Windows 7 System Image
Microsoft Windows 7 (and later version) offers the ability to create a system image from within the Windows Backup and Restore tool. A system image is an exact image of a drive, complete with every hidden and visible system or boot file. A system image includes the Windows OS and your system settings, programs, and files. You can use a system image to restore the contents of your computer if your hard drive or computer ever stops working. When you restore your computer from a system image, it is a complete restoration; you can’t choose individual items to restore, and all of your current programs, system settings, and files are replaced. Although this type of backup includes your personal files, we recommend that you back up your files regularly using Windows Backup so that you can restore individual files and folders as needed. When you set up scheduled file backup, you can choose whether you want to include a system image. This system image only includes the drives required for Windows to run. You can manually create a system image if you want to include additional data drives.
There are several reason why a system image might be useful. The first is that a system image can be used to restore the contents of your computer if your hard disk or entire PC ever stops working. Another is to upgrade or transfer Windows 7 Operating System files and data from one drive to another. In particular, Benchmark Reviews has used the Windows 7 System Image Restore to clone the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) of a recently purchased laptop and restore the image onto a new Solid State Drive (SSD). For assembled desktop PCs, the system builder might consider the original Windows 7 installation DVD to be the best alternative, but for many new systems this isn’t possible because a restore partition is supplied in place of disc media. This restore partition could recover the computer back to the original factory configuration, but at the same time our data might and applications might be lost in the process. for this reason, it’s best to create a system image to preserve an exact replica of your drive.
Creating the System Image
Creating a Windows 7 with System Image Restore Disk is very straight forward in principal, but more complicated in practice. To begin with, you must have a second drive with enough capacity to store at least the initial system image. Additionally, the location must be formatted with NTFS, FAT, or UDF file systems. It is highly advisable to use the Shrink Volume features available in the Windows 7 Disk Management tool (inside Computer Management) and reduce the size of all primary drive partitions down to their smallest working size. Keep in mind that each partition you shrink must maintain up to 1GB of free remaing space, so the do not shrink up to the full allowed amount.
If you don’t shrink each partition on the source disk, you may receive an error such as “The system image restore failed. 0x80042403”. The restore-to drive must equal or exceed capacity of the original source drive used to create a Windows 7 system image, even if the partitions are small. Fortunately, each partition can be expanded using the Extend Volume feature.
SPECIAL NOTE: Some protected system files may currently be in-use or unmovable, causing the Shrink Volume process to stop short of its maximum reduced size. These files can be identified by running Disk Defragmenter and inspecting the system’s Event Log for reports. It can be beneficial to stop unnecessary services, or allow system access to protected files to properly reduce the partition size.
On desktop computers a second drive is easy to install for the purpose of storing recovery system images, but notebook and netbook systems don’t offer the same functionality. In either instance the easiest method might involve a USB-attached storage device, such as an external hard drive with large storage capacity capable of saving multiple system image files (created and renamed at various intervals). The system image can also be saved to a Blu-Ray disc using a BD-Burner, however recordable disc media and BD-Burners are not common on most systems. Alternatively, Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate Edition can save the image to a network location.
Although the system image includes your personal files and applications, we still recommend that you back up your files regularly using Windows Backup (or some other service) so that you can restore individual files and folders much more quickly when needed. After you set up Windows Backup, you can let Windows choose what to back up, which will include a system image, or you can select the items that you want to back up and whether you want to include a system image. If your computer contains several drives or partitions, you can create a system image that includes all of them by following the steps in Back up your programs, system settings, and files.
By default, Windows 7 saves all user data from the primary drive (usually named Disk 0 in the Windows Disk Management console). The primary drive houses a 100MB ‘System Reserved’ partition, followed by the usable remaining capacity of the ‘C’ drive. If your drive contains more partitions, they will also be added into the Windows 7 backup system image.
Once you’ve created your Windows 7 System Image, there are several factors to consider to ensure that data can be restored without problem. The next logical step is creating a Windows 7 system repair disc.
System Image Naming Notes
Windows automatically saves the system image into a folder named “WindowsImageBackup”. Within this directory you’ll find a sub-folder named after the computer that was backed-up. This means that multiple systems (each with unique computer names) can be saved without issue, however subsequent system images will overwrite older images for that same computer name. It’s a good practice to rename the sub-folder with added detail. For example WindowsImageBackup/Computer could be renamed to /Computer-Aug15. This allows multiple images to be stored for the same computer name, while adding a level of ease in selecting the latest version during the restoration process.