As promised, this Switched On introduces the tools required to make a complete replica of your computer's hard drive, called a "disk image". These are useful should you ever need to restore your system following a disk "crash", virus problem or similar disaster.
Images are also ideal if you decide to upgrade or replace a hard drive, as you can simply restore an image back-up to the new hard drive and carry on exactly as before, without having to reinstall Windows and all your programs.
A note of caution: Back-ups are vital safeguards, so you must make sure you've got them set up correctly. If you need some extra reassurance, please discuss this column with a trusted and knowledgeable friend or local IT consultant, and ask them to check that your back-up processes are sufficiently robust. Don't take any chances with your precious data.
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You will need somewhere to store your disk image data. This ought to be on a separate disk to the one that you are imaging, so an external hard drive is ideal. These are available from any computer store in a variety of capacities. Pocket-sized models contain slower, slimmer hard drives inside, while the physically larger external drives contain the same sort of drive a desktop PC uses, and generally offer better read and write speeds. You shouldn't take chances with a back-up device, so don't cut corners on quality. I personally use models from established manufacturers such as
For simplicity, allow as much space for your disk image as is used on the hard drive you are taking an image of. So, if you have a hard drive containing 100 gigabytes of data, allow for 100 gigabytes of free space on an external drive. To find out how much space is used on a hard drive, open "My Computer" (in Windows XP) or "Computer" (in Windows Vista, 7 and 8). Below the heading "Hard Disk Drives", look for the drive in question - usually the C: Drive. Right-click on the drive icon, then click "Properties". A window should pop up showing you how much space is used, via a pie chart.
Note the number for "Used Space". This will be a number of "GB" - short for gigabytes. When shopping for an external hard drive, choose a capacity that suits the amount of data you store, with ample spare space for future growth. External drives are now available from 300 gigabytes to a whopping |4 terabytes. My own C: drive has 450GB of used data, so I need at least a 500GB external hard drive to get by and, guessing my future needs, I'd opt for a 1 terabyte model at least.
Once you have sorted out an external hard drive, you need software to create a disk image. Windows 7 includes a built-in, basic tool to create a system image, and this no-frills utility works just fine. Simply click the Start button and type "back up", then click "Back up your computer". Then click "Create a system image" and follow the prompts.
One imaging tool that has impressed me lately is EaseUS Todo Backup, Free from www.tinyurl|.com/ETDB2014. Note that you are asked for your e-mail address to receive the download link, but there's an option on this page to decline any future offers from EaseUS. It's just above the "Send Download Link" button.
It may have an awkward name, but Todo Backup's interface couldn't be simpler, and it supports all current Windows versions including XP.
Create and recover disk or partition back-ups (these are images), clone your entire system or back up only selected files - Todo Backup makes the process painless. You can even choose to "mount" an image file, which makes it viewable to your computer, allowing you to browse and retrieve files without having to restore the complete image. A review at www.tinyurl.com/ETDBreview will help you get to grips with the basics.
Until next week, stay Switched On!
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