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One of the oldest technology truisms must be that you only realise the importance of backing up your systems after disaster strikes. This is especially true if you have no backups to turn to. There are, thankfully, few excuses aside from sheer laziness not to backup your data these days; be that to a separate data directory (not much use if your hard drive dies), a separate hard drive (better, but not much help if the computer is stolen or lost), a removable drive (better yet, as it can be taken away from the computer itself) and now 'the cloud' (from where your data can be accessed anyway and using any device you wish).

But what if you want to backup more than just data, what if you want a backup of everything in case the worse happens? By which I mean the OS itself, your applications, your configuration settings and your data? This is where system imaging comes in, and in the case of Windows 8.1 apparently leaves just as quickly. While there are plenty of third party system imaging solutions which work well and many will tell you work better than the built-in application, many others will prefer to stick with performing such system critical procedures using a method that the OS itself provides.

The problem being that with the release of Windows 8.1 the system image backup and recovery tool has, apparently, vanished. The keyword, of course, is 'apparently' as it is actually still there; Microsoft has just decided to make it much harder to find by deprecating the function, presumably to drive users away from what it perceives as a legacy 'PC-centric' method of disaster recovery to a device-centric one - specifically cloud-centric truth be told.

Anyway, without further ado, here's how to make a system image backup using Windows 8.1:

  1. Open the Windows search charm and enter: file history. Select the result for the file history control panel as indicated in the screenshot.

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  2. In the file history control panel window, click on the System Image Backup link which can be found in the lower left corner.

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  3. This starts up the familiar System Image Backup wizard, and will search for suitable media for writing the system image to; select as appropriate.

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  4. Select the drives you want included in your backup, and hit the next button.

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  5. And that's it, click the 'Start backup' button and go read a good book...

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Edited by happygeek

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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Last Post by rubberman
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I've used PowerQuest, Acronis and Macrium Reflect to make system images (I no longer use PQ). With both Acronis and Macrium I have bootable media that I can use in the event I have to restore an image and I cannot boot into Windows. Is there similar functionality for the Windows imaging? Is bootable media as easy to create as with Acronis and Macrium Reflect? Is Windows system imaging reliable? I have learned (the hard way) not to rely on Windows System Restore. The only way to guarantee a system with integrity is to restore a complete disk image. Does restoring a Windows system image result in completely wiping what was on the partition prior to the restore?

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Myself, I use Linux to create a system bit-image of both Linux and Windows system discs. I copy the image to an external hard-drive using the dd command piped to gzip to compress it, and if something mungs the system it is an image of, I can restore it pretty quickly (depending upon speed of the backup disc and the interface to the target system). This has saved my bacon on many occasions. Personally, I have not had happy experiences with commercial system backup software. My personal approach has never failed to work for me.

FWIW, I also use this approach to make forensic copies of discs because it does not alter a single bit on the source disc. Then, I can clone that copy, and then use the clone for investigative analysis. Since I have not altered the source disc, and have a faithful copy of it that is also not altered (other than the lossless compression of gzip), I can testify in court as to the validity of my findings. I can prove that by decompressing the original copy and run an SHA-256 checksum on it and the original disc, and the fact that they are equal is proof that they are identical for all intents and purposes. Actually, I do that before I make the clone copy as a "paper trail".

Do bear in mind that if the original source disc is encrypted, this process becomes a LOT more difficult! It works for a disc backup capability, but for forensic analysis or data recovery, it is a real PITA. So, do bear in mind that if you use full-disc encryption, you may never be able to restore your data. I recommend that instead you just encrypt the bits you want to protect from prying eyes.

Edited by rubberman

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