Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
When you get a new machine, taking a full system image backup as soon as you can is a convenient way to reinstall should you ever need to.
I have a new machine, but I wasn't able to get true installation media, only recovery disks. I've heard you say that instead, I should make a backup image of my new machine as soon as I possibly can, so that I always have that to fall back on if I need to start over.
Great. But, how do I do that?
Funny that you should ask; I just got a new machine myself.
I did, however, get the reinstallation media with it for $10 extra. That's a price I'd gladly pay. Thank you, Dell!
But I'll pretend that I didn't and take the very steps that I've suggested that you take when you get your new machine.
I'll show you what I did, step by step.
I am starting at the very beginning: from the moment I took the machine out of the box.
Unfortunately, that means that I did a few things that I can't easily show you.
I turned off the wireless network. I want these initial steps to happen while offline, both for security reasons and to prevent any automatic updating from happening until after I take the initial system image.
I completed Windows setup. When a machine comes with Windows pre-installed, the first time that you turn it on completes the customization portion of the Windows setup. I chose a machine name, my login name and password, the keyboard layout and the like. And I accepted the EULA, of course.
I installed SnagIt, the tool that I use to capture screenshots. Normally, you wouldn't need to do this, but in my case, it's what makes what follows possible.
I installed Acronis True Image Home 2011 as the backup software that I would use to take the image.
That's the original desktop as the machine was delivered. You can see Windows Explorer open on the external drive that I'd attached so that I could both copy SnagIt and my backup program to the machine. That drive is also where I would place the initial backup.
By default, when you run Acronis True Image Home 2011 (which I'll just refer to as Acronis from here), it presents a default splash screen with shortcuts to two of its featured options:
Unfortunately, when I hear of problems with Acronis, it's not uncommon that they're related to these features. My theory is that they make some assumptions to make things easier, but that can lead to some confusion.
For something as important as backups, I prefer to make my own assumptions. That's why I recommend unchecking "Show at startup" and clicking on Go to main screen.
Acronis looks in common places for pre-existing backups and in this case, you can see that it's found a couple: one that I made for a friend (obscured for privacy) and another "initial backup" that I made of another machine months ago.
Those are there, of course, to restore from, but that's not what we're here to do.
Instead, click on Disk and partition backup at the top left.
There are several items to note on this screen:
I want to back up the entire hard drive. That means backing up three partitions: the "Unnamed" partition (I don't really know or care what this is, it was shipped this way, thus I want it backed up), the "RECOVERY" partition (often an alternative to shipping recovery disks, which is fine until the entire hard disk dies), and the "OS" partition, which is the primary hard disk that we see when the machine is running.
The destination is configured as a folder on the external hard disk that I have connected to this machine.
There's no need to add exclusions, a schedule, or change the backup scheme.
I did give the backup a descriptive name, including the name that I'd chosen for the machine, so that I can identify the resulting image more easily if I ever need it.
Click on Back up now to begin the process.
Acronis then returns to the main screen, but the list of backups at the bottom has been updated to include the backup that we've just started and indicate its progress.
That's it. You now have an image backup of your machine.
In my case, the resulting file, which was a little over eight and a half gigabytes, represents exactly what was on the hard disk of my new machine when it arrived - plus SnagIt and Acronis. If I ever need to start over, this backup image can be used to restore the machine to this initial state without having to reinstall everything by hand.