in your experience usb flash drives are not good for long term storage, what is then? I do get your point about having multiple system images saved, it's what i do with personal file backups, it would be stupid not to give the same level of redundancy to the system image.

 

As for "file history it sounds a bit close to "syncing" for my liking, i'll keep on manually transferring files i have edited at the end of a days work. I have, over the years, got into a pretty well remembered routine for backing up files when i finish on my computer in the evening.


Back on this site, for a while anyway, been so busy the last year.

My systems:2 laptops, intel i3 processors, windows 8.1 installed on the hard-drive and linux mint 17.3 MATE installed to USB

#13 kokomodrums

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 07:49 PM

"You could try booting from the recovery partition to make sure it is atleast bootable before making a recovery disk. Or just test the recovery disk after you make it."
I am not sure how to do either of those things.

 
Follow this article to create a recovery disk: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/create-usb-recovery-drive. Once you've created the disk, boot from it to make sure it works. You don't have to use any of the tools, just make sure you don't get any errors when trying to boot. Do you know how to boot from a CD/USB drive?
 

You mention that in your experience usb flash drives are not good for long term storage, what is then?

 
I just meant that they aren't designed for long term storage. Here's a topic at another forum talking about flash drive reliablity, I would check it out if you're interested: http://www.pcguide.com/vb/showthread.php?83672-USB-flash-drive-reliabilty-and-failure-rates. I think the general consensus is that they are just more error prone than hard drives or SSDs. That being said, as long as you keep the backup on more than one drive/stick/etc., and test them occasionally, the difference between storage mediums won't really matter. It's more of a "best practice" scenario, not a rule etc.


-- Matt


#14 rp88

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 10:58 AM

Doesn't testing a backup run the risk of letting any infection on the machine at the time of checking compromise your backup. For files atleast if you have fileA.doc made at t=0 then you get infected at t=2 and before realising you are infected test the backup medium at t=3 . This would let the virus into your backup. Surely it's better practise to, when you think you should be testing an old backup, make a new backup from what is on the computer now?


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#15 kokomodrums

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 03:14 PM

Doesn't testing a backup run the risk of letting any infection on the machine at the time of checking compromise your backup.

 
I don't think you fully understand "testing" a system image backup. You are simulating what would happen if your computer fails and needs restored, so the backup never comes into contact with your current system (if you need to restore a backup it's because you can't access your current system!).

 

Obviously, when you're doing a test, you don't want to actually restore over your current data--so you'll need another hard drive to restore to. If you're serious about making sure your backup is safe, investing in an extra hard drive should be a reasonable investment. To simulate a hard drive failure, you can remove your current hard drive and replace it with your extra hard drive. Then you would restore your system image backup to the extra hard drive. If the restore is successful, you are able to boot up the extra drive and access your data. Now you know that the backup will actually work when you need it.

 

As a bonus, you now have an extra hard drive you can boot up instantly to access your "clean" system backup.

 

But that's why I mentioned earlier that if you're going to go through all that effort, you might as well just "clone" your hard drive to the extra drive directly, and the extra drive would be your backup (instead of a system image file, which is just a large file). To test the backup, you just swap your current hard drive with the extra hard drive and see if it works. Unfortunately (as far as I know) Windows doesn't have a built in "cloning" function, so you would need to rely on a third party app.

 

The only tricky part is that you will need a way to plug in an extra hard drive to your laptop. You can purchase a fairly cheap USB SATA dock for around $20-30, which will allow you to plug an extra hard drive in to a USB port on your computer.

 

Hopefully that's not too much information overload, but once you understand the actual process you can decide on which method you prefer. At that point I can help you figure out the actual step by step process.


-- Matt





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