This blog may be leaning a little too much towards the hardcore computer nerd side of the fence, but after the week I’ve had, I wish someone would have slapped a “Booger” t-shirt on me years ago. I would have gladly put masking tape on the glasses I don’t have just to avoid this total hell.
You can read all about my venture into the computer super hell here: Home Recording Computer Doom: IRQ Conflicts, ACPI, and Misc Disasters
What I’m about to tell you would have saved me about 40 hours of headaches and would allowed me to make hundreds of dollars that I missed from canceling two recording sessions.
The easiest way to solve problems on a recording computer is to format the C: drive and reinstall a fresh copy of Windows. While this won’t fix every problem, it knocks out about 90% of them. The only trouble is it can take hours to reinstall Windows and software on a “normal” computer. For a recording computer, each and every plugin and virtual instrument must be installed and licensed. This can take DAYS!
After that, you still lose all of your settings. When I first formatted Cubase SX3 for the first time, it was almost like learning the program over again at times. Cubase is SO configurable that I had forgotten just how custom I had made it.
- We require a perfect backup of the EXACT file system with everything from settings to serial numbers included.
- We do not want ANYTHING running in the background with in Windows. In fact, we don’t even want to install any software within Windows for backing up programs. We definitely want to keep Windows as clean as possible.
- When problems do arise, the restore process must be quick. It’s not a big deal to take 30 minutes or less to restore a computer while the band runs down to Burger King.
I took the time find a great method of making sure that the C: drive of my recording system can be restored fast. After installing all recording software, plugins, cd burning software, synths, etc my C: drive can now be restored back to fully functional status in a little over 10 minutes.
First you’ll need Bart’s PE-Builder. It is basically a temporary operating system that runs from a cd-rom so you can do stuff that can’t normally do while Windows in running. (That’s the robo technical explanation!).
DriveImage XML V1.21 plugin
DriveImage is an open source script that is normally written for Windows that allows you to create perfect images of the data on hard drives. The Windows version has two problems. 1) You have to install it in Windows (we are trying to keep our recording computer ultra spotless if possible) and 2) Since it is loaded within Windows you can’t restore data onto the C: drive (because Windows is already using the C: drive to run. This is similar to why you have to restart your computer to run Scandisk on your operating system drive.)
Since we can’t use the Windows software, there is another option. We can use the DriveImage XML V1.21 plugin for the Bart PE-Builder.
Windows XP Installation CD
You’ll need the Windows XP installation cd that you used to install the operating system initially.
Extra Hard Drive
A spare hard drive that you don’t mind erasing. This is the one downer for this setup. You’ll need an empty hard drive or a hard drive that you don’t mind erasing the data on. If you are like me and have 5 extra hard drives sitting in your desk drawer, this won’t be a problem. It could be a problem for others. There may be a workaround for this, but it’ll require a nerdier dude that me.
The Bart PE-Builder uses the Windows XP CD to create a “boot disk” with all kinds of utilities on it. By default, it does not come with the DriveImage plugins, so well want to add that when we create our boot disk. After we create the boot disk, we’ll restart our computer. If your CD-ROM is selected to boot first the Bart operating system will be loaded and Windows XP will not. It’ll be a little slow, but that’s because all the files are on a cd-rom and not on a much faster hard drive.
Once we have the Bart operating system loaded, we’ll open up the DriveImage program. From there, we can make a copy of the C: drive and copy it to our new “extra” hard drive. As mentioned before, DriveImage can not simply put the backup in a folder. I guess it ignores the folder structure of Windows. When we backup the files, it will overwrite anything on the hard drive. I’ve found with my setup, that it won’t matter much. I ended up keeping the hard drive in my computer, but I unhooked the power (I don’t have any other use for the hard drive other than backing up and restoring the C: drive).
All these new terms and such may seem complicated, but the end result was super simple.
- Put the CD in.
When the new, cd-rom based operating system loads, open the file backup software.
- Copy the C: drive to the blank hard drive.
On my first try everything went perfectly. I had no trouble. My back up file was 9GB. They are broken into smaller files so you could burn them to a CD or DVD. I was really surprised how quickly it backed up my entire drive. It couldn’t have taken more than 3 or 4 minutes. It may have been faster than that.
I tried a test restore. Again, it only took a few minutes to perform the restore. I restarted the computer (after taking the cd-rom book disk out) and my restored image worked perfectly.
At the moment, I don’t have all my Cubase settings exactly how I want them, and I still haven’t installed all my cd burning software and a few little plugins I occasionally use. When I get my rig set up exactly how I want it, I’ll make a backup of the image and burn it to DVDs in addition to my extra hard drive. The next time I have major issues like I did this week, it should be as simple as giving power to my backup hard drive, firing up the computer with the Bart Book Disk in the cd-rom, and then restoring the C: drive using DriveImage XML. Removing the boot disk and restoring the system should be doable in 5 minute!
This method will entirely rule out any issues within Windows and make troubleshooting MUCH faster. If there are still computer issues after a restore like this, it’s highly likely that the problem is hardware.
I could have saved myself 4 days of trouble and 2 canceled sessions if I would have simply backup up my C: drive with Bart’s PE-Builder and the DriveImage XML plugin. This is an INCREDIBLE feature for me especially since I’ve had to major computer issues within the past month. Now I know that if I run into trouble, I can have my computer back up before the band even makes it Burger King.
Note: I intentionally didn’t give directions on exactly how to do this because there are sites that already do a better job than I would have done. I simply wanted to give the overview and the concepts. The instructions are super easy for anyone who can read, so I guess that rules you out. Ha ha