How To Create A Drive or System Image - Page 1 of 2


Drive imaging is used by IT (Information Technology) Professionals. Home and SOHO (small office, home office) computer users can use drive imaging to save time, money and frustration. This tutorial is specific to Windows Windows 7, but the process is similar for Windows Vista and 8. I use the functionality included with the operating system to show you how to create a drive image and the associated emergency boot disk. You won't need to pay for expensive specialized software.

Before You Begin This Tutorial

What is a drive image (also called a disk or system image)? A drive image is an exact copy of the contents (and structure) of a computer's hard drive or "partition". If you do not know what I mean when I use the term "partition" I suggest you first read my tutorial "Partition Your Hard Drive". The tutorial explains what a partition is. I discuss why creating a partition is important and how you can use partitions to protect and manage files you store on your computer. I also show you how to "partition" your computers hard drive using an easy step by step process. What you learn in the tutorial will benefit you as you work through this tutorial on creating a drive image.

Why Is This Important To You?

How can creating a "drive image" help you? You must first create a drive image when your computer is working properly. If your computer develops a problem you can restore it to a previous state using the drive image. Your computer will work as it did at the time you created your drive image.

Drive images can be used to resolve various types of computer problems. A couple of scenarios in which a drive image can be useful include:
  1. Your computer is not running like it used to when you first purchased it. It seems slow or sluggish, you receive unusual error messages when you use it.
  2. Your computer becomes infected with a virus, Trojan or spyware has been installed.
  3. You add new software to a computer and it creates undesirable side effects, issues/problems. Un installing the software does not resolve the issues/problems.
  4. You add a Microsoft update or patch and it causes an issue/problem.
These and similar issues can often be resolved by restoring your computer with a drive image created at some earlier date.

Many of the types of problems a drive image can help you recover from are software (operating system or application) related issues. Most computer related problems are NOT the result of a mechanical (hardware) failure.

What A Drive Image Can Not Fix

A drive image is seldom useful to resolve computer problems that result from a hardware failure. For example, if your computers memory (RAM) fails a drive image can not be used to resolve the problems associated with this type of hardware failure. The exception is if there has been a mechanical failure of your computer's hard drive. If your computer's hard drive fails (it does happen) you will need to reinstall/restore your operating system and updates plus device drivers and any additional software titles you use. You will need to re-configure any personal preferences, Internet and e-mail accounts. Depending on your hardware and software configuration a new installation could take several hours to complete. If you had a known good drive image stored for emergencies you could copy/restore that image to a newly purchased hard drive.

Restoring a drive image to a hard drive can take as little as 15 minutes. This will depend on the speed of your computer's hardware and the size of the image file to be restored. The size of the image file is dependent on the operating system (OS) (Example: Windows 7 or 8) you have installed and updates, plus the number of software titles you have installed. I suggest you independently backup any important personal files (pictures, MP3, video, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, database files etc.) stored on the drive.

Before You Create Your Drive Image

You need a place to store the drive image you create. What you use to store your drive image must have a large enough capacity to hold the resulting image file you create.

Storage options to consider are:
  1. Install an additional physical hard drive in your computer. Installing an additional hard drive has the disadvantage of the added cost of purchasing the drive. You also must have the knowledge and ability to install the drive.
  2. Purchase an external, portable USB drive and use it to store/backup your drive image/s and other files. You can buy external, portable USB drives fairly inexpensively at just about any store that sells consumer electronics. Consider buying an external drive with a separate power switch. This allows you to turn off the drive when not in use. The disadvantage is the added cost of the external portable drive.
  3. Divide (partition) the storage area of your computer's hard drive into separate sections. For example, partition the hard drive that holds the operating system (Windows 7, 8 or above) into 2 partitions. Use one partition to hold the operating system. The second partition can be used to hold your files (MP3s, Word & spreadsheet, database, video files etc) and image files. Follow my tutorial Partition Your Hard Drive" to learn an easy, FREE way to partition your computers hard drive.
  4. Copy/burn the image file to DVD disks. This is by far the slooooowest method to create and store drive images. It took 16 minutes to burn an 18 gigabyte drive image to a partition on my computers hard drive. Total elapsed time to burn the same drive image to DVD-R was about 50 minutes. Four DVD-R disks were required to hold the drive image. I can't imagine how long it would take to restore an image from DVD. The benefit of burning your drive image to DVD-R is you can not accidentally delete it.

Create a smaller partition to hold your computer's operating system rather than using your computer's entire hard drive to hold the operating system. For example an 80 gigabyte partition will provide plenty of space for either Windows 7 or 8. It will take less time to create a "drive image of the operating system if it is contained in a smaller partition. The drive images created will be easier to store because they will occupy less space where they are stored. Smaller drive images will restore faster to a target drive in an emergency.

I suggest you redundantly store your drive image/s on at least 2 different drives. One copy of your drive image/s can be stored in a partition of your computer's internal hard drive. Another copy should be stored on an external, portable USB drive. I prefer this arrangement because image files stored to the computers internal hard drive generally restore faster than an image file stored on an external portable USB drive. Why? An internal drive is generally faster than an external portable USB drive. Restoring a drive image from an internal drive allows me to recover faster from most issues and problems I experience. The image file stored on the external portable drive can be used if your computers internal drive fails or becomes infected with malware.

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