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What Repair Discs Do I Need?

Question: Another computer advice newsletter I subscribe to just had a big piece on emergency repair discs and it got me wondering whether I need a Windows 7 repair disc and a Macrium emergency disc. Do they do the same things or are they different?

This gets really confusing very quickly. The problem is that there are several different types of discs that do several types of things, and yet they can all be called emergency repair discs or rescue discs.

Let’s see how many I can think of.

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The repair or rescue disc created by your backup program

In your case and in mine, that’s Macrium Reflect, but this applies pretty much to all third party backup programs.

Yes, you should create this disc and save it in a safe place. This is the disc you would use to restore your entire system from a system image backup. Basically, you’ll end up booting from this disc. When you do so, it runs a version of your backup program and you can then copy the backup image back to your system drive – completely erasing whatever was on the system drive.

Now, all is not lost if you don’t have one, since typically you can actually use another machine and perhaps another installed copy of the backup program to create the repair/rescue disc when you need it.

Bottom line, though, is that a backup program’s repair disc is primarily for restoring an image backup to the machine, paticularly in cases when the machine won’t boot.

Windows itself can make a rescue or repair disc

Much like your backup program, this disc is what you would use to restore a backup image that you made if you had been using Windows’ own backup program.

Even if you don’t use Windows backup, this can still be a useful disc to have. It also includes actual repair tools that can be used by yourself or a technician to repair boot problems and perform other types of recovery. this might even include a system restore or a Windows backup image restore, for example, in those cases where your machine can’t boot normally.

As it turns out, if you have your Windows installation media, you already have this rescue disc.

When you boot from those install discs, it’s actually one of the options. You’ll see “Repair”, usually in the lower left hand corner. If you don’t have your Windows installation media then yes, it’s worth burning a copy of this as well. If you don’t have it when you need it, you may be able to use another machine running the exact same version of Windows to create one.

DiscsRescue discs provided by the manufacturer

Sometimes machines come with rescue discs that are provided by the manufacturer, or there is sometimes manufacturer-specific software on the machine that will let you create them. Here there is really no standard as to what these discs contain or what they actually do. It varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Occasionally, they’ll contain some hardware-specific diagnostic software, which can occasionally be helpful when your machine experiences a problem.

More commonly, the discs are simply used to reset the machine to factory condition. That typically means using information that’s been stored in a hidden partition on your machine that is then copied over the C drive. Once you do that, the machine is pretty much as it was the day it was shipped from the factory. Note that most of these discs do not have the ability to truly reinstall Windows. So they may not be of much help on another machine, or if the hard drive with that hidden partition has been replaced.

This can still be a useful disc to have. If your machine didn’t come with it, you probably want to make one also. If you don’t have one, and find that you need one, this can sometimes, though not always, be provided by the manufacturer. Again, it depends on who they are and their policies.

There are probably other rescue discs that I can’t think of right now, but those are the basic ones.

What would Leo do?

First, I keep any and all discs that come with my system. I expect and hope that you do the same. Without even knowing what they are or what’s on them, there’s simply no reason not to keep them in a safe place. They can come in handy from time to time.

However, in my case, I actually have yet to use any of them in the past ten or fifteen years. Most are still shrink-wrapped and stored somewhere in my basement.

As you know by now, I back up with Macrium Reflect and of course, I have the rescue media for that. If you do nothing else I would strongly recommend that you use an image backup program regularly and have the rescue media for it. There are very few problems that simply restoring to a recent image wouldn’t fix, even problems that may or may not be fixed by some of the other discs I’ve talked about.

And yes, I absolutely have used Macrium’s rescue disc from time to time. It truly is a lifesaver.

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7 comments on “What Repair Discs Do I Need?”

  1. I just added to my Acer (old 1642) a new BUSlink 2TB External HDD , connected through IOGEAR 1.5 gig esata bus card, Its great !! So far I transferred all my personal media there and keep the C:\ OS clean !!
    It included a “Backup Software” from Prolific Technology ,, it looks, probably like a basic backup and I seem to have figured it out somewhat ,, I will use this for a while ,, The question is: Should I back up the whole kit n kaboodle or should I back up with lets say documents and settings unchecked, or is there an advantage for Individual folders to be backed up ,, for instance ,, C:\ WINDOWS only, or other selected files (recommendations) ,, my idea here, being to backup the Hotfix unintallers before I delete them ,, only It gave a “substantially bigger” file size for this way
    Full backup ,, Partial OS only backup, or selected File backup

    Haven’t put them on a disc yet ,, dont know the process yet

    • I understand exactly what you are asking. I went through the same scenario, wondering the same questions. I quickly decided to stop using the basic backup software that came with the hard drive because I couldn’t be certain that the software’s backup would backup everything that is critical to me (not all your data gets stored in Documents and Settings). If you don’t know whether it’s backed up, what’s the point in doing the backups.

      I started using EaseUS Todo Backup Free and did a complete disc image. That way the entire hard drive is backed up. And, as per Leo’s advice, I saved that image. It’s the fall back if all other backups fail. Ideally it should be done when the computer is brand new. EaseUS Free has the option of doing incremental backups. That means that subsequent backup files will be smaller because they only backup what has changed since the last time. EaseUS also allows you to mount the backup, so it works like a hard drive. If you ever wanted just a single file back, you can mount the backup and copy the individual file. I’ve done it once or twice.

      After doing this for about a year, I started wondering what would happen if I ever had to restore my whole system. After reading up on it, I found out that EaseUS Todo Backup Free does not allow you to create a Windows PE disc. That’s the backup recovery disc that Leo was talking about. That means that if the whole hard drive failed, I could not restore the whole system to a new hard drive. That’s a problem.

      I went and downloaded Macrium Free because it does allow you to create a Windows PE disc. The downside, is you can’t do an incremental backup. So doing a full image every time would take a lot of time and disc space.

      So my new plan: I did a full image with Macrium and made the Windows PE disc. I can always restore my whole system, if needed. However, the backup would not be up to date. Therefore, I’m still making the monthly incremental backups using EaseUS Todo Backup Free. My system restore would be a bit more involved as I would have to restore with Macrium to get the system up and running and then do a restore with EaseUS to get the data up to date.

      If I one day have money to spend, perhaps I’ll purchase Macrium so I can have the Windows PE and do incremental backups.

  2. Thank you for this great article.In win 7 home premium you have the FACTORY_ IMAGE(D).How do you use that if your computer goes bad?

  3. Leo, Windows 7 comes with an image backup program. You recommend Macrium Reflect. I make a Windows 7 image backup monthly, and weekly backup my data files to a USB flash drive. Twice I have had problems on my computer and rather than trying to debug the problem or trust Norton AntiVirus to really have cleaned up the infection, I just did a restore from the Windows 7 image backup without any problem. For just doing monthly complete image backups is there anything wrong with the Windows 7 image backup?

  4. “Windows itself can make a rescue or repair disc” – not without being told to ! And – please – how do you tell it to ? Windows XP SP3 ?


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