The Explorer: Bullet-Proof Your Windows Setup - InformationWeek
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Fred Langa
Fred Langa

The Explorer: Bullet-Proof Your Windows Setup

It's fast, easy, and inexpensive with this technique!

Far Better Than Standard Backups
If you've ever used ordinary Windows-based backup software, you probably got a "file in use" error on several key system files, and were thus unable to make a complete, all-files, all-settings, backup. To avoid this problem, Drive Image works outside of Windows; it's actually a DOS-level application (and that's why we're discussing it midway through our series on DOS tools). Because it works from DOS, it can access everything on your hard drive, including files that normally are locked or in use when Windows runs.

As Drive Image works, it makes a special kind of space-efficient, sector-by-sector copy of your hard drive (or whatever hard drive partition you've specified). Note that this is not the same as performing a file-by-file copy: Drive Image works at a lower level than that. It's basically creating a compact clone of your hard drive contents, including the way the files are laid out on the hard drive, in an "image file." Drive Image is smart enough not to copy empty portions of your drive, and it employs user-selectable levels of data-compression so the final image file can be much smaller than the size of the drive or partition you're backing up.

The image file can be used two ways: It can be dropped, intact, back onto the partition or drive from which it came, instantly restoring that partition/drive to the exact state it was in when the image was created.

But Drive Image also allows you to make "selective restores" where you can put back a single file, folder, or group of folders. Thus, a drive imaging solution not only serves as a whole-system backup and disaster-recovery tool, but also completely replaces any ordinary data backup solution. Whether you need to replace one tiny file or completely restore your entire system to perfect health, drive imaging (via Drive Image, Ghost, or whatever) is a great solution!

Where Do the Images Go?
When it's creating the image file, Drive Image needs a place to work and obviously, that can't be the same place that's being imaged: You can't add files to the same part of the disk you're trying to copy. So where do you put the files?

The just released Drive Image 4 writes image files directly to a blank CD-Recordable (CD-R) disk using your CD-R drive. We'll come back to the CD-R option in a moment, but it's only one option and there are two other common places to store image files:

Some systems have more than one physical hard drive, although in today's era of gigantic single drives, the dual-drive option is becoming passé. Still, if you do have a multiple drive system (a physical C: and a separate physical D: drive), you can store the image for C on D and vice versa.

By far the most common -- and simplest -- solution for storing image files on systems with one hard drive is "partitioning," which turns a single physical hard drive into two or more "logical" hard drives.

Hard and Easy Partitioning
If you're setting up a new system and have a good DOS toolkit on floppies, you can use FDISK to divvy up your hard drive into whatever partitioning scheme you want. You run FDISK to establish however many partitions you want, one by one; and set one of them (usually C:) to be the bootable or "active" partition. On leaving FDISK, you run FORMAT on each of the partitions, one after the other, to get the new partitions ready to accept data. Finally you run SYS on your bootable partition (e.g. "SYS C:") to place the minimal DOS system files on C:. At that point, you can put your boot floppy away: Your system will now boot to DOS when you power up, and from there you can install whatever other OS or apps you desire.

But FDISK is the hard way: It's finicky and destructive: Once things are set up, you can't change them unless you re-run FDISK from scratch, and each time you do so, you're forced to wipe your hard drive completely clean, erasing whatever is already on the drive. For these reasons, FDISK is a tool best used only on empty hard drives.

A simpler, much better solution is to use a tool like PowerQuest's $60 PartitionMagic. It lets you create, delete, size and resize partitions on the fly, from inside Windows and without destroying data you already have on your system. (There are other partitioning apps available but I prefer PartitionMagic.)

With PartitionMagic, you can easily slice and dice a huge hard drive into whatever partitioning scheme you desire, perhaps using otherwise fallow disk space as a place to store your disk images. Here's a real-life example:

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