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Although it needs to be done manually in your backup program, it is possible to include your boot sector in a full backup image.

I use Windows XP media center edition and Acronis True Image Home for backup. A while back, I contracted a severe virus. When the smoke had cleared, I plugged in my backup drive, booted from the Acronis Recovery CD, and loaded back my last complete backup. When all was complete, I thought I was home free, but much to my surprise, I was not able to boot the system normally.

Apparently, the virus had taken out part of the boot record and this was not restored by Acronis. I had to get a professional house call to come out and use a magic CD to rebuild my boot sector. I don't know that anything can be done, but it should be known that even a complete backup will not solve every problem.

In this excerpt from "Answercast #12, I walk through the options for including the boot sector in a full backup and ways to get that "magic CD" that will reconfigure your computer with its master boot record.

Recovering a Boot Sector

Well, it is true that not every problem can be solved by a complete backup (there certainly are cases); this typically shouldn't be one of them.

So two things I want to talk about here:

  • Make complete backups

One is you do need to make sure that when you set up a backup, that it is in fact a complete backup; that it includes the master boot record.

Many backup programs are, unfortunately, overly complex (it's the gentle way to put it). I honestly wish that there were a simpler one for PCs, but in Acronis (and in my current recommendation, Macrium Reflect), the master boot record can be backed up if you tell it to do so.

I believe that it's very easy, at least in Acronis, not to.

The reason that I know this is because I've been exactly where you are. I had a drive fail and I restored from the Acronis backup that I had at the time. On reboot, I couldn't. Of course, with the replacement drive, there was no boot record at all.

  • Boot from a repair CD

The solution in my case is once again (what did you call it?) "a magic CD used by a professional."

The magic CD I used was Windows 7. Windows 7's installation disc has a very nice troubleshooter for boot problems and it will go through and repair many of the common issues that prevent PCs from booting.

Now, I realize that doesn't help in your situation using Windows XP. However, for everyone else, Windows 7 does make this scenario significantly easier to recover from.

In all cases, like I said, make sure that when you're configuring a backup, that you're configuring a truly complete backup; a system image, not just of your partition, but of all the partitions on that particular hard drive and master boot record.

Article C5247 - April 25, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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2 Comments
anon--
April 27, 2012 10:24 AM

Does Ghost restore the boot records?

Scott Currier
July 27, 2012 1:27 PM

Thank you Leo, I finally took your advice and downloaded Macrium Reflect, the free version and am evaluating it. Looks good so far.

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