My Windows 7 Backup & Restore Experience

After two years of putting up with failed Raptor drives from Western Digital, I have finally convinced them to send me Velociraptor replacements of the same 150GB capacity. My 7th Western Digital gave up 2 weeks ago after reformatting and attempting to install Windows 7. For those that have kept on telling me that I have some sort of power supply problem or that Raptors need a better supply of power, no, that isn’t the case. This same PC has been home to older 36GB Raptors and numerous 7200 RPM drives without a hitch, click, or bump. The 2007-2008 150GB Raptors are just crap. Absolute junk with a short MTBF. There is no excuse for a drive that can’t put out 24/7 use over 6 months.

Anyway, obviously sending both drives back means I need to image my current install and restore it to a spare drive. Usually, I had used an application by Runtime Software called DriveImage XML (free/closed source). The application created an image of the drive using Windows’ Volume Shadow Copy service while Windows was still running. The application worked perfectly on XP x64, but refused to detect the