|Windows 7 System Image Disc Recovery|
|Articles - Featured Guides|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Tuesday, 02 February 2010|
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Windows 7 System Image
Microsoft Windows 7 offers the ability to create a system image from within Windows Backup. A system image is an exact image of a drive, complete with every file hidden and visible. A system image includes Windows 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 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. Manufacturers such as Lenovo (IBM), Acer, HP, Sony, and Dell, all include a system restore partition on the primary drive, making it impossible to reload Windows onto another drive without the original DVD media.
Upgrading HDD to SSD
In our specific example, the HP Pavilion notebook we recently purchased from the Microsoft Store included a large system restore partition on the primary hard disk drive, but did not include any optical CD/DVD media containing Windows 7. Our goal was to replace the slow HDD with a much faster SSD, and install Windows 7 without any of the extra and unnecessary software (aka bloatware) that came pre-loaded on the drive. For these tasks we would need the Windows 7 Home Premium installation DVD, specific to HP's OEM edition. After several frustrating calls to HP, we were finally able to communicate our needs and was directed to an area where restore media could be separately purchased for our HP Pavilion laptop. Unfortunately, the DVDs contained even more unwanted third-party software than we originally received. The final solution involved uninstalling the unwanted software, and creating a system image for the purpose or restoring to the SSD.
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, allowing system access to protected files to properly reduce the partition size.
On desktop computers a second drive is easy to install and use for the purpose of storing recovery system images, but notebook and netbook systems don't offer the same functionality. For some laptop computers, a PCMCIA (PC-Card or Express-Card) expansion bays may accommodate a secondary drive for this purpose, but the easiest methods will involve a USB-attached storage device. An external hard drive is the best alternative, since most products will offer large storage capacities capable of recording multiple system image files (created at various intervals). USB flash drive storage devices are acceptable, but system images files can be very large and 16GB models may not be large enough; 32GB and larger capacities are recommended. The system image can also be saved to a DVD using a DVD-Burner, however a CD-ROM will not be large enough and recordable Blu-Ray disc media and BD-Burners are very uncommon. Alternatively, Windows 7 can save the image to a network location.
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 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 first step is creating a Windows 7 system repair disc.