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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.
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:
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.
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.
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