Make an Image of your hard drive

If you ever had to replace a failing hard drive and went through the long and complicated process of re-loading the operating system and all the necessary drivers, you will appreciate this.  With this image, you will not need a Windows 7 install disk or a Microsoft Product key because this copy of Windows is already installed and activated.

Windows 7 has the built-in capability to create a complete image of your hard drive. Click on the globe, choose Maintenance, then “Backup and Restore.” In the next window click on “Create a System Image.” From there it is fairly easy. You will need a number of DVD blanks.  Use only DVD +R blanks (not -R).   It could be quite a number. Also create a System Repair disk ( CD or DVD) from the same menu.  Do this while your computer is healthy.

Ideally, you should be making this image just after a Clean (Custom) install of Windows, after all Windows updates have been applied, and after you have loaded and updated all static programs like Microsoft Office.  Do this BEFORE you load any other programs, or your data.  This should keep the image to a manageable size.

You will use this image to recover your system if you have to replace the hard drive or your existing drive if it has become so hopelessly corrupted or infected, that you need a fresh start.  Boot with the System repair disk. Windows will be loaded to memory. You will have to find the option to recover from an image in the menus.  But then the process will copy the system image to the new drive. The new drive will now be a literal clone of the old hard drive at the point in time you made the copy.

If you are using a new drive, it must be as large or larger than the old one.  The restoration process will create a partition of the original size.  If the new drive is larger, you can use Windows maintenance tools to extend the partition created.  You can not use this image on a drive that is smaller than the one you are replacing.

The best news of all is that the new drive will have the “Recovery Partition” that your computer’s manufacturer put on. Most other techniques will NOT put the recovery partition on. That is not good because someday, you may find your system has been corrupted (but the drive is still good) and you want to as simply as possible recover. That recovery process will destroy your data, but it will restore your operating system and really importantly, all the drivers.

It may seem tempting to use a USB connected external hard drive instead of a whole pile of DVDs. However, this route is fraught with problems because Micrsoft Windows’ “Create a System Image” does not play nice with the latest hard drive technology. This is a well-known problem with no really good solutions. But, if you have an older external drive that still uses 512k sector sizes, the external hard drive may work well for you.  Also the clone will monopolize the entire external HD and will erase everything else.

I have had many cases in which I used this recovery system and it works like a charm and is very fast.  The best way to do this is just after completing setup and all the updates, BEFORE data or volatile applications are loaded.  That way it takes only 4 to 6 DVDs.