What Exactly Is Imaging a Disk and How Does It Differ from Backing Up?

I have a brand new home-built PC and it has been suggested to me that I "image the disk." This is my first build, and I only started learning about computer a few months ago, so when I came across this term I turned to my best friend Google. After she couldn't really help me I decided to turn back to you guys and girls. So what exactly is imaging a disk? From what I can gather, it is executed by one of many applications available to make a bootable copy of the OS, but everything else is a little fuzzy.

1. What can I write this image to (DVD, flash-drive, external HDD)?
2. What does the image include (OS, BIOS, MoBo drivers, hardware drivers, apps, general data)?
3. Do I still need to do a data backup?
4. How large is a disk image (what size storage will I need)?
5. What application performs this function best?
6. Is it bootable, and if so, what from (DVD, HDD, flash-drive)?

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  1. basically and i am sure someone else woudl have more tech information or good programs for it.

    while i think there are varying degree's of imaging a disc i could be wrong.

    when i do my new pc build when i get everything installed the way i want it, i'll be using spotmau to image it.

    but in a nut shell you image your hard drive that way if something goes wrong you can restore it with everything you had on it when i imaged it, the os, programs, etc.

    usually you'll have a separate cd,dvd you burn thats like a loading program and the image can be on dvd,blueray, usb flash, etc as long as you have space for it.

    this is bascially what you used to get with prebuilt pc's in the restore disk.

    its great if you've run into a probem thats made your system unstable, virus or something you just can't get past, as long as it wasn't there when you imaged it your set.

    my current pc's disk image is like 15gigs in size so chances are you'll need to burn it to a blue ray disc, or have a large flash drive or a secondary hard drive to store it on.

    hope this helps.
  2. There are two types of backup, and how they work depends on how you would do a restore:

    Full image - The entire contents of the hard drive are saved in such a way that you can restore the contents to a clean hard drive. The data is treated as an "image" in the sense that the restore operation takes place outside of of the OS being restored. In these situations, the backup operation takes place using the backup program within Windows, but it creates a boot disk from a simple version of an OS can be booted and from which the restore part of the program can be run. Some programs boot a version of Linux, which must have the drivers needed to make the basic system functional, such that the device used for the backup can be accessed, the clean hard drive is recognized, and your mouse can be used. The restore program, written to run with the Linux OS, automatically starts on bootup. There are more restrictions on what devices can be used for the backup, since the OS used for the restore must have drivers for them.

    Incremental backup - These backup are run to backup changes made to the system since the last image backup (or even the last incremental backup). The main hard drive is able to boot windows and you run the restore program and select what is to be restored. The devices you can use for this are less restrictive and would include any device that Windows can write data to.
  3. Best answer
    An "image" differs from a normal "backup" in that the "image" is essentially a monolithic snapshot of the entire disk including all of the control structures (such as the partition table and the bootstrap loader) that are outside the normal file system.

    Images are important for the OS disk because the OS requires those extra control structures to be able to boot and do it's work - but regular backups are also important because they let you restore an individual file. If you accidentally a file you don't want to have to restore the entire disk to the state of last week's backup just to get the file back.

    Image backups contain all the data on the disk (typically the OS disk), and because it's many many gigabytes you usually make them to external hard drives. You can do it to optical disk, but it requires multiple discs to do it and therefore it can be pretty tedious to do it, particularly since you'd normally want to redo the image backup of your OS after any significant changes.

    If you have Windows 7, you've already got all the tools you need to make an image backup. Here's what you do:

    1) Connect an external drive to your system. An image backup copies everything in the OS partition, so you should expect to need a drive that's as large as the OS partition is.

    2) Start -> All Programs -> Maintenance -> Backup and Restore

    3) Click "Create a System Image" to back up the OS and recovery partitions to the external disk drive.

    4) Insert a blank DVD into your DVD writer and click "Create a System Repair Disk". This will burn a bootable DVD that you can use to restore your system. You need this because if your OS drive dies then you no longer have a working copy of Windows 7 you can use to restore the backup with. You only need to burn this once - you can use the same DVD to restore whichever image backups you make in step (3) above.

    If you ever need to restore an image, here's how you do it:

    1) Make sure you've got a disk to restore to. If your OS drive died, that means replacing it with a new disk.

    2) Connect the external drive containing the image backup to your system.

    3) Insert the "System Repair" DVD into the optical drive and boot from it. If your BIOS is set to boot directly from a hard drive without checking the DVD drive first then you'll need to temporarily change your BIOS settings to do this.

    4) Use the program on the "System Repair" DVD to restore the image backup.

    If you have a spare hard drive you can temporarily install into your system it's worth using it to do a test restore just so you can feel confident that it will work properly should you ever need it.
  4. Best answer selected by JamesAllen.
  5. Okay guys, I think I understand it now. Thanks for all of your help!
  6. sminlal,

    May I ask what exactly you mean when you say "everything"? The reason I ask is I'm wondering whether taking an image will restore programs like Microsoft Office, which requires activation codes and things. I can't find my activation codes for Office so I thought taking an image of my Win 7 hard drive would protect me in the event my hard drive crashes, I'll be able to continue using my Office 2010 without having to purchase a new Office program. I've also heard that there are activation key issues with the OS itself. Does taking an image of your hard drive remove the need to re-activate these programs if in fact you re-install the hard drive on the same computer should a crash occur? Will the image still work with respect to the activation codes if installed on a different machine? If not, is there another way to do it?

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