I use two forms of backups; data and system. As such, the backups are performed different ways and actually stored in different physical locations. Part 1 of this series deals with backing up your system – generally drive C: for most Windows users. Part 2 will cover backing up your pictures, music, and video.
For system backups, or “images” as they’re commonly called, there’s a free utility called DriveImage XML that will make an image of any Fat32/NTFS partitions you have and runs right from within Windows (XP or Vista). DriveImage XML is the free alternative to the commercial products Ghost and True Image. As with it’s commercial counterparts, DriveImage XML’s GUI is useful for making an image when necessary, or browsing the contents of a previously made image, however the ability to call it from the command line is where it’s additional power comes in.
By putting together a simple batch file and scheduling it via Windows Task Scheduler, your system can automatically make images (backups) of itself on a recurring basis. I configure the batch file for my home PC’s to make an image each morning at 2am, and to keep the newest 3 images. This allows me to restore either the entire partition or individual files from this morning, yesterday morning, or the morning before.
To do this, download DriveImage XML either from their site or my freeware site http://www.MissingBytes.net and install it. Next, create an empty text file, name it “Backup Drive C.bat”, and save it somewhere (root of C: is fine for this) and paste the following text in it:
rename E:\Images\Old_C.dat Older_C.dat
rename E:\Images\Old_C.xml Older_C.xml
rename E:\Images\Drive_C.dat Old_C.dat
rename E:\Images\Drive_C.xml Old_C.xml
“C:\Program Files\Runtime Software\DriveImage XML\dixml.exe” /bc /tE:\Images\Drive_C /r- /s- /c /v
Double clicking that batch file will startup DriveImage XML and make an image of your C: partition. It’ll need to create the image on a different drive letter than C:, and the script is setup to create it in E:\Images. If you don’t have E: or would prefer to write yours to say D:, just replace each E: with D: and you’re all set.
There are two types of restores available; file, and system. Restoring files is as easy as opening DriveImage XML, clicking the Browse button, and locating a previously made backup image. Once the image is opened, you’ll see a familiar directory tree displaying your files and folders and can restore whatever you need to.
System restores are a little more involved, but still much easier and faster than reinstalling everything from scratch. A typical restore of 22G of data takes me less than 30 minutes. Installing and patching Windows XP takes much longer than that and that doesn’t even take into account how long it takes to get all of the other applications setup and going again.
Restoring your system can’t be done within Windows the way a backup can. To restore your Windows partition, you need to boot into something else and perform the restore from there. The “something else” I use is a BartPE disk. A BartPE (or Pre-installation Environment) disk is basically a Windows liveCD. You put it in the computer, boot to it, and you’re in a basic, limited version of Windows. From there, you can start DriveImage XML and perform your restore.
BartPE disks support plugins, which are just additional applications bundled onto the CD. I typically add both DriveImage XML and Firefox to my BartPE disks. That way I can still surf while restoring an image.
There’s a lot of information on the BartPE site about creating your own BartPE disk, but here are the basics:
- Download and install BartPE (the application you’ll create your disk with) from here
- Get your original Windows CD ready, this is what your BartPE disk will be created from
- Download Windows XP Service Pack 2
- Download the DriveImageXML BartPE plugin
- Run BartPE
- Follow the getting started instructions
- Create a slipstreamed copy of your Windows XP files – go here and look at the instructions for “I cannot build, my Windows XP installation CD is original (pre-SP1).”
- Be sure to include the DriveImage XML plugin before building your new BartPE CD
That’s it. I know it looks/sounds complicated, but it really isn’t that bad. And, once it’s made, it’s going to save you a ton of time at some point. Using it is as simple as booting to it and running DriveImage XML from it. If there are other utilities you’d like to include on your BartPE CD, be sure to look over their plugins page to see if a plugin has already been created that does what you want to do.
Some additional points to consider with regards to your backups…
- Before doing a restore, take the time to do one last backup. When that’s done, do your restore, and if you forgot to make a quick copy of anything (emails, favorites, etc.) simply open the backup you just made and restore those files.
- After patching a new install of Windows, create an image. If you ever decide you want to do a full reinstall, you can use that one to save the time of installing and patching windows all over again. I typically do this after activating Windows so they don’t think I’m installing it to 20 different PC’s.
- Periodically (once a week or so) copy your newest image to another PC or burn it to disk. This way if something totally wreaks havoc with your entire PC, you aren’t going to lose your backups in addition to your operating system and user data.
Continue to Backups – Part 2