bit-tech.net

Attack of the Clones

Posted on 2nd Jan 2011 at 10:41 by Paul Goodhead with 42 comments

Paul Goodhead
I recently built myself a new home PC which, as I'm sure most of you know, resulted in a lightning-quick computer. There's a level of snappiness and responsiveness that you get from a newly built PC, which you just can't seem to maintain, no matter how often you de-fragment your hard disk or clean your registry.

As a result, I knew that I wanted to create a disk image of my PC in its freshly installed state. This would essentially act as a time capsule, preserving an exact copy of my PC in its virgin state until I needed it. Then, when my Windows install got bloated and unresponsive in the future, I could simply copy the image back the other way, theoretically restoring my PC to exactly the same state it was in when I built it.

This is what we do with our graphics test rigs every time we benchmark a graphics card, just to ensure that the systems are identical for each card. If you ever want to ruin Harry's day, come round to bit-tech HQ and hide our graphics test rigs' master image drive.

Attack of the Clones Backing up my pc
Click to Enlarge

Imaging a drive isn't just a copy-and-paste job, though. You need a dedicated backup program to do the job effectively. We use the excellent Acronis True Image software to create an image of our graphics test rigs, but I wanted to see if there was an equivalent open source (read: free) program that would do much the same job.

After asking around and swiftly finding out that there wasn't (in the words of one colleague, 'Do you really want to trust a free program with your backup?'), I took the plunge with True Image.

I have to say that I'm glad I did, as it was very easy and simple to use. Granted, I had previous experience of the program through my use of it at work, but I was using different tools to those we use when re-imaging the graphics rigs.

Most importantly, the interface was very simple, with full explanations of the function of each button. This may sound silly, but when you're messing around with disk partitions, you really want to know the purpose of each button.

Attack of the Clones Backing up my pc
Click to Enlarge

I was even able to create images of more than one drive to my master drive, meaning I was able to back-up all of my drives (I'm a bit of a data hoarder) to the same disk, bringing me much closer to a complete system image than I was expecting.

It's now comforting to know that, if anything goes wrong, I have a pristine backup copy of my computer sitting on my shelf at home, ready to go at a moment's notice.

How do you guys manage your system backups? Do you leave it to Windows and System Restore, or do you have a dedicated program and a disk image on the shelf like me? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

42 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
phuzz 2nd January 2011, 12:03 Quote
I find it quick enough to just do a full re-install most times (especially if you only count the time you actually have to do something).
With an old image, by the time you've updated everything, and installed the programs/games you've installed since you took the image it's about the same. (although it's obviously a much easier option if you have multiple PCs. At work I use Microsoft's Windows Deployment Services, which is perfect for a business environment, and is free).
Oh, and for everyone who re-installs a lot of PCs, check out http://ninite.com/ it creates a custom installer with all of the programs you want to install. Much quicker than individually downloading and installing everything separately. Saved my a good hour or two in the few months I've been using it.
fatpgsley 2nd January 2011, 12:15 Quote
I think all you need to do on Linux or cygwin on windows to clone an unmounted disk is this:

$ dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb
Hustler 2nd January 2011, 12:27 Quote
I've been burned too many times over the years by these so called idiot proof backup solutions...

The 'Great data crash and burn' of 2006 is still a painful memory for me..:((

Messing around with partitions has caused me more grief than any hardware failures, i can tell you that.

Now i just keep a basic 50GB Windows OS install which has enough space for a few games and the apps that i use. Everything else i keep on a seperate 2TB hdrive, and whenever i feel the need for that 'Fresh and clean' install, it takes just an afternoon to re-install the OS....

Which is a hell of alot quicker than trying to re-download hundreds of GB's of stuff on a crappy 3.5mb connection.
GravitySmacked 2nd January 2011, 13:40 Quote
I too have a disk image of a nice fresh install of Win 7 using Windows own image software.

I also use Carbonite to remotely back up my main documents, photo's etc. For the videos, that I keep on my server, I back them up to an external hard drive.
StoneyMahoney 2nd January 2011, 13:58 Quote
At work we used DriveImage XML booting from a BartPE image on a USB hard drive to clone our Windows machines. It's free for personal use but can get a little picky about restoring backups to partitions that have shrunk, even if the data size isn't too large for the space available.

