• Troubleshooting: Use system images to fix major PC hassles

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    Windows 10 has a built-in (and ancient) whole-disk backup tool called System Images. It works, most of the time, but you need to know about the gotcha
    [See the full post at: Troubleshooting: Use system images to fix major PC hassles]

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    • #1596284

      Thanks for this. The article makes it clear that Windows own Full System Image Backup (in both Win7 and Win10) has its flaws. Many years ago, I used it for Windows 7, and it’s less than efficient. There are several other, third-party programs that handle this better. One of the best, IMHO, is Macrium Reflect.

      Years ago, when I switched to Macrium Reflect (free, later paid), things went much better. To mention a few points:

      1. It’s safer because you can verify the copy automatically after copying.

      2. You can restore individual files and folders.

      3. It’s faster.

      4. It’s updated often.

      5. You can redeploy the system image to new hardware (only paid version).

      6. Multiple system backups are created without having to rename. (Number of backups can be set).

      7. When space runs out, the oldest backups are automatically deleted.

      Best wishes

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      • #1596538

        There are several other, third-party programs that handle this better.

        I use Acronis True Image (paid). It has all the benefits with no drawback.

        I run full backup (all partitions on drive C (OS) and drive D (data) to en external HD twice a month (First of a month and 15th) Between 1-15 an 15-31 I take incremental backups.
        In addition I run daily scheduled File History/Shadow Copy (like restore point):

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        • #1626711

          I run full backup (all partitions on drive C (OS) and drive D (data) to en external HD twice a month (First of a month and 15th)

          Consider at least a system image just before Patch Tuesday.

          Alienware Aurora R6; Win10 Home x64 1803; Office 365 x32
          i7-7700; GeForce GTX 1060; 16GB DDR4 2400; 1TB SSD, 256GB SSD, 4TB HD

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    • #1596672

      Bypassing Control Panel:

      System Image Backup can be invoked in Windows 10 (at least thru 1809) by:

      Start=> Settings => Update& Security => Backup => Go to Backup & Restore (Windows 7) => Create a system image.

      To restore individual files from the image see this article:  How to access a system image and restore individual files using Windows 10’s native VHD support on the TechRepublic website.

      Create a restore point can be invoked by typing create in the Cortana search box.  This will bring up System Properties where you can configure restore settings, create a restore point or do a system restore.


    • #1596976

      I use NovaBackup for data drive back ups and only the OS and programs are on the main SSD.  NovaBackup has a good disk image utility that you set to run at intervals (mine runs weekly) and the disk image can be compressed to save space.  One only needs to create a the boot tool on a USB thumb drive to recover your system image (one needs to confirm that the drive has been correctly created) and then you breath easy.  I believe one can do the same thing with Acronis or Macrium.  A free version of Acronis is/was available with WD drives and Macrium also has a free version for home users.  One doesn’t need to run the Windows program

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    • #1597144

      I used Windows native image creation for years with Windows 7, but have since switched to Macrium Reflect, mostly for the ease of use. Features such as smaller images, scheduling, and automatic retention/deletion rules are hard to beat!

      Even though I primarily use Macrium Reflect, I still occasionally make a Windows image (even on Windows 10), just to have an image file to fall back on if Macrium ever lets me down.

      And something many folks may not be aware of is that you do not need any 3rd party software to mount a Windows image as a drive with a drive letter.  So you can manually use explorer to restore files and folders in that way, or just open files to access them.

      To mount the image as a drive, all you need to use is the Windows “Disk Management” utility. Under the menu, see “Action > Attach VHD”. Browse to your stored image file with the .vhd extension and mount it. You may need to manually assign a temporary drive letter.

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      • #1620530

        Isn’t VHD a Pro-only feature?

        -- rc primak

        • #1621032

          No, I have used it on Windows Home, as well as Pro. The .vhd file is the native Windows image file container extension.

