Cloning A Hard Drive (System Backup) - PCWiki
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Cloning A Hard Drive (System Backup)

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There are many ways to back up your system and data. I will differentiate backup from archive which is pulling old data off the system and onto storage media to retain off-line. There are two methods of backing up your Operating System and Programs, imaging and cloning, which has a hurdle to clear in restoring your system. It is difficult to do a test restore without putting your actual good data at risk by overwriting the system from the image.

The one method that does not have that hurdle - cloning. Cloning is the process of making an exact duplicate. There are many systems available that purport to clone a hard drive, but I have only had experience with two. The first was my stalwart for years, but did not keep up, and was not successful on my Windows XP Media Center Edition machine with new SATA controllers. It had also never properly supported USB devices, even on my older machines. So I was forced to find a new one. This is Acronis True Image. The current version is 11, and if you have Vista, it is an important upgrade. Version 10 will clone Vista drives, but it is, to be diplomatic, quirky when doing so. It works fine on XP. There maybe other software that performs the cloning process, but I do not have personal experience with them on any system, much less 5 diverse systems. I will not take the position that Acronis is the only, nor will I take the position that it is the best, only that this cloning works.

Cloning is not to be used to attempt to copy the system disk from Computer A to Computer B. Ironically that was it's original purpose, but that ended with Windows 2000 and the COA and activation. Even on systems that don't have that, there are all the driver issues that are different from machine to machine. Where cloning really provides security is in the arena of duplicating the system that you have spend hours or days prepping to the way you want it.

Say you have just purchased a brand new PC and turn it on and find the screen half full of icons for all the "free", "trial" and "promo" software, not to mention the invasive internet security suite that was pre-loaded. Even with the assistance of PC Decrapifier this is a process that will take some time. Symantec's Norton's Internet Security has to be removed with its own Uninstall Tool, and you cannot remove Microsoft Works from most systems without the original install CD (even with Windows Add/Remove Software) which does not come with the PC. PC Decrapifier will remove it and other software. Finally you get all the junk off the machine, load the software you really want so you can do the work you bought the machine for, you sit back and take a breath and realize you never want to go through that again.

With the aid of a second Hard Drive and cloning software, you don't have to. Now if you have a system that will only support one drive (ie: some laptops and slim line desktops), you will need one more item - an external drive enclosure or connector

Make sure that the second hard drive is one that your system supports and the external drive enclosure also supports that same style drive. Older systems used IDE drives, and most newer ones are SATA. Notebook 2.5" IDE drives have a different pin configuration than 3.5" desktop IDE drives, but all SATA drives use the same interface. Rather than purchasing an external enclosure which is intended for semi-permanent use, a universal connector could be utilized to hook up the drive temporarily during the cloning process, which most of the time only takes about 20-30 minutes.

{Note: you can clone from an IDE drive to an SATA drive and reverse. I have done it when I need to store an original image from an SATA drive and had only an IDE drive available. You just can?t boot from the drive if your system doesn?t support that format.}

You have two different methods of ordering Acronis, as a download and as a boxed CD. If you choose the download method, it has the advantage of speed, but be sure to save the download file somewhere safe in case you need to reinstall. After installation, you can burn a bootable rescue CD, the boxed CD already is.

There are other features of Acronis, but we are only going to do the cloning. After the start, in the main screen, you want disc management, and then cloning. With the target disc connected to the computer, you can start the cloning process. The steps are fairly close to those of my previous software in that you designate the source disc, and then the target disc. However, now you get to chose the method of cloning the partitions (volumes) on the disc, either automatic or manual. If automatic, it will proportionately resize the partitions. Thus if you are moving the data from an 80GB to a 160GB, each partition on the new drive will be twice the size of the corresponding partition on the old drive. Then the software will give you a display of the steps involved, either 2 or 3 steps. If the target drive has data, the first step is to clear the data. If you are starting with a clean or new drive, this is skipped. The next step is to copy the files, and the last step is to create the Master Boot Record (MBR) and finish the project. After confirming, the system will reboot (if running from within Windows) or start (if running from the CD).

The process is faster than installing almost any current OS, usually taking 20 to 30 minutes. At the end, if you are running from within Windows, it will tell you to press a key and then shut down the machine. You should swap the drives then, and reboot. When you have booted, you have just done a confirmation of the viability of your backup. No other method of backup does this as an integral step.

If you are going through this process to speed the transfer to a larger HD, simply place the old drive on the shelf. This is now your emergency backup. If you have a failure of your HD, you can simply swap the backup drive into your machine and reboot. Since I tend to use this to create a fully functional backup, I put the original drive back in the machine and store the clone as my backup.

I emphasized that this process was for the Operating System and Programs. They don?t really change all that often, unless you add a new program, remove some old ones, or update/upgrade programs. Not like the data files that change so rapidly. For this reason (and long habit), I keep the data files on a separate drive. If this is not possible, then consider created a ?Data? folder on the drive. Either way, a separate frequent backup of the data files should be performed. I use a simple old-fashioned technique, simply do a copy of the data to a separate external drive and storing that drive in a safe place. Recent problems with fires California and tornados in the plains states, as well as hurricanes along the Gulf Coase show that would not necessarily be at your home. A more detailed discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this document.

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