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Windows 7 Backup/Restore - Copying Images Observations

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January 21, 2010 5:23:39 PM

My observations/testing may be useful to others.
These are my backup preferences only. There's a million ways to skin a cat.
I have professional experience with data recovery, and haven't lost data in many years, but everybody has their own priorities/preferences.
What I really hate is re-installing apps and re-doing tweaks.
Installed XP once, and didn't look back for 4 years bcause of system images.

All my backups are "system" letting Windows decide.
That's selected under "change settings" in backup/restore.
What this does is copy the operating system and any files on that partition.
It's a complete "image" of the system partition, including all files, Windows or not. That's the only option I'm talking about.
(I use other mean for backing up personal data)
Each new backup will be incremental.
What this means is if you hose the system, or a virus hoses the system,
you can select a previous backup and restore. Good to go.
Or you may want to go back a couple iterations prior to installing some software that you belatedly realize is causing problems.
Just remember that any data on the system partition since then will be lost.
This is why I back up personal data using other means.
For instance, I use Quicken for banking. Since I want all important installed programs that affect the Win registry on my system drive, that's where Quicken is.
So I make sure I back up Quicken to another drive every time I exit after a change. Same with game saves. Games don't get installed to my system drive, but many games put your saves there.
You have to give some thought to your data locations before doing a restore. Every time. But if you use a good backup strategy you can make
it pretty simple.

System partition.
In my case it's Disk 0 on Sata 1, the C: partiton. System, boot, active.
It's a 100GB partition of a WD Caviar Black 500GB.
The remaining space on disk 0 is allocated to a primary partition.
That does NOT get copied.
As of now I have 3 such drives. Sata 2 and 3 have one primary partition.
Let's call the drives C, D, E.

I can only report on what I've done. There are many scenarios I haven't
tried. Testing is lengthy, since it has involved powering down, HD disconnect/connect, restoring, and of course that slow Win 7 system restore CD booting.

First off, copying the backup files to another disk. I set my backup destination as D.
But I want 2 copies. If the D fails, I've lost my backups, right?
So after my install and a number of backups (17!) I copied the D backup files to the E drive.
The backup directories are WindowsImageBackup and (pc-name)-PC.
(Win 7 backup also creates a file called MediaId.bin first time it backs up.
The time stamp doesn't change after that, so I suspect it doesn't get changed with subsequent backups.
I couldn't look in this file, so I first did a backup to D to create it there, then
deleted the backup directories before copying them from D.)
Booted the recovery CD.
All 17 backups are selectable from both the D and E.
Great news! But I don't trust it. My experience with another drive as the E, and reading the scant info on the web about this issue tells me that
when you copy the Win 7 backups to another drive you can only restore the last image. Can't get prior images. Why not try restoring one of the prior images to find out out?
Because I can't really see where the restore is grabbing the image from as it runs, that's why. Somebody used the word "opaque" to describe the Win 7 backup. Good word for it.
So if I restored an older image by selecting from the D and it worked, it
might actually be restoring from the E and I'm a fool.
Another reason I have for not trusting what the recovery CD is reporting is that I had done this same copying process with a Seagate 750 as the E.
In that case the CD only reported the last backup for both drives.
Yet with just the Seagate connected, or after deleting the image files from
the D drive, all 17 images were reported correctly on the E.
And I did recoveries to verify the correct backup was restored.
Bottom line - the recovery CD reporting is flaky when copied images are on
multiple drives. It might report correctly if I did the actual Win 7 backups
to both drives instead of copying. Don't know, haven't tried.
What I did was shut down, unplug the E and boot the recovery CD.
Now it showed only 1 backup image on the D, the latest.
Recovered that, and it was good, so you can restored from a copied image,
but you'll only get the last one, with all increments included.
Conclusion is you can copy the image files to another drive, but you can
only restore the lastest image from there.
That's what I know so far.
As far as I'm concerned, this inability to copy and restore ALL backed up images is a pretty bad flaw.
Doing a separate Win 7 backup to the different drives might work, but I haven't tried it.
Looks like Win 7 is throwing a drive hardware ID in SPPMetadataCache (contained in a backup directory) when it creates an incremental.
Tinkering with this file is beyond me with my present knowledge.
Anyway, I actually like the Win 7 backup except for the copying issue and the lousy log keeping. You really need to keep a time/description in notepad or spreadsheet for all your backups, and remember that the
the recovery CD reporting will show your backup as done 2 hours earlier
that what is reported in Win 7 when you actually do it.
One other thing. If you use "manage space" in Win 7 backup/recovery,
you might delete something you don't want to delete.
Today I did a backup, changed a file in the system drive, did another backup.
There is only one entry to delete in "manage space" - dated today.
My change was to a text file, a couple bytes.
Though both backups show up on the recovery CD reporting,
Win 7 reports only one to delete, meaning you would lose both.
Anyway, I welcome any observations about the Win 7 backup utility.
Not much out there yet. I'm hoping MS fixes the reporting and image copying weaknesses.

--Vic
January 23, 2010 5:36:48 PM

Correction/Clarification.
I erred in saying "I set my backup destination as D."
My backup destination is always set to E.
Stupid. And I wrote clumsily, so it's hard to understand.
Let me restate the important points, and give my situation.
All 17 images were available on the E, including the original clean install.
The E was a Seagate 750GB, and I decided to replace it with a WD Black 500GB, which is a faster drive. Gave the Seagate to my son.
I tried copying the image files from the Seagate to the WD, and I tried cloning the Seagate to the WD.
Either way, I could only retreive the last image from the WD.
What I ended up doing is restoring my last 2 images from the Seagate,
and backing up each one to the WD from Win 7. Pain in the a**.
And I lost 15 images. Decided the last 2 images had no problems, and no excess baggage , and I could live with that.
The recovery CD reporting of images available for restore is flaky if
it sees 2 drives with images, one being a copy.
Don't trust what it is reporting in this situation.
It even reports differently when the copies are on diferent drives.
With the copies on the WD and the Win 7 created images on the Seagate, it reported only the lastest image on both drives.
Disconnect the WD, and it sees all image on the Seagate, and can restore any one of them.
Later, with identical WD drives connected, one having Win 7 created images, and the other a copy of the images, it reported all images on both drives. But when the drive having the Win 7 created images was disconnected, the drive with the copied images showed only the latest image.
So be careful about that.
Let's say you looked at that reporting and believed it.
For some purpose you delete the images from the drive where Win 7 created them, believing you have them on the other drive.
But you don't have them.
You only have the latest image. You just lost all prior images.

--Vic



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