          You might be thinking of Hyper-V and the virtual machine format. Not available for Home editions: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/virtualization/hyper-v-on-windows/about/

          “VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) is a file format which represents a virtual hard disk drive (HDD). It may contain what is found on a physical HDD, such as disk partitions and a file system, which in turn can contain files and folders. It is typically used as the hard disk of a virtual machine.

          VHDX is a Hyper-V virtual hard disk file format. VHDX has a much larger 64 TB storage capacity than the older VHD format 2TB limit. It also provides data corruption protection during power failures and optimizes structural alignments of dynamic and differencing disks to prevent performance degradation on new, large-sector physical disks.

          When you mount a .vhd or .vhdx file, it will be added as a drive in This PC to open it from.”


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          • #1625099

            So Windows 10 Home can create and run and manage Virtual Machines by itself? Not last I read. That is a Pro-only feature. And the main reason products like Virtual Box are still being recommended by tech writers like Fred Langa. The file format may be there, but the Home Edition cannot create or mount .vhd images, unless the Windows Backup functions are considered as a special case.

            -- rc primak

            • #1628127

              I believe you are right about Home, but you have a conflict in your writing (which affects readers) but probably not in your understanding, that might confuse readers.

              For readers’ benefit: a VHD and a VM are different animals; you aren’t really setting up a VM when you attach a .vhd file as a virtual disk – it’s just that the .vhd image file is configured in such a way that when “attached” using Disk Management, it can be viewed by the File Management System as if it were a real removable hard drive, when in fact it is only a file.

              Virtual hard drives have been around for ages; I can remember a third-party software package that allowed you to copy the contents of a CD to your hard drive and mount the resulting file as a hard drive back in Windows 98 days.  For playing video games that were CD-based, that made swapping dramatically faster than was the case for even the fastest CD drives of the time.  There’s no obstacle to doing this with any version of Windows, as long as you have software that enables it.  I have no computers with Home, so it is not anything I have the ability to test, however; I will have to leave that verification to others.

              There is one other issue: since the .vhd is attached as a removable drive, you should follow the Safely Remove Hardware procedure for removable hard drives when shutting it down.  There is also an open question in my mind, which I have not tested, as to whether or not if you were to update a file that is on the VHD, doing so would disassociate it from the image recovery capability.  I have only ever copied files from a VHD, and don’t know how a read/modify/write might be handled, nor what the consequences would be should you later try to restore your system image from the so-modified .vhd file.  Perhaps Woody or another member could clarify that issue; I am on the road, and not anywhere that I can do such testing at the moment.

              Update: I came here via an e-mail link; I see now a clarification by JohnW, above, that clarifies the situation.  There’s additional info in my post, so I’ll leave it, but he has confirmed already what I am unable to test.

              • This reply was modified 3 years, 10 months ago by woody.
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            • #1628447


              Yes, exactly!

              For readers’ benefit: a VHD and a VM are different animals; you aren’t really setting up a VM when you attach a .vhd file as a virtual disk – it’s just that the .vhd image file is configured in such a way that when “attached” using Disk Management, it can be viewed by the File Management System as if it were a real removable hard drive, when in fact it is only a file.

            • #1628420

              @rc primak

              That’s not what I was trying to say. Sorry for any confusion.

              Windows 10 Home: virtual machines = NO.

              I was only referring to virtual hard disks (VHD) in the .vhd(x) format, not virtual machines.

              Windows 10 Home: .vhd(x) images = YES (using the legacy Win 7 image utility referenced in the article).

              A .vhd(x) file does not necessarily imply a virtual machine, it is simply an image of the disk partition(s). The .vhd(x) file container is just what Windows uses for images. You cannot mount and boot them as a virtual machine unless you have a compatible Windows edition, and maybe you are a Hyper-V ninja.

              But you can mount .vhd(x) images as virtual hard disks in the Home edition for browsing/copying files and folders.

