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Rebooting Windows: How To Recover From Vista Crashes

We've pulled together a passel of little-known software backup and repair techniques so you won't have to reinstall Vista from scratch, if it gets trashed or hits a fatal startup error.

Worse, when you finally call up the correct Help screen, it provides erroneous instructions. Windows Complete PC Backup is explained on the Help page entitled "Back up your programs, system settings, and files." This instructs you to click open the Backup and Restore Center. However, that center can be found only if you've kept your Vista control panel on the old-fashioned (i.e., Windows XP) "classic" view. So most folks will end up wondering where to go.

But enough nattering about Help. It turns out that saving everything in your system's current state using Windows Complete PC Backup is a fairly innocuous process.

First, go to Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Backup and Restore Center.

Complete PC Backup allows you to save an image of everything on your hard drive.

Complete PC Backup allows you to save an image of everything on your hard drive.

Go to Photo Gallery
Next, skip over "Back up files" and instead click on the second option: "Back up computer". Of course, you'll get the annoying User-Account Control box, asking you if you want to continue. (Say yes.) Vista will then ask you where you want to save the image. I recommend you put it on a DVD, so you have something that's freestanding and available if, say, your hard disk dies.

Be prepared for a bit of a shocker, though. Complete PC Backup informed me that my backup would require six to 10 DVDs. Considering that that would have eaten up to a third of my $16 carousel of 30 16X DVDs--$5.33 worth, or real money--I was glad to eventually find out that this was a Windows threat, not a promise.

Make your own Complete PC backup DVDs.

Complete PC Backup runs gracefully, with a few Microsoft flourishes thrown in for good measure. For example, when it prompts me for what I know is a DVD, it says cryptically "Label and insert a blank disk bigger than 1 GB" into drive D. ALEX-PC 6/25/2007 4:01PM 1 Name of machine, date, number of the DVD (You can use CDs, too, though there'll be lots more labeling and inserting involved.)

Creating the backup disks is a mildly time-consuming process. Burning the first disk alone took an almost interminable 27 minutes. The second disk spun for 16 minutes before it was ready to be spat out. Then, incredibly, the third DVD was done after only three minutes, and Complete PC backup was, thankfully, done -- a good three discs earlier than its stated minimum.

Let me restate my strong recommendation that you run Complete PC Backup at your earliest possible convenience. With a new machine, the appropriate backup point would be after you've installed all your apps and ported over your documents, photos, and music files.

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