NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2009
Discovering Windows 7 – Part 3
By Neil Stahfest, Librarian,
Tacoma Area PC User Group, Washington

ncstahfest (at) msn.com (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

I know many of you are in the process of Upgrading to Windows 7. As you’ve probably figured out, the more carefully you plan for this the easier it will be. It’s also important to make a backup copy of your important files before you start the upgrade. After you’ve installed Windows 7, you’ll want to verify that your hardware was automatically configured (i.e. printers, scanners, etc.) and install your favorite application programs. Remember, unless you are using the “Upgrade” installation method to migrate from Windows Vista to Windows 7 (or Laplink's PCMOVER program), you will need to reinstall your applications programs in Windows 7 to get the required program information into the Windows Registry.

With the effort it took to setup your computer and install any programs fresh in your memory, this might be an excellent time to think about backing up your system. A good backup can make recovery from a hard disk failure or a vicious virus infection a simple process that usually takes less than an hour instead of many hours or even days.

Before we talk about how to backup your system, we need to think about what media we will backup to. Logically, you won’t want to store a system backup on drive C. If your hard drive were to crash or become infected your backup would be at risk.

In my opinion, an external hard disk drive that connects to your computer with a USB cable is the best place to backup your system. Currently (February 2010) you can find 320 megabyte to 1 terabyte (1000 megabytes!) external hard drives on sale for less than $100. When selecting a hard drive, my advice is to go with a larger size rather than a smaller one. What seems adequate today will probably seem small in a year or two.

You should be able to backup your entire system several times on one of these drives and yet they are small enough that you can fit one in your pocket and take anywhere. You can also use one external drive on more than one computer.

Alternately, most backup programs will allow you to save your information to CD or DVD disks. You almost certainly already have a CD/DVD drive installed in your computer (unless it’s a mini-laptop like a net computer). Once the data is burned onto them, you can store the disks any place, including in another room, with a friend or even in a safe deposit box (where they will be safe from a home disaster). The problem with using these disks, even high capacity dual layer DVDs, is that it will take more than one disk to save all your system information. In other words, you have to be there for the entire process, to insert new blank disks as they are needed.

Now let’s get to the process we are going use to backup our computer. Windows 7 Home Premium edition, unlike previous versions of Windows, comes with a complete backup program built into it. All you have to do is click on the “Start” button and type “backup” in the “Search box.” Near the top of the list of options that appears you’ll find “Backup and Restore.” Click on it.

A window like this will appear. You can backup or restore your computer from this window. It also shows if you’ve made any backups and allows you to schedule automatic backups.

When you click on “Create a system image” your computer will search for drives where you can store your backup and ask you which drive you are going to use. After selecting your destination drive, you will see a window like the one below, where you can select which drives to backup. Once you’ve selected you source drive(s), you’ll be taken to another window to start your backup. Assuming that you’re using a destination drive large enough to hold your entire backup, you can go get a cup of coffee (or two) while the backup program runs to completion.

If this is the first time you’ve made a system backup, you will be asked to “Create a system repair disk.” This is a CD which will enable you to boot your computer in the event of a hard drive failure that prevents you from starting your computer. Once the computer has started, using the repair CD, you’ll be able to access your system image (created above) to automatically restore everything (including Windows, all your programs, files and settings) on your hard drive.

Once you have a total system backup, I recommend making additional total system backups at least once a month. This will keep your system backups up to date (you’d be amazed at the number of files you add or change (pictures, emails, etc.) in a month. This will give you extra backups in case one backup is defective for some reason.

The Windows 7 backup program also allows you to make quick backups of selected folders, such as your documents, music or pictures. This is a useful way to make backups of file areas that change between your scheduled full system backups.

PC World Magazine has an excellent video which describes the backup process at the web address below:


Of course you don’t have to use the Windows 7 Backup program. There are a number of excellent third party system backup programs, such as Acronis True Image, that work as well or even better. You can find them in stores or through Internet distributors. One advantage of a third part backup program is that you don’t need to buy Windows 7 to get it. Plus, you can use these third party programs with other versions of Windows.

POST SCRIPT – Several days after writing this article the hard drive on my desktop PC started to malfunction. Fortunately, I had routinely made full system backups. It only took 15 minutes to physically replace the hard drive. Using my repair disk and the backup file which I had saved to an external hard drive, it took less than an hour to completely load Windows 7, all my programs, files and settings on the new hard drive and restored full operation to my computer.

Yes, hard drives do fail! Manufactures say they have a life of 5 to 10 years. Other factors, such as power surges, may cause early failure. Play it safe and make a backup!

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