              I just created and mounted a Windows image using Windows 10 Home 1803 on my laptop, as a test for myself, just in case I had only imagined that it would work.  I use Windows 7 Pro and Windows 10 Pro on my two desktops, but I had been pretty sure that I had also used this feature of Windows with Win 10 Home before I switched to Macrium.

    • #1599289

      Fyi on using Microsoft to Image a disk I learned a gotcha “secret” the hard way.  I have a large external drive that I use to image several computers.  After imaging I copy the image files over into a separate directory for each computer.  When I had a disk failure on one of my computers and needed to restore an image the restore function could not find the image.  It seems you have to leave the image in the root directory on the backup disk for the restore function to work.  In my case even copying it back to the root directory didn’t work because I had disturbed the environment around the image file by moving it.  The Windows image software automatically creates different subdirectories for the different computer in a single image directory at the root level

      Edit to remove HTML. Please use the “Text” tab in the entry box when you copy/paste.

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      • #1599409

        Ouch! yes the primay root partition, any other partitions simply won’t restore with the Windows Create System Image function.

        Keep IT Lean, Clean and Mean!
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      • #1603054

        Do you think the same failure would occur if one left the files where they are but renamed them, as I do?

      • #1604969

        Yes – the simple solution to this is to leave the images in the root directory, and to rename them after they have been created by appending a meaningful name extension.  Appending to the end of the folder name means that they collate together, rather than being scattered all over the root, intermingled with any other files held in the root.

        Inside each renamed folder, I add a .txt file named “whatisthis.txt,” which includes a brief description of the circumstances under which the backup image was created, the computer to which it belongs, date of creation, and any other pertinent information: “This is the image of Jane’s computer made on aa/bb/cccc before the upgrade to XXX, or before installing YYY, etc.”  In that way, I have an in-folder reference to the context of the backup image that is easily readable.

        I also keep a copy of that text, along with the name of the renamed folder, in a master “index.txt” file in the root directory, so that I can quickly locate the applicable folder by browsing that index file and searching on a keyword, name, computer, or date, to find the renamed folder of interest.  I then rename that folder to the default name, prior to doing the restore.   Once the image restore is complete, I just change the name back to the more descriptive one, to retain referential integrity with the index.txt and in-folder whatisthis.txt files.

        Why so elaborate?  I work on lots of peoples’ computers, and find that if someone screws up once, there’s a high likelihood they will do it again.  Doing so allows me to recover their machine without having to go through the OS, app, and user data and settings installation and configuration process, along with interminable update cycles, to get the computer back in service.  The whatisthis.txt and index.txt files make the process efficient, and compensate for my crumbling memory.

        It works for all my home computers, as well, and saved my son’s bacon – and homework/research reports, when he got whacked with ransomware – as well as swiftly bringing him back to his Windows 7 configuration when he got fed up with Windows 10’s forced updates that were bricking his machine.

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      • #1606440

        To locate the folder for the restore, if you have renamed it, you need to rename it back to the original name used during the image creation.

        Another “gotcha”!  🙂

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    • #1599855

      Per Mr. Lasky’s Newsletter tutorial (“Gotcha #3”) re using the W7 method to create a system image:  “If you pick a hard drive, make sure it’s formatted correctly and has free storage space equal in size to the space used on the drive you’re imaging.”

      So, if I’m creating a full image to an external HD, does this mean that the USED space on my laptop will equal the size of the image on the external HD 1:1?  I think that is what he is saying, but want to be sure before I purchase an ext HD.

      If there’s no compression of the image, and I want to store multiple images on the same HD, then I need to buy a larger ext HD than anticipated!

      With every Newsletter I learn something new and useful!!!  Keep ’em coming!

      • #1606629

        If you are using Windows 7 imaging on any version of Windows, it is close to 1:1 as far as space requirements. That is a huge reason in favor of using Macrium Reflect, or one of the other tools with compression and intelligent sector copy, which excludes page and hibernation files.

