System recovery disk without a floppy drive
January 20, 2008 11:49 AM   Subscribe

When doing a backup in Windows XP, how the heck do I create an "ASR recovery diskette" without a floppy drive?

I have a laptop on which I'm running Windows XP. I used the Backup utility that came with Windows to back up my entire computer onto an external hard drive. A backup file was created. However, at the end of the backup process, I got an error message saying that an ASR recovery diskette could not be created because there is no floppy drive. Does this mean that I cannot use my backup file to restore my system onto a new hard drive if my current hard drive fails? Is there some way to tell the Backup utility to create a recovery diskette using a CD instead? The Backup Wizard didn't give me an option to do this.

As an aside...I haven't seen a laptop with a floppy drive in years. I can't believe that Microsoft would force people to create recovery diskettes on floppies! Grrrrr....
posted by sotalia to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
10-20 bucks will get you an external USB floppy drive at most computer stores. I have no experience with the backup utility you're talking about, so I can't give you any further help there.

There are many other ways to back up your hard drive, many based on rsync (and it's many wrapper GUIs). Perhaps you should start from scratch and use one of those.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:58 AM on January 20, 2008

The ASR tool has to have a floppy disk for restore purposes. The best option, if you really want to use ASR, is an external USB floppy as chrisamiller suggests.

You can also follow this procedure to create the ASR files without the floppy, and then copy them to another location to create a floppy or, if you are lucky, your PC can boot from a USB key (I have never tried to boot ASR to a key, not sure if it will work or not but it might be worth a shot):

"You can 'trick' the ASR into running without a floppy drive. When it gets to the point where it writes to the floppy just cancel it. It writes two files, which are used for recovery, to the Windows\Repair directory. After you complete your ASR copy these two files (asr.sif and asrpnp.sif) to a network location and then make the floppy elsewhere. Make sure that you update your floppy EVERY time you do a new ASR or your backup will be hosed.

Or, you can use a USB floppy. This is sometimes the only option, especially if you need to install SCSI or SATA drivers during the recovery.

My suggestion is to use either a disk image app like True Image (or a free equivalent) - and an external drive for backup. The XP backup tool is really weak.
posted by disclaimer at 12:08 PM on January 20, 2008

You don't need to do ASR to restore your data. You can do a regular backup, and if your system fails, then you will have to reinstall Windows XP first, and then restore your data.

You should never have to wonder if you will be able to recover a backup. Periodically test a restore of a random file. If you can't do it now, you won't be able to do it when you have a disk failure.
posted by grouse at 12:12 PM on January 20, 2008

I'm not very savvy about these things...I guess I should clarify that I'm not even sure what ASR is in the first place. All I want to do is to create a copy of everything that's on my laptop and put it on an external hard drive so that if my laptop's hard drive fails and I need to get a new one, I can basically restore my system to the way it was. I assumed that one could do this with a normal backup. Would a disk image app be more appropriate for this?

On preview: grouse, do you know of an easy way to do a regular backup on Windows XP as opposed to an ASR?
posted by sotalia at 12:15 PM on January 20, 2008

  1. When you start Backup, it might be in Wizard mode. Follow the link for Advanced Mode.
  2. Backup tab
  3. Click on the box next to the disk drive you want to back up so that it has a blue checkbox.
  4. Backup media or file name: Browse...
  5. Select a new filename on your external hard drive.
  6. Start Backup
  7. Start Backup
After this is done, make sure you can restore a test file off of your backup (Restore and Manage Media tab). Also, save the selections (Job > Save selections), and then use the Schedule... push button in the Backup Job Information dialog box to schedule the backup periodically.
posted by grouse at 12:29 PM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh! One more thing. Your first backup may have worked just fine, and it was only the ASR part at the end that didn't work. Try restoring a file from it before you do the backup for the second time today.
posted by grouse at 12:29 PM on January 20, 2008

The information written to the ASR floppy tells Windows Setup how to partition your new hard disk when you're doing an Automated System Recovery. The only difference between an ASR backup and a full backup of your whole system (including System State), as far as I know, is the creation of the ASR floppy.

As grouse says, you can do a bare-metal restore of a full Windows backup onto a new hard drive by doing an initial Windows installation onto it, then restoring from a full backup. This works. I've done it.

A lot of people have a lot of bad things to say about Windows Backup, but it's always worked OK for me. Most of what's wrong with it seem to be its design limitations (like not being able to back up to CD-ROM or DVD-R, which is just idiotic).

Use external hard drives (plural) for backup media. Don't fartarse around with tapes.
posted by flabdablet at 5:12 AM on January 21, 2008

Floppy disks are no where near as reliable as other forms of backup. You really don't want to be relying on a floppy if you need to backup.

There are two common ways to really do backup for critical machines. Norton Ghost and a spare hard drive will allow a machine with a dead drive to come back to life with a minimum of fuss (you have a byte for byte duplicate of your drive!). Virtualized machines that can just be copied around and booted in any running copy of a product like VMWare is another way to do it (boot backup machine, start copy of virtual machine, done).

For non-critical machines, a spare USB drive and scheduled backups of the relevant files is more than good enough for anything I've needed to do at home. Basically, almost no one actually tries to do any serious backup which involves relying on a floppy to be still good when you need to read it. (But some people still use tape backup... go figure)
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 8:06 AM on January 21, 2008

Norton Ghost does not actually make a byte for byte copy of your drive; it copies file by file. If you want a proper block-for-block copy, look into Acronis True Image if you like GUIs and you have money, or the Trinity Rescue Kit along with my own little load and save scripts if you like command lines and are cheap, or Gnu ddrescue (included on Trinity Rescue Kit) if you want to make an exact duplicate without making an intermediate compressed backup file first. These things are really better suited to making disk images for mass OS rollouts than to making regular disaster-recovery backups, though, in my opinion.

I'm actually in the process of looking for a nice simple backup program that can write to CD/DVD, and it looks to me as if this one from Willow Creek Software has a good set of design choices. I'll be trying it out later this week.
posted by flabdablet at 11:39 PM on January 21, 2008

OK, so now I don't like the Willow Creek backup products. I tried out Backup To CD/DVD, and not only did running it create configuration folders inside its own Program Files subfolder, it sloooowly built a huge temporary folder in C:\Windows\wcburn and then died before even trying to write the files to DVD. What I'm trying to back up with it is the home folders partition on a school server, there are lots and lots of loooooong pathnames involved, and Backup To CD/DVD apparently doesn't like that much.

Will report back when I find something that actually works.
posted by flabdablet at 7:48 PM on January 22, 2008

OK. Backup4all is cheap, doesn't barf on long pathnames the way the Willow Creek thing did, is nice and easy to drive, keeps its settings and temp files in standard Windows places by default, can use Volume Shadow Copy so it will back up an in-use registry, puts its backups in standard Zip files (with Zip64 support) and has mostly successfully made me a four-DVD backup set of the data partition from my primary school's file server. It doesn't seem to like non-ASCII filenames though. I've sent the support people a mail about that, so we'll see whether they're responsive or not.
posted by flabdablet at 11:30 PM on January 22, 2008

They responded very quickly, saying that Unicode support is on their to-do list, and that support for backing up NTFS file permissions will be in the next version. I'm pretty happy with that.
posted by flabdablet at 3:43 PM on January 24, 2008

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