How to get a Windows XP
March 12, 2005 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I know Windows XP has some sort of restore feature, but how about a good independent program that can let me take a "snapshot" of my new clean WinXP installation + Documents and Settings + Program Files so I can maybe burn to (probably multiple) DVDs and then easily restore at some point in the future. (This must be a common thing, but my googling proved unfruitful.)

(Simply backing up the three folders + root of C can be a good thing, but 1)I obviously cannot overwrite system files/folders when I do want to replace them in the future from within Windows, and 2)Even if I found a way (I got lost after the switch to NTFS - I used to go behind the scenes easily in DOS), I bet all still would not work well. Maybe a program could simplify my world...)
posted by parma to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Norton Ghost?
posted by Mwongozi at 2:22 PM on March 12, 2005

I would go for Norton Ghost using a backup HDD rather than DVDs. HDDs are surprisingly cheap these days, faster and more durable and reliable than DVDs.

If it's for a laptop, you'd need an external enclosure (or cheaper - a USB-IDE adaptor) for the HDD, otherwise you have a choice between that or just plugging the drive directly into the computer.

But the useful thing with Ghost is that you wouldn't even need to restore anything or copy any data to revert (though you could if you wanted to) - you can just physically swap the computer's HDD with the backup HDD, and you're done. Instantly! Plus you haven't overwritten anything on the other drive.
If it's a laptop, keeping this swap-and-it's-ready-to-go option will mean getting a backup drive in the appropriate 2.5" form factor - not difficult, they're just slightly more expensive than 3.5" drives.

I think Ghost has a free trial, so you can check it out while thinking about your options.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:42 PM on March 12, 2005

You could always try GoBack. I haven't used it myself since Symantec bought it from Roxio, but it allows you to take snapshots of an existing system configuration and then, if something goes wrong, you can simply revert back to the snapshot.
posted by purephase at 3:02 PM on March 12, 2005

Ghost is ideal for this and I use it for this purpose (as well as commercial use). If you have the discipline to keep all your data in a separate partition you can restore at whim. A windows XP system plus Office is a couple Gigs compressed. You don't have to add many applications before the image won't fit on a single DVD and spanning is a pain. However if you can keep it under 4 gigs you can make multiple copies and keep a copy off site for a couple dollars.

An external HD is a good idea but don't swap the drive instead image it back that way you won't destroy your clean copy. If you have a super size hard drive that you not fully utilizing you can put the restore images on a third hidden partion of your current hard drive. This is what I've done for a couple of my free tech suport "clients". Any time the system is hosed they stick a special boot floppy in their machine and turn it on. 20 minutes later they are back to the default setup I've created for them.

You can also use Ghost for data backups and Iomega external HDs come with a bundled copy of Ghost personal edition.
posted by Mitheral at 3:03 PM on March 12, 2005

I second Ghost and using HDDs but if you *must* backup to DVDs and are worried about data integrity use QuickPar to create parity files.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:03 PM on March 12, 2005

Didn't someone mention in a previous thread on this subject that swapping hard drives with XP could be problematic because XP activation is somehow tied to the physical drive that it is installed on? Any truth to this?
posted by sic at 3:08 AM on March 13, 2005

...problematic because XP activation is somehow tied to the physical drive that it is installed on?

That happened to me once. It blue screened after took an image from one machine and put it on another, but then I ran windows repair and all was good.
posted by airguitar at 12:59 PM on March 13, 2005

This may be outside the scope of what you want to do, but the trick I use is to boot up with Knoppix, or any live Linux CD, plug in an external usb hard drive, and copy a tarball of the windows partition to the USB drive. Then when I want a restore, Format C:, boot Knoppix, plug in the USB drive [or] insert backup CD-R/DVD+/-R, unpack tarball.

One thing to note is that this won't work (well) with NTFS. I like to keep the system partiton FAT32 for the same behind-the-scenes DOS stuff you mentioned.

Now, I actually leave a 1GB linux partition on any windows install I do, to get around having to use Knoppix, but that's another few steps...
posted by airguitar at 1:10 PM on March 13, 2005

partimage is good if you want something Ghost-like and free but is quite a bit more trouble to work than Ghost is. It does the whole "only copying the bits that have data in it" thing too and can automagically split images. The System Rescue CD on the page is a pretty normal Gentoo-based Linux rescue CD in its own right as well.

FWIW, Windows will not like it at all if you have an image that's set up for one kind of motherboard chipset and you load it on a machine that's got a different kind (I replaced an Intel chipset board with a VIA-based one and got endless BSODs). If you do a repair, all the chipset-specific drivers get replaced with generic ones and you can install the support you need.
posted by mrg at 1:31 PM on March 13, 2005

Response by poster: Much thanks everyone - this has been incredibly helpful. Maybe a windows partition ghosted to an image would be a good plan. (But the Linux options are something I want to try at some point.)
But wouldn't Windows and Documents and Settings (with it's desktop and my documents, etc.) be necessarily on the same partition as Windows? (And can Ghost only do entire partitions? Or is that just good practice because of the ntfs info? Speaking of which, where exactly is the information about how my drive is partitioned stored?)
posted by parma at 10:36 PM on March 13, 2005

You can have your special system folders anywhere you want. Easiest way to change them is with TweakUI available from MS. It's a good idea to not store stuff in D&S anyways. I always point my "My Documents" folder to the root of my data drive.

Yes Ghost can only do work with complete partions or hard drives.

Under XP right mouse click My Computer; select manage; select storage; then open up disk managment in the mmc that appears.

If you haven't done a lot of hardware swapping you should be fine with your activation when you change hard drives. If you do as I suggested the only time this would even be an issue is if you have a hardware failure. Hopefully that's not something that happens to you every other week.
posted by Mitheral at 8:32 AM on March 14, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you Mitheral!I will now be changing all sorts of options.

In terms of ntfs information being stored, I was just wondering how the HDD partitioning info is stored (in terms of in what file/files exactly).

For example, if I were to make my Windows HDD a slave and detach it and then attach it to another machine, Windows would know it was x many partitions with y size.

I guess part of the irritation is not being able to get "behind" Windows in DOS, as I used to. Anyone come across good info/readings about this? I feel M$ keeps taking away from us more and more control.

I found an DOS ntfs reader once, and the writer was available for a charge.
posted by parma at 6:21 PM on March 14, 2005

« Older Langston Hughes query...   |   I need a good desk (task) chair for under $200 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.