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        • #1619429

          I guess compression would be useful in that it reduces the target folder size, but I’ve not used Macrium; does it preserve the ability to mount the backup .vhd file as a virtual hard disk so that you can access files directly within it?  That’s a useful feature of the Windows backup, particularly if you want to archive files and delete them from C: after image creation.  I used that feature back when SSDs were expensive and my laptop could only accommodate a single disk drive (now I archive to D: – and SSDs are higher capacity and cheaper).

          • #1619496

            Yes, Macrium Reflect has that feature also.


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            • #1621039

              Macrium only creates image file containers in their proprietary .mrimg file format.

              Per the knowledge base, you can create an empty .vhd container with the Windows disk management utility, and then restore a Macrium image to that VHD.

              But to mount a native Macrium image file and browse it, you must have Macrium software available to do so.


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          • #1620580

            Macrium Reflect does not use VHD. VHD is only available on Windows 10 Pro. The MR Recovery Media use WinPE or WinRE, where such mounting of an image needs a different method.

            -- rc primak

            • #1620786

              Yes, sorry. But MR has the feature of recovering individual files and folders. From their help site:

              By mounting image files in Windows Explorer you can browse or explore an image and access all the files in a backup. The backed up data appears as a temporary drive in Windows Explorer that you can access, just like any other drive, mounted with its own drive letter. Individual Files and Folders can easily be recovered by using Copy and Paste.

              You can also mount an image in Macrium. And you can use Macrium’s command line interface to mount an image.

              • This reply was modified 3 years, 10 months ago by woody.
            • #1620874

              PS. You can also create a VHD and restore a backup to the VHD using Macrium Reflect. I didn’t know that but it is explained in their help files (knowledge base).


            • #1625068

              * paid versions only

              -- rc primak

    • #1600716

      does this mean that the USED space on my laptop will equal the size of the image on the external HD 1:1?

      No. Backup image applications compress the data for the image file. I use Acronis for image backup.
      My C drive has 60GB of data and D drive has 42GB. The image size that contain both drives is 59GB.

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      • #1620624

        We’re talking about Windows Backup, not Acronis or any third party tool.

        Windows Backup uses very little compression, unlike the third party tools, which can compress by up to 40 percent.

        -- rc primak

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    • #1601230

      Many years back, I used Acronis True Image. But I prefer Macrium Reflect. It also compresses the images, and you can store the images in a directory of your choice without having to worry about the root directory etc. There are several things that can go wrong with Windows own image backup system, and which have been dealt with much better in Macrium Reflect and other third party programs.


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    • #1600997

      Thank you very much for the insightful article.

      Why oh why does Windows-10 continue to make what should be a simple process so complicated and full of “gotchas”?   People criticize those who are staying with Windows-7.  Yet, this just reinforces the wisdom of staying with a known OS that works reliably!  Will Microsoft ever “get the message” and then act responsibly?

    • #1619725


      I too have many clients and I find it impossible get them to make their own system images so I make one for them before returning their repaired computers.  Renaming each image with the client’s name works for me.  If I have to restore the image I rename it back to the original “WindowsImageBackup”, then boot from a System Repair Disc or Install Media.

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      • #1629120

        That is certainly an annoying “gotcha” with the legacy Windows 7 Image tool. That name “WindowsImageBackup” is the backup folder name that it always uses for images.

        If you wish to save an older image on the same target drive, you need to rename it (I always just added the date of the image creation to the name string), else the files will be overwritten by the latest image.

        And I also found that in order to restore an image after booting with the repair disk, image restore could only detect a valid image in your image source disk if it is named “WindowsImageBackup” explicitly.


    • #1629222

      System Restore points are not really “backups”.

      I would suggest a repair install using an in-place upgrade rather than a reset.


      • #1630696

        This discussion is about using system images, which are able to restore a complete “snapshot” of your hard drive to an earlier state.

        Much easier and less trouble prone than trying to repair, re-install, or use restore points.

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