Beyond any security software out there, backing up your system is the best defense you can do for your computer. It is a compulsory practice that can save many headaches, and it is simple to carry out. In the steps below we will explain some of the most efficient ways and necessary steps to do it.
System Drive (C):
The windows system drive is normally your C drive and the one that needs to be backed up. This drive should be reserved for your windows and programs only and should not contain any personal data, which should be stored on a different drive that we are going to call drive D and cover below. Thus, when you restore your C drive to an older state, all your personal files are not affected by the change; they stay as they are now.
The C drive, thus being used, does not have to be too big. A mere 128GB should suffice unless you are a software collector. Our rule of thumb here is: we try not to have more than two -- or three at the most-- software applications that can do the same thing (Look for a selection of the top applications in many categories under our software menu: Programs.) You should only use the cream of the crop in software, which is best for your computer. Thus, the used C drive size should not normally exceed about 50 or 60GB. Because this is your boot system drive that runs your applications, you should invest in the fasted hard drive you can afford. An SSD (Solid State Drive,) for instance, can boot your system in seconds and will read and write data at a much higher speed. A good practice to follow when dealing with multiple drives, and particularly when networking computers and restoring a backup using the boot disk, is to name your drives. In the case of drive C, we are going to name it “SYSTEM.” To do so, open Windows Explorer, right-click drive C and select its properties; the box where to type a name should be under the "General" tab.
Data Drive (D):
In the same way, above we named drive C “SYSTEM,” we are going to name this drive “DATA.”
Unlike C, drive D should not include any installed programs, save perhaps for some stand-alone, portable applications. Drive D should be reserved for your personal data only. And the larger it is the better since it is going to contain not only your personal files, such as videos and pictures, but also the above-mentioned system backs-ups, which can take up much space. A simple ratio to remember here is that the size of one full system back image stored on drive D equals roughly half the used size of drive C, i.e. if your C drive is 50GB full, its backup image will be about 25GB depending on the backup software being used. Therefore, the D drive should be quite large. Better still, and depending on your budget, you can always add another E drive dedicated to your backups; you can label it, for instance, “BACKUP.” In our tutorial case, however, we are going to pretend that we only have the two drives: C and D.
Additional information on this drive is covered under Data Backup.
There is a plethora of backup software that can create and restore and image of your system drive. The most important thing to look for here is the reliability of the software as it involves an operation not to be trifled with. Under the Backup Software menu to the right of this page you can find links to a few popular choices. In this section, we have chosen three of our favorite backup software based on reliability, cost, features and ease of use. The following list gives a review of the pros and cons of each software selected. (Please note that any remarks made are based on personal experience and may not be carved on stone; they are also based on the current time as displayed with the update of this page at the bottom :)
1- Acronis True Image:
Scheduled backups, restoration from the desktop or a boot disk that you can burn via the software itself, restoration of the image to a different hard drive than the one it was created from, cloud backup, non-stop backup, file and email backup, etc. It also offers many other features. This is the complete package that can successfully do a system backup or restore in as fast as ten minutes.
Acronis True Image comes with a price and does not offer a free version
Some releases and updates have had some glitches. For instance, version 2013 Build 5551 seems to have some conflicts with the windows Com Surrogate DLL Host file, which may cause some of your computer applications to hang, particularly if you stop the Acronis Sync Agent Service from running in the background. Version 2013 Build 6514 seems to have trouble saving the backup profile of your choice as a default. Nonetheless, the version in between, 2013 Build 5587 seems to work well. Another version that we had great success with is 2011 Build 6942.
In many instances we have seen Acronis freeze during a restore, not a very pleasant thing after it has already erased our hard drive to write new data. On the bright side, we could troubleshoot this in most cases where the cause has been the computer hardware, and not per say Acronis itself. The culprit is usually the RAM, particularly in some unwelcome overclocking scenarios. In other words, if the Acronis restore freezes after it used to work before then check for any bios updates or overclocking you have made recently.
In conclusion, when we got a stable version of Acronis to work with our PC, it has proved time and time again to be one of our favorite backup software.
2- Aomei Backupper:
Backupper comes in both a free and paid version, which, given our times, may be the most valuable rating of all.
In juxtaposition position with other backup software, Backupper boasts of a pleasant and easy interface, which we like.
Like Acronis, Backupper also allows you to restore from your desktop or using a bootable disk.
The program allows you to create a boot disk in two formats: as a Windows or Linux environment.
We have performed several SYSTEM backups and restores successfully.
Backupper allows you to do a system backup and a drive backup. The former backs up your whole system with all its partitions if any,
and the latter backups the drive partition you select.
Backupper does not offer some of Acronis's features such as non-stop and cloud backups.
Although free Backupper's feature set is relatively limited, it thrives on our subject here: SYSTEM BACKUP. It does that well and with ease, making it our top and best choice in system backup software.
3- Macrium Reflect Free:
Macrium Reflect comes as both freeware and shareware. Here we are considering the freeware version.
The program can install in either 32 or 64 bit versions, depending on your system. As of now, this feature is not an option in the other two above-mentioned programs.
Macrium Reflect Free also offers scheduling of backups, though through a different method and by using the option of creating, along with the backup, an XML definition file.
Macrium Reflect Free is limited; it does not allow you to create incremental or differential backups. Nor does it allow you to restore to a different hard drive than the one imaged.
We find the program’s interface and features not as likable as the ones in Acronis True Image or Aomei Backupper.
We have performed several SYSTEM backups and restores successfully, using Macrium Reflect Free. The fact that it is ranked third in our selection may be a simple matter of preference based on the program's interface and use of features.
APW Backup Tips:
No matter which backup software you select to use, we recommend choosing two. Perhaps, you may use one for scheduled and the other for manual backups.
We advise that one of the first things you should do after installing the program of your choice is to create a bootable media disk, which can be done in all the programs mentioned above.
We recommend that you create and keep more than one backup image named with the date when they are created.
You should immediately create a backup especially before you start any new software updates, system changes and taking risks with browsing, downloads, etc.
We also suggest that you consider backing your personal data files in accordance with the methods described under our data backup page. Thus, restoring your system drive to an older date only affects your software and not your personal data changes.