EDIT: It appears the latest DriveImage XML can image a drive in use as long as you have the Windows Volume Shadow service running (or Volume Shadow Copy as it was named in XP IIRC).
favst89 2nd January 2011, 14:03 Quote
For the initial windows and key programs I installed I use my main hard drive paired with a smaller old one in raid 1. If anything goes wrong with the primary drive install I can just hook up the spare and be back on in minutes while it rebuilds.
I keep all my documents backed up separately.
SchizoFrog 2nd January 2011, 14:06 Quote
I have an old 120GB IDE HDD with a full back-up of a clean install with all programs installed and updated including Anti-Virus and Windows Updates. It takes about 1.5Hours to recover and all I need to do is run a couple updates and install games.

The main thing I like about this way of back-up and recovery is not having to reconfigure Outlook and reset all the rules which can be a real pain.

All my data: Docs, MP3s, Vids... etc are on a seperate HDD.

The main thing I hate has nothing to do with the back-up itself, more to do with certain games. For example: Any Codemasters game is almost impossible to reload game save files forcing you to restart every time.

Oh... I use Acronis True Image Home 2011... :-p
Hustler 2nd January 2011, 14:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog


Any Codemasters game is almost impossible to reload game save files forcing you to restart every time.

Well not unless you delve deep into the hidden folders on your OS root directory and save a couple of folders that contain the save data...

Doing this i've been able to backup my save games for GRID and Dirt2 and continue where i left off after a fresh OS install...
cgthomas 2nd January 2011, 14:23 Quote
I do use Acronis and I'm very happy with it.
I've got a mirror partition (Raid 1) where I store a system image and files backup. Also I do make regular full and differential backups.
GravitySmacked 2nd January 2011, 14:24 Quote
I also keep WoW and Steam on a separate hard drive, good way of making sure they don't need reinstalling.
RichCreedy 2nd January 2011, 14:51 Quote
i use hd clone pro, but not just for my system, but for customers machines as well, if i have to do work on a hd, i clone it first
SchizoFrog 2nd January 2011, 15:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hustler
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog


Any Codemasters game is almost impossible to reload game save files forcing you to restart every time.

Well not unless you delve deep into the hidden folders on your OS root directory and save a couple of folders that contain the save data...

Doing this i've been able to backup my save games for GRID and Dirt2 and continue where i left off after a fresh OS install...

Please elaborate then... as every article I have read has been unsuccessful. I have previously found game save info in two different locations and some people have also suggested that it is tied to the 'Windows Live' details... all attempts have returned the result of 'Game Save Data Corrupted'.
YEHBABY 2nd January 2011, 17:13 Quote
Glad to see you talk so highly of Acronis True Image 2011, as I just ordered a copy a couple of days ago from amazon £20.97.
centy 2nd January 2011, 17:21 Quote
For Dirt 2 just start a new save game. Once you have done the first race save the game and exit to windows.

Now navigate to C:\Users\YourUsernmameHere\Documents\My Games\DiRT2\savegame

Instead of copying your entire savegame folder which will be named something like PB0171440, just move the save game files contained with you old folder of similar name into PB0171440 or whatever your savegame folder may be.

I had the same problem only this morning, just on F1 2010 I think they work in the same way (GTAIV is the same way also)
schmidtbag 2nd January 2011, 17:56 Quote
as a long term windows user, i COMPLETELY agree with this article and i know exactly how that feels. however, as a currently extensive linux user, i find it funny and relieving that i don't have to deal with those problems. i really wonder where all the poor performance comes from in windows when all i do is browse a few websites and play a game here and there. with linux i can install large programs, replace them with others, and run updates every day and it actually performs better than when i first installed it.

btw, just because a program is free it doesn't mean it isn't credible or reliable. again, linux is a good example of this. its used in almost every server - computers that MUST have a reliable OS.
DirtyH 2nd January 2011, 17:56 Quote
http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.asp

It's free, fast and I never had a problem with it.
tad2008 2nd January 2011, 18:13 Quote
+1 for Macrium
ffjason 2nd January 2011, 18:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by phuzz
I find it quick enough to just do a full re-install most times (especially if you only count the time you actually have to do something)....

Oh, and for everyone who re-installs a lot of PCs, check out http://ninite.com/ it creates a custom installer with all of the programs you want to install. Much quicker than individually downloading and installing everything separately. Saved my a good hour or two in the few months I've been using it.

