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Create A Perfect Backup Of Your Windows Hard Drive

Brandon Drury —  January 14, 2008

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 Problem
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.

The Requirements

  • 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.

The Solution
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.

Bart’s PE-Builder.
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 Concept
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).

In Practice
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.
      Done


    The Result

    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.

    Conclusion
    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

    Brandon Drury

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    Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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    10 responses to Create A Perfect Backup Of Your Windows Hard Drive

    1. TheSilentDrummer January 15, 2008 at 3:10 pm

      Interesting. So basically you just backed up your Recording Rig, not any of your projects or sessions, right??

    2. 1st problem is that every single program you would like to have available when the bart PE environment runs in from RAM, has to be installed before the PE disc is even created.
      That dosent mean you cant do it but believe, me, Im a microsoft certified Network engineering student about to graduate, and I have had issues getting this to work.

      Let me offer you a much easier solution..

      while the practice of pirating software is somewhat looked down upon, there is nothing you can do to stop it.

      my suggestion to you, is to download a copy of Norton ghost 9.0 from your favorite bit torrent client, and schedule a boot time image back up. The best practice is to do this IMMEDIATELY AFTER you are done installing a fresh copy of windows, windows updates, drivers, and the applications you want installed.

      After the back up is created and stored in the specified location (preferably external hard disk) brun a hard copy (DVD or CD media) and you are good to go!

      Seconed issue, there is no way ANY boot disk or harddrive image will install in less then five minutes, lol

      third issue, invest in a Mac. seriously, the reason why forums exist for this stuff is because of the issues with microsoft.

      definitely a great topic though, it could save alot of people valuable time, well done

    3. 1st problem is that every single program you would like to have available when the bart PE environment runs in from RAM, has to be installed before the PE disc is even created.

      This is not a problem because I only need one program. The backup utility. I’m using DriveImage XML V1.21 plugin and I’m happy with it. This is the ONLY thing I need to do within this environment. If there was an emergency and I needed more programs, I would just create a new boot disk.

      while the practice of pirating software is somewhat looked down upon, there is nothing you can do to stop it.

      I can’t stop rape or government spending but that doesn’t mean I’ll take part in it.

      my suggestion to you, is to download a copy of Norton ghost 9.0 from your favorite bit torrent client, and schedule a boot time image back up. The best practice is to do this IMMEDIATELY AFTER you are done installing a fresh copy of windows, windows updates, drivers, and the applications you want installed.

      Installing ANY unnecessary programs within Windows is unacceptable as it will result in a loss performance. I push my recording rig hard. I’m not willing to compromise a single 0.05% of performance on my recording computer. Keeping a rig clean is the best way to do this. Maybe Norton Ghost wouldn’t cause any problems, but I can’t think of a reason to chance it. This “no tolerance” policy would only apply to my recording computer.

      Seconed issue, there is no way ANY boot disk or harddrive image will install in less then five minutes, lol

      You can laugh all you want, but I’ve done it. The Windows XP install is only a couple Gig. To simply transfer these files from the backup hard drive to the C: drive takes less than 5 minutes. After a restart, Windows will work just fine. Try it if you get bored.

      third issue, invest in a Mac. seriously, the reason why forums exist for this stuff is because of the issues with microsoft.

      You are free to choose whatever religion you want, but your logic is questionable. There are quite a few Mac forums, too. I think all computers have their problems. I’ve never noticed a difference in quality / reliability between Mac and PC, but I’ve definitely noticed a difference in price. A Mac costs 3x what I build my PCs for.

    4. “Installing ANY unnecessary programs within Windows is unacceptable as it will result in a loss performance”

      Your a pretty hardcore dude about your performance. any computer person could tell you that nothing runs in windows that you dont want to run, you just gotta know where to push the right buttons haha.

      BELIEVE ME buddy, im microsoft certified and a network engineering grad as of the end of the month.

