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10/27/06 Can I make a desktop restore CD/DVD like HP or Dell does?


Hello, my hobby job is building computers. I have always wanted to know how I can make a restore CD or DVD so that all I have to do to restore a computer is to place this CD or DVD into the optical drive and, presto, just like HP or eMachines, I can restore a unit and reregister with Microsoft. If this is possible, please give me step-by-step instructions, and if it's not possible, what could I do that would come close? Thanks!

Submitted by: Mervin M.



We all know that we should back up our systems, but even the most experienced techies rarely take the same care of their personal systems as they would of their employers' systems. The question of doing backups is more complicated than it first appears. The answers vary by what you are backing up and for what purpose. Do you need disaster recovery or just protection from hardware failures? I recommend taking backups so that you are protected from disaster. Then you are also protected from lesser failures. For this, you want backups on removable media that you store away from your machine.

Then, is it the bootable system or your personal data? Having had to rebuild systems, I recommend keeping data in a separate partition from the bootable drive. Then you can back up or restore either without affecting the other. But you want backups for both.

Over the years, I have used various programs to make backups on diskettes, tape, CD's, DVD's and image copies to a separate drive.

First there is backing up the bootable system. I have tried various programs from the built in Microsoft backup and Stomp as well as others but find Acronis True Image to be the best. Acronis True Image can create a highly compressed image of the boot drive on another partition or on DVD. There is a simple menu option to create a bootble CD or DVD. No complicated operations of setting up boot images are required. Backing up the bootable system to another partition or drive is excellent security before installing software updates but is not sufficient protection from viruses or physical damage. To protect against these, it is necessary to create the backup image on DVD's. Then take the DVD's to some other location than where the machine is located. Acronis even gives the option to include a bootable copy of Acronis on the DVD. There are other similar programs but Arconis is the one that I know works in all situations. ALWAYS use the option of any backup program to verify the backup. It takes time but gives the assurance that you will be able to restore from it if necessary. It is heartbreaking to go to restore your corrupted system from the backup that you carefully made only to have the program tell you the backup copy is unusable.

To restore the system it is necessary to use the bootable DVD. You need to be sure that you have set your BIOS to select the optical drive (DVD) before the boot hard drive. You can check this setting by pressing the 'Del' key at the beginning of the boot process to enter the BIOS configuration utility. Where the 'boot sequence' is located varies greatly by manufacturer but is often in a topic label 'system'. It will usually offer a list of three devices. Each device offers a scroll method to select one of the possible bootable devices in your machine. Before changing anything, note the identification of your current boot hard drive. Then set the optical drive (DVD) in the first position and the boot hard drive in the second. Do not be surprised if it is already set this way. Most manufacturers have some system recovery option on a bootable DVD, so they set up the machine to look there first.

Once the options are set, place the bootable DVD in the drive and exit the BIOS menu saving the changes. After that it is just a matter of following the prompts of the Acronis program.

Backing up your data is a different question. If you have documents, photos, and MP3's, it is reasonable to just burn them in groups to DVD's. I have tried using the system backup programs but these do not offer easy inspection of the backup contents. Plus the output of backup programs is proprietary and may not even be readable by a later release of the same program. I have folders that I back up rarely because there is little or no change from month to month. When burning a copy of folders to a data DVD, any machine can read the data.

Use RW type DVD's if you plan to do regular backups. When using DVD's, always maintain two backup sets. If something has happened to your files since the last backup, you may only learn of it as you try to take the next backup. If you are writing over the only backup set that you have when you learn that your data is corrupted, then you have nothing.

If you are working with videos or other very large files, there is only one option for backing up your data, buy an external drive. speed varies by the connectors on your system. External SATA is the fastest home option but is rare and expensive. After that Firewire is frequently available on systems designed for multimedia. USB has come a long way with USB 2.1 and is certainly adequate for doing backups. Often these drives come with backup software. But this is not needed if you are backing up only data. You just copy & paste between two windows of Windows Explorer.

Using the USB drive approach, the safest path would be to have two units big enough to hold your essential data and rotate between them. Then you could keep one in another location to have disaster protection. If you only get one, make sure it is large enough to hold two copies of the data, setting up two top level directories to which you copy your folders. You always want to be sure that you have a usable new backup copy before removing the old one.

A final option exists if you have a home network. You can buy a dedicated network file server box. If you are doing video, you want to work on the local hard drive and use the network drive as the backup copy. These units are fast enough that they can be used as the play library for other machines. The network is just not fast enough for the authoring and transcoding work. Just like a USB drive, moving data is just a copy & paste operation with Windows Explorer.

Submitted by: Will H.

Posted by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) Moderator (see profile) - 10/26/2006 12:31 PM
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