Simple: back up first.
And by that, I mean take a complete system image backup of your entire computer before you begin the update or reinstallation process.
I’ll explain what that is and how it protects you from disaster.
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System image backup
A system image is, as its name implies, an image of your system.
The image contains a copy of everything on your system:
- the current operating system
- all installed applications
- all settings and customizations
- all your data
The key words here are “all” and “everything”.
By backing up everything, there’s no guesswork involved. You’ll capture everything you could possibly need.
Let’s say the upgrade turns out to be incompatible with your system; it’s not going to work, for some reason.
Perhaps the upgrade turns out to be incompatible with you. You just don’t like it!
Maybe there’s just something wrong, be it personal preference or fundamental system flaw, that makes you regret ever trying to apply the upgrade.
Even a clean reinstall could leave you wishing you hadn’t started down this road, for various reasons.
Your image backup is your “undo”. If you have a system image backup, you can simply restore it and the upgrade will be “undone”. Everything will be as it was before you started.
Making a system image backup
The process is relatively simple:
- Run your backup software
- Tell it to create a system image backup
- Tell it where to place the system image backup
- Turn it loose.
Conceptually, it really is that simple. The devil — and the differences, of course — is in the details.
System image backup software
If you’re running Windows 7 or later, you can use the built-in backup program to create a system image.
While I’m not a huge fan of the backup software included with Windows, it does meet the “bare minimum” required, and can do a fine job of creating a backup image. You’ll find the options to make a full system image in Control Panel.
My preference, however, is that you run something else entirely.
There are many good alternatives, including free ones. My favorite is Macrium Reflect. Here’s an article that outlines the process using the free edition of Reflect, and there’s my book, Saved! Backing Up with Macrium Reflect.
If you’re not going to spring for the paid version of Macrium or EaseUS, that’s fine — the free versions are perfect for taking complete system image backups, and that’s all you need here.
When, how, and where to make a system image backup
When: create your system image backup immediately prior to upgrading or reinstalling the operating system.
How: use backup imaging software like Macrium Reflect Free or EaseUS Todo Free to create the image.
Where: I strongly recommend creating the image backup on an external hard disk and saving that image for some time — until you’re confident your newly installed operating system works and is to your liking.
Using your backup image
Once you’ve made a system image backup, what happens if you need to use it?
The process varies depending on the backup software you’re using, but it typically boils down to this:
- You may need to create “rescue” or “emergency” media — a bootable CD or USB thumb drive — for the backup software you’re using. You can usually do this on another machine, if you like. If you’re using Windows own backup software, the original installation media is often already set up for this, or you can create a recovery disk.
- Boot your computer from this rescue media.
- Attach the external drive containing the backup image to your computer, if you haven’t already.
- Use the backup software from the rescue media to restore the backup image to your computer. This erases everything on the computer and replaces it with what was on the machine at the time the backup image was taken.
99% of the time you’ll never need to do this.
But that 1% is why I so emphatically recommend creating the backup image to begin with — so you’ll be able to do revert should you need to.
None of this should be news
If you’re already doing what I really recommend — backing up regularly and automatically — not only should none of this be news, none of this should even be necessary.
You’re already backing up.
You’re already creating image backups.
Should you need to revert after an OS upgrade — or after anything else, for that matter — you can do so. Everything you need is in place.
I recommend backing up not just for major operating system upgrades, but because it’s the right thing to do. You’re much more likely to run into a problem from hardware failure or malware infection than you are from an operating system upgrade.
Regular backups protect you from it all.
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