      “I can’t stop rape or government spending but that doesn’t mean I’ll take part in it.” — look this acronym up… ready?

      STFU

    5. any computer person could tell you that nothing runs in windows that you dont want to run, you just gotta know where to push the right buttons haha.

      There may be some truth to this. However, I’ve grown not to trust ANY program I don’t need. It only takes one bad program to make it so that mixes that were running at 99% of my capacity just a month ago are now running at 101% capacity and therefor un-openable. I would expect this to be common with anyone needing “real time” processing.

      I’ve found that uninstalling software won’t always fix the problem. There are changes to the registry and who knows what else going on in the background. If I had a better understanding of the Windows XP system, I could probably find a way to circumvent these kinds of problems.

      However, it’s not worth my time. I’d rather just avoid them.

      STFU

      Cute. I wouldn’t expect a person with your incredible intellect and vast education to give in so easily. I’m not going to get into the downloading argument. As a rule, I’ve taken the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to downloading. Everyone has already made up their mind on the issue. However, actively promoting the concept is another thing entirely and not something I’m going to partake in.

      Maybe I’m missing something, but it isn’t ironic that you are telling someone to “shut the fuck up” on a blog where all you have to do is hit the old “X” to close out the browser window?

      Brandon

    6. Brandon,

      Don’t sweat the Dan guy. If he is so sure about what does and doesn’t run without pushing buttons he is for sure clueless. I don’t believe he even know what a ‘service’ is. And how many applications spawn persistent service processes in the background despite *not* pushing a button.
      Microsoft certified? They are a dime a dozen and book smart at best. Recommending Apple? To avoid his expertise? I agree!

      @ silentdrummer: Another concept you must embrace is that of keeping your data (sessions) on a separate drive or at least drive partition. You do not comingle applications, executable programs, and all resultant data on the same partition.

    7. I too have issues about the piracy question but as has been said everyone has their own opinion and asides it strays from the original point. I would say however as a long term user of legitamate Ghost software, since Ver 4.0 its still for me the best image backup solution.

      Ironically the only version I did have problems with was around ver 9 and 10. On version 12 now and whilst 8.1 is regarded as the most efficient and reliable I could not create a boot image that woould work correctly with the newer 965 chipsets, all is now well with ver 12 and like Brandon said originally the ball ache that was a fresh XP install is once again a thing of the past.

      I usually spend 2 or 3 solid days incrementally buildimg ghost images with every new machine build but once complete its a breeze to return to an earlier less populated state if any issues are noted after a couple of weeks of rigorous Cubase sessions.

    8. I use bootit-ng to resize the os partion small enough to make a copy of it in a different patition (perhaps on a different HD), then hide that partition. This makes recovery from problems much easier. If something no longer works right, that system restore won’t fix, I just recopy the saved partition over the working os, and generally things are back up. Bootit-ng boots very quickly.

      NOTE!!! To do this, you must make sure that you are not saving and data on the OS partition. It would be lost if it was written to the OS partition after the original copy was made!!!

      Bob

    9. I can attest to the time value of solving obscure problems with a drive/partition restore. I do live performances streaming over the internet and all of a sudden I started getting intermittent problems during shows. After spending an hour or two I threw in the towel and replaced the entire OS and all applications with a 6 month old copy. The process didn’t take long and the problem (and a few others) vanished. I was using a program called Acronis which I selected after researching the available options. Ghost is the longstanding big name in this category but in the last couple of years I was getting the impression Acronis might be the new contender so I went with that as it also does daily automated system backups for me. I think it cost me about $60 and has been worth every penny so far.

    10. Well acctually you can revore your data even if you lost it with a recovery software I used launch data recov and it didn’t recoverd all that but some of it . Better than nothing , and now i use to backup witch i think is more easier that all you wrote in the topic is Dmailer BackUp Software , easy to use and no complicated things to do just backup, store it online or where you want , and recover it.

      I like the simplicity of the all process