I haven’t re-installed Windows for years. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, I haven’t re-installed Windows since the arrival of Windows XP in 2001.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve often had corrupted systems; probably more than most folks. It’s just that I have solved the problem of getting Windows working again in another way.
Rather than re-install Windows, I recover my system from a backup image of my system drive. This usually takes around 10 minutes and I don’t even have to be in attendance.
That’s a big difference to the hours it takes to re-install Windows and go through the additional hoops of downloading all the Windows updates. Furthermore, I don’t have to re-install my application software because they all get restored from the backup image along with Windows.
It’s such an attractive and powerful approach that I recommend all users should setup a drive imaging backup system for their computers. You can even do it using free software.
Setting up a drive imaging solution is within the grasp of most computer users but it’s not a piece of cake. It is, however, definitely worth the effort. Over the next couple of months I will walk you through the various steps involved and talk about the software you need. This month I’ll start by explaining the process.
Drive imaging works by using special software to take a snapshot image of the hard drive on which you have Windows installed. If you create this image when Windows is working correctly, you can then use your imaging software to restore an exact replica of this working copy of Windows should Windows ever become corrupted.
Restoring from an image is a much more complete process than using Windows Restore. The latter only recovers the Windows Registry and some important system files. Restoring from an image recovers your entire Windows installation and everything else installed on your system drive, including all your software applications.
If you have ever had a corrupted Windows system or a spyware infection that cannot be removed, then you will understand just how valuable it is to restore a fresh and fully functional version of your system.
However for the drive imaging process to work effectively you need to do some preparation work before you create your images.
The first thing you need to do is to re-arrange your hard drive so that Windows and your application programs are on a separate disk drive or partition to your data.
Many PCs have only one large hard drive or partition, usually the C: drive. On that drive, Windows, your program files and your documents are all mixed in together. To separate them, you need to use a drive partitioning program to split the big C: drive into two or more smaller drives. These new drives created are logical, not physical, but the effect is the same as if you have physically separate drives.
So if you start with a 200GB C: drive containing everything, then after partitioning you might, for example, end up with a 20GB C: drive containing Windows, your Program Files and Windows user accounts, plus a 180GB D: drive containing your email, documents, photos, media files, etc.
The point of this partitioning is to allow the creation of a small manageable drive image of the 20GB partition containing only Windows and your application programs, rather than a huge drive image of everything on your hard drive.
And it’s not only a question of image size. If you restore from a backup image you certainly don’t want to overwrite your data. Otherwise you would lose any changes to your data since the time the backup image was created.
Once you have partitioned your hard drive, the next step is to move your data onto the new partition. This includes moving the "My Documents" folder plus any folders you have created containing your personal data. This step is not technically difficult but it does require a bit of care.
Finally, once you have partitioned your disk and moved your data to a separate partition, you can create your first system drive image. Compared to the previous steps this is a piece of cake. And so is restoring your system drive from an image. But that will have to wait until the end of this series. The first step is drive partitioning and that will be next month’s topic.