Backup solutions?
October 2, 2008 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Best HD imaging software/solution? One large external USB2.0 HD, would like to image the primary partition of several XP computers.

I've been out of "the game" for a while and am no longer familiar with HD imaging software. I've tried an old version of Ghost (which had severe problems with a Dell) and a recent version of Ghost (way too crufty and it insisted on being resident).

There are several computers in the lab running XP (a couple of them are old decrepit Dells). We have an external HD. Ideally, we'd like to be able to make an image of the primary partition of several computers on one external HD so if/when a catastrophic crash occurs, we can re-image the computer (OS + data) from the last backup.

Scheduling is unnecessary as we'd be willing to do it manually (set it up Friday before leaving, letting it run overnight/weekend). Being able to have multiple images which can restore an entire HD on one external drive is a requirement (yes, I know, if the external HD goes, all the images go but <shrug>). I know of good ways to clone HDs 1:1, but I'd like to have multiple images on one external HD.

Free software good, but we'd be willing to spend money on commercial software. Also, is there is a way to make one initial primary image, then subsequent images containing only new or altered data?

posted by porpoise to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
dd will write a bit-for-bit image to a file. You could run it from pretty much any Linux LiveCD.

The upsides are that it's a perfect bit-for-bit image, imaging is crazy fast, and dd is ubiquitous.

The downsides are that you can't image from a drive mounted read/write (so not while the machine is normally running booted from its hard drive), you won't get any elegant way to do incremental backups, and I haven't found any way to mount a dd image file in Windows (short of restoring it to a drive).
posted by Asymptote at 8:33 AM on October 2, 2008

I've had some success with Driveinage XML and Self Image. Self Image worked better for me of the two. I don't know about your last request, though - it would probably require much more expensive software to handle that.
posted by cimbrog at 8:36 AM on October 2, 2008

Best answer: Acronis True Image is the best commercial software I know for this sort of thing. The home version should do everything you need - it has a windows version you can install to do backups while windows is running, but the best thing is just to use the bootable version to backup your drives. You can backup only the changes next time, and if you install the windows software you can browse into the .tib files it creates. I think the licence terms say you should buy one copy per PC, but if your conscience lets you, one copy will let you do all your lab machines.
posted by samj at 9:03 AM on October 2, 2008

Be aware that if your external USB drive is formatted fat32, it isn't going to like single files greater than 4gb. If the machines you want to image are even remotely modern, you need to figure out a way to split the image into 4gb chunks, or put NTFS on the usb drive.
posted by nomisxid at 9:33 AM on October 2, 2008

Best answer: Seconding both DriveImageXML and Acronis True Image. I use them both at home. I'd also recommend using the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows with DriveImageXML. That will allow you to restore from the DriveImageXML image if your primary partition gets hosed.
posted by jluce50 at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2008

Best answer: Acronis True Image as mentioned above is fantastic, although it is pricey (especially for a server version). DriveImageXML works great for free, although it runs a bit slow when browsing HD images for certain files. I have three different image backups from DriveImageXML on my external drive right now, just put into different folders.

I know Acronis can do incremental backups (as well as scheduled), not so sure about DriveImage.
posted by shinynewnick at 10:10 AM on October 2, 2008

And here is another DriveImageXML option with BartPE
posted by shinynewnick at 10:16 AM on October 2, 2008

The best consumer product is definitely Acronis TrueImage.

However for a small set of computers, you may want to consider Windows Home Server. It automatically backs up all your PCs (after installing the agent), which is image based, but also keeps regular backups of all your files.

It does require another computer, so a simple USB drive isn't sufficient, but it will keep things automated and up to date. Then again with a USB drive, you can only reimage one computer at a time, and will have to manually move the drive for another restore.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:51 AM on October 2, 2008

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