I've never owned a Dell PC but I'll try to help out with what I think is correct info about your questions.
I looked at the Dell links and here's what I think they're referring to with their terminology:
- Reinstall Discs: The ones you created, the DVD's, are for restoring the PC to factory conditions. They can be used to boot up the PC and install the OS to the status as it exists before any user-specific changes are added onto the PC.
- Rescue Disc: Dell may be referring to this as a "Recovery" Disc. These 2 definitions are often used interchangeably to refer to the same thing.
The Rescue Disc is a bootable media that allows the user to boot up onto the disc in the event that the HDD has been damaged or erased, or has been replaced with a new blank HDD. The Rescue Disc usually includes options to install a system Image (full-HDD Image backup file) from another location, as in an external USB HDD where the user has the Image file stored along with backups of their personal items ("My Documents", etc).
- The option to create a backup copy of your Drivers and Apps is something I haven't seen on my brand-name PC (a Win 7 Toshiba Laptop). I'm assuming that Dell offers that option to provide a specific backup utility for those items excluding the complete OS.
- System Backup: From reading the Dell description of their "Backup & Recovery" utility, I think that's referring to their version of an Imaging tool which can create a full-HDD Image file that's usually compressed and can be stored on an external HDD for future full-HDD recovery methods which could restore the HDD to the same conditions as when the Image file was created earlier.
Regarding your question about using a free backup program for Cloning and Imaging, there are numerous free programs available. I use Macrium Reflect Free Version for my Imaging backups. I also Clone my HDD but I use my paid program "Acronis" (2011 ver) for that since it clones faster than Macrium on my PC's.
Cloning and Imaging accomplish the same end result but they do it in different ways. In your post, you were actually describing what the Image process does vs Cloning.
It does what the name implies, copying your "Source" ("C" HDD for most PC users) to another HDD. All content is copied, resulting in an exact HDD replacement in the event of an OS issue, malware, user error, bad download, HDD failure.
The cloned HDD is usually referred to as the "Target" HDD. I think the Acronis cloning dialog setup screens refer to the Target HDD as the "Destination" HDD.
The requirement for Cloning is that you need to have a spare HDD available, preferably one that's the same size or larger than your Source HDD. There are ways to custom-clone to a smaller-sized HDD but I'm not familiar with those methods. I've always cloned with exact HDD's, 1 Tb size, except for one time when I cloned from a 5ooGb Source HDD to a new 1 Tb Target HDD.
Some PC users see the necessity (for Cloning) of having a spare HDD on the shelf as a disadvantage. I see it otherwise as I have a plug-and-play spare HDD ready at any time in the event of a Source HDD failure or other situations as mentioned earlier.
There is a potential downside to Cloning (vs Imaging) although I'd never encountered a problem until recently. The risk is that, if an abnormality occurs during the Cloning process, both HDD's could be rendered unbootable.
That said, until recently, I'd never encountered any problems with 3 PC's over a 3-year time span. My Cloning failure rate is about 1.3% (1 failure in 75 cloned HDD's).
This is the backup process that will copy the entire HDD, all contents, the OS, your programs, personal data, etc. It copies the HDD content into a file that's usually compressed to save storage space.
Here's how it works and what you'll need to Image your Dell Source HDD. Hereafter, I'll refer to your main "C" HDD as the "Source" HDD. This is the HDD that contains your entire PC's contents, OS, your data, etc.
You'll need an external storage device as your "Target" or Destination device. This is where you'll create and store your Source HDD Image files.
This process backs up the entire HDD as Cloning but accomplishes it differently. Imaging copies the HDD contents into a file, ususally compressed, to an external storage device, like perhaps a USB external HDD, etc.
The compressed file is usually processed specific to the backup software, thus requiring the user to run the software (Acronis, etc) to restore the Image to a Target HDD in the event of OS failure or Source HDD failure, or in case other undesirable situations occur.
Imaging has several advantages:
- Provides multiple HDD backup files that can be stored on an external HDD
- Safety net, in case one Image file fails to restore the HDD, or in the event of a Cloning error.
- Provides the options of full-HDD, Incremental, or Differential Imaging.
Incremental Imaging is a "chain" image process. The user can run a first full-HDD Image and then can run subsequent Incremental Images which are associated with the original full-HDD Image file.
For example, after you have run the first full-HDD Image file, you can schedule or manually run periodic smaller Image files which will backup all items that have been added or changed since the previous Image process in the associated chain of backup images.
You run your first full-HDD Image process on Monday.
You run an Incremental Image on Tuesday.
The Incremental Image backs up anything that's been added or changed on the HDD since the first full-HDD Image was run on Monday.
Subsequent Incremental Images will do the same thing. An Image that was run on Wednesday will backup any additions or changes since Tuesday.
The accumulated Images are all stored on your external HDD which are often referred to as a "chain" of Image files since they are all associated with each other.
If you need to recover the Source HDD with a particular Image chain, you would use the software's "Recovery" disc (or Recovery USB Thumb Drive) to boot up your PC with the Recovery media and then select the Image chain that you've been running previously. The software will then restore that Image chain back to a blank HDD which will return your PC to the same conditions as the last Image file was created.
Differential Imaging: This backs up all new and changed data that has occurred since the last full-HDD backup image. It works similarly to Incremental Imaging but a little differently.
You run your first full-HDD Image process on Monday.
You run a Differential Image on Tuesday.
The Differential Image backs up anything that's been added or changed on the HDD since the first full-HDD Image was run on Monday.
You run another DIfferential Image on Wednesday.
The Differential Image that ran on Wednesday backs up anything that's been added or changed on the HDD since the first full-HDD Image was run on Monday.
Not all free backup software programs include Incremental, Differential, or automated scheduled backup options.
I chose Macrium (free) for my primary Imaging tool since I like its user interface design. The free version doesn't include Incremental or Differential Imaging.
Some free backup programs require installation onto the HDD. Other programs are downloaded as an "ISO" fils that can be created onto a CD/DVD.
For example, Macrium requires installation onto the HDD, although I think there's a way around that (downloading the ISO file, meant for another discussion). I installed it since I like the program and also wanted to create the Recovery disc for my PC's.
I always run my Cloning and Imaging process from the Recovery/Rescue discs since I prefer that method. Most of the backup software tools can be run while remaining booted into Windows which can be advantageous to many PC users.
I prefer the boot-to-media method since that's verifying the "worse-case" scenario, booting into the PC's RAM without the OS, simulating the methodology for a complete restoration scenario with a blank Source HDD in the PC.
I don't use chain Imaging but it's just my personal preference to go with multiple full-HDD Imaging and Cloning. Chain Imaging is advantageous for many PC users.
I've also used another free software program "Clonezilla". It doesn't require installing the program onto the HDD. It's an ISO download that can be created onto a CD/DVD.
However, I don't recommend Clonezilla for novice users since the dialog setup's can be a little tricky and it's not a "Windows-appearance" program with a dialog interface that resembles Windows screens. Clonezilla more resembles a "command prompt" layout interface.
There's another thread at the forum which will help you choose a free backup software program:
Suggestions about Backup
Reference quietman7's post providing links to various backup software sites and information.