How do you “image” a hard drive? I would like to make an image
of my hard drive so when I mess things up like I usually do, I could restore
everything back to a pristine condition without having to reformat and
reinstall the operating system and associated programs.
“Imaging” a hard drive is a process that makes a complete copy of the drive, all
of it, at a very low level. Restoring from a backup image restores everything
to the exact state that it was at the time you took the image.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve never imaged a hard drive. Not
once. There are a couple of “catches” that make it not quite as useful as you
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First to answer your question: to create a hard disk image, you’ll need a
disk imaging utility. There are
several, though as I mentioned I don’t use one, so I don’t have a real
recommendation. These utilities will walk you through the process of creating
Now, why don’t I use one?
Most people think of disk imaging as a backup utility. As you’ve pointed
out, if you “mess things up”, you can restore the system to the original state
that it had at the time you took the image. The problem is that the image is
monolithic – all or nothing. That means any and all changes
you’ve made since making the image will be lost when you restore. All of
image will be lost when you restore.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but while I do “mess things up” on a regular
basis, I also do many, many other things that I don’t really want to lose. So
for me the approach to restoring from a full disk image would be to first try
to copy off the data that I want to preserve, hope that I got it all, restore
the image, and then restore the data. That seems like a fair amount of work to
My approach is slightly more traditional: an incremental backup solution. It
backs up things as they change.
And yes, when things get really messed up, I rebuild my machine. From
scratch. What I find, though, is that because I install and uninstall software
on a fairly frequent basis, about every two years or so I need to rebuild the
So when does disk imaging software make sense?
The single biggest use for imaging software is in corporations, where large
numbers of machines need to be built out frequently, and identically. Rather
than running through the setup for Windows and whatever other applications
might be part of the standard configuration over and over for each machine, it’s done once, and then imaged. That image can then be restored onto multiple hard disks
significantly faster than the standard setup process.
Another use for disk imaging software is for benchmarking and software
comparison tests. When comparing several different utilities, the only valid
comparison may be to start from an identical configuration each time. A
standard disk image of the system provides a quick and easy way to start from
an identical state each time.
And yes, a disk image tool might sometimes be used in conjunction
with an incremental backup strategy.
But after all is said and done, to me a traditional backup strategy seems
just as much work, and slightly more flexible.