Incredible. I wish i'd found ninite before. I reinstall all the time, and install fresh systems for friends. This will save me hours.
phuzz 2nd January 2011, 18:47 Quote
Oh yeah, another benefit of using the windows imaging tool at work, is that you can inject drivers and .msi's into the image, and with Vista and 7's ability NOT to throw a complete wobbly when you boot it on new hardware, you can have one image and just apply it on everything, laptops to workstations. (XP basically requires a separate install of every type of hardware)
Of course, screwing around with unattend.xml will take a while at first.
InSanCen 2nd January 2011, 18:57 Quote
For Windows, I use Acronis as well, but for my Linux partitions, then DD works every time.
Skiddywinks 2nd January 2011, 19:24 Quote
I use Clonezilla. I copy my Steam folder to a seperate drive, and also permanently keep my music folder on that same drive.

Restore, drag the Steam folder to where it will be, run installer, done. Also, simply drag my entire music folder into WMP once I have it booted for the first time, and wait for it to add to library. Done.

Although, to be fair, the only reason I do this is for the sake of my SSD. If I was on a traditional HDD for my boot device, I wouldn't bother. Updating the programs from your month, 2 month, 3 month or older clone is about as time consuming as installing them in the first place.

And making an updated clone is pointless, because you just end up formatting the old fashioned way everytime anyway, and then cloning it never to be used.
SuicideNeil 2nd January 2011, 20:00 Quote
I have a 500GB external HDD with all my personal files backed up onto it ( including IE and Opera bookmarks ) and a piece of paper with a list programs I use/ need. Should anything really bad happen, it only takes an afternoon to reinstall the OS + update it & re-download the programs ( everything I use is freeware or I have a disc ). Very low tech but highly effective.... :D
Guinevere 2nd January 2011, 22:27 Quote
Another +1 for Acronis and how damn fine it is. I've also got it set to create a vmware VM from the image. The whole shebang is saved to my NAS and if needed I can even boot into my Win7 image from my MBP even over the NAS (Slow as hell, but it works)
Oggyb 2nd January 2011, 23:35 Quote
Anyone here choosing to use a 3rd party over Windows 7's built-in backup solution?
DeathAwaitsU 3rd January 2011, 00:57 Quote
Quote:
After asking around and swiftly finding out that there wasn't (in the words of one colleague, 'Do you really want to trust a free program with your backup?'), I took the plunge with True Image.

This guy needs to learn a few things about open source tbqh
centy 3rd January 2011, 01:48 Quote
only problem I find with ninite is that it isnt always bang up to date and can install older versions of software sometimes
NethLyn 3rd January 2011, 01:57 Quote
Kept True Image 10 for the Vista PC but on Win 7-64, I just reinstalled as there are still few enough updates pre-SP1 for it to be bearable (just). Newer versions than v11 haven't had good word of mouth before this review, so I'll stick with optical discs and now USB backups for data.

Final step is an external, that would round off the backup routine, three physical backups is enough if kept in different places.
Nicho133 3rd January 2011, 02:34 Quote
All I do is good old Copy and Paste to my external HDD. The reason why I do this is I know that if I have to restore my data one day that it will actually work.
Nicho133 3rd January 2011, 02:37 Quote
I've also used this freeware program to clone a HDD data to an SSD. http://www.todo-backup.com/
erratum1 3rd January 2011, 07:29 Quote
It's a good idea to do this, i've got sooo many games and movies on my pc if this dies I won't be a happy bunny. Also a reinstall will take forever to get it to the state that it is at now.
ADJB 3rd January 2011, 08:57 Quote
Quote:
I wanted to see if there was an equivalent open source (read: free) program that would do much the same job.

After asking around and swiftly finding out that there wasn't (in the words of one colleague, 'Do you really want to trust a free program with your backup?'), I took the plunge with True Image.

You didn't look very far did you?

PING (Partimage Is Not Ghost) http://ping.windowsdream.com is an excellent, quick and very reliable system. Network or local backups, saves BIOS settings, will work from any media, doesn't need installing and is lightning fast.

But I suppose if your afraid of the command line then your going to pay for the nice pictures.
Nikumba 3rd January 2011, 11:11 Quote
I do prefer using a paid for branded clone app partly due to you are likely to get better support and help should you run into problems.

Quote:
Originally Posted by schmidtbag
again, linux is a good example of this. its used in almost every server - computers that MUST have a reliable OS.

I will more than happily dispute that fact, as a sysadmin with over 75 servers all of them are Windows and I can tell you they are reliable, they do not fall over, and we have a mix of 2000, 2003, 2003R2, 2008, 2008R2.

