Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Image backups are great ways to backup absolutely everything on a hard disk. They're also good for retrieving most anything, including individual files.
Having read your answer about what backup to use, I still don't get one thing - if I am backing up a hard drive using a drive image backup program, but then switch computers (and upgrade to windows 7), and THEN want to restore my data to the new computer, an image won't work, correct? What program works on backing up just my data, so I can have it available on my new computer?
Not necessarily correct.
An image created by most backup programs will work just fine for the scenario you outline. In fact, I often rely on it myself.
Let me explain how that works.
The "trick", if you want to call it that, is just because you created an image of your entire hard disk, doesn't mean you have to restore the entire image of your hard disk.
An image backup - as I'm using the term here - is simply a backup of every file on your hard disk. Every file.
That's important, in my opinion, because it relieves you of having to decide just what is, and what is not, "just my data". Not only does "my data" often mean different things to different people, it's also often scattered around different locations on your hard disk.
The risk that an image backup avoids is wanting something only to find that you missed including it in a backup of "just my data".
An image has everything - whether you'll need it or not.
Image backups can be used in either of two ways:
As you've already noted, I'm sure, you can restore the entire image, returning that drive back to the exact state, and with all the exact data, files and settings, that it had at the time the image backup was taken.
You can use the backup programs restore function to extract individual files from the image. In other words, you can go in and get "just your data".
That second point is the important one. You didn't need to remember whether or not the file was important or not, you backed up everything using an image. It's not until you need the file or files that you can go back to the image and know that they're there for restoration.
Now, exactly how files are extracted from an image will depend on the specific tool you're using. And yes, some image backup programs don't include the ability to extract individual files from the image. (If you find yourself stuck with such an image, restore it to a secondary hard drive, and then copy off the files you need.)
But most - including my favorite Acronis TrueImage Home - do include the ability.
Although I consider them to be the "safest" backup, in terms of accidental data loss, the biggest issue with images is that they can be large. Even compressed (which, again, most backup programs will do) they can easily add up to many gigabytes in size - mine's around 90GB.
But there's a lot of security knowing that every file that was on my hard drive is in there.
A couple of side notes:
The size issue can be alleviated somewhat by using periodic full and daily incremental backups. I generate that 90GB backup only once a month, while the every-other-day incremental's are more like 2-6GB in size.
Even so, I don't do image backups on all my machines, since I have so many. I have defined what "just my data" is, and backup only those files and folders on several machines. And yes, as a result of this approach I have, in fact, lost data in the past.
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