We also have several IBM AS/400 machines and they are pretty reliable.
GregTheRotter 3rd January 2011, 11:18 Quote
Can't believe nobody has mentioned windows disk image saving tool. Works, and it's free.
bobwya 3rd January 2011, 11:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikumba

I will more than happily dispute that fact, as a sysadmin with over 75 servers all of them are Windows and I can tell you they are reliable, they do not fall over, and we have a mix of 2000, 2003, 2003R2, 2008, 2008R2.

You don't need to reboot them after updates (because the application data is assumed to be inviolable on the harddisks), the partitions don't suffer from NTFS fragmentation, the OS isn't just a desktop OS with server 'bolt-ons', the OS supports non-native file systems, etc.

Have to endure using Windows XP networked (over the internet) to Windows 2008 at work - and it's a bad joke.

Love Windows on the desktop, but as a server it is too flawed... Visa-versa for Linux...
bobwya 3rd January 2011, 11:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skiddywinks
I use Clonezilla. I copy my Steam folder to a seperate drive, and also permanently keep my music folder on that same drive.

Really if Clonezilla was updated, with a decent UI, it would be a viable alternative to Macrum Reflect, Paragon and Acronis (especially since it is free and OSS). It is especially flexible about partition filesystems and the backup target (which can be CIFS shares and over FTP). Just now it feels very clunky since mostly it's just chaining together GNU command shell applications (like dd).
Xir 3rd January 2011, 13:23 Quote
Driveimage started from a DOS-3,5" Disk.
...bit oldschool maybe? :D
Hakuren 3rd January 2011, 16:00 Quote
HDClone Standard/Pro every time. HDC is way more useful, in particular with large systems
Ross1 3rd January 2011, 21:33 Quote
hardware changes are usually what prompts my reinstalls now, rather than simply them getting bloated/corrupted//messy/etc.
Skiddywinks 3rd January 2011, 21:55 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by bobwya
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skiddywinks
I use Clonezilla. I copy my Steam folder to a seperate drive, and also permanently keep my music folder on that same drive.

Really if Clonezilla was updated, with a decent UI, it would be a viable alternative to Macrum Reflect, Paragon and Acronis (especially since it is free and OSS). It is especially flexible about partition filesystems and the backup target (which can be CIFS shares and over FTP). Just now it feels very clunky since mostly it's just chaining together GNU command shell applications (like dd).

To be honest, really the only reasons I use Clonezilla are because I wanted something that was free, and before I even knew I wanted a cloning utility, I came across an article on OC3D which talked about cloning a HDD to a SSD, and it had all the instructions I could need.

Just kind of fell on to my lap really.
B33 ENN 4th January 2011, 07:57 Quote
I've sworn by Acronis for a few years now. It is, in my opinion, the best. I just upgraded to the latest version and it has some great addtional touches although the UI has been altered and that takes getting used to.
Captain Obvious 5th January 2011, 19:50 Quote
Anyone who deems FLOSS untrustworthy is ignorant of
a) the motivation of its drivers ( coders producing something THEY want )
b) the bug-eradication system called "many eyes find bugs faster than few do", and
c) for the core stuff that the core coders HAVE to be able to trust, competence is their "badge".

-shrug-

it's a cultural thing: believers believe everyone else is foolish, and that is that.

Knowers are more likely to test & try & discover objectively, but that requires a culture-shift.

http://www.sysresccd.org/Main_Page

Linux has saved my Windows system SO many times I can't count... ( what was that program called... gpart or something, that could discover where a partition SHOULD be, after some MS-land stupidity had killed my partition table...? I live in Linux, now, so it's been years since Linux had to save me from Windows's screwups, though Windows's destruction of my multiboot is .. routine, thanks to MS's devotion to preventing OTHER OSs... you may remember when WinServer wiped multiboot from everyone's servers, to DRM/control the machine... news from /.
typical... )
cebla 6th January 2011, 00:51 Quote
I have used Odin (http://odin-win.sourceforge.net/) successfully to copy an image of my laptop hard drive and restore it to a new bigger hard drive. After the copy all I had to do was put the hard drive in my laptop and everything booted up and ran fine on the bigger drive (I was running Windows 7).
Log in

You are not logged in, please login with your forum account below. If you don't already have an account please register to start contributing.



Discuss in the forums
CM Storm NovaTouch TKL Review

CM Storm NovaTouch TKL Review

24th October 2014

Corsair Gaming H1500 Review

Corsair Gaming H1500 Review

23rd October 2014

CM Storm Resonar Review

CM Storm Resonar Review

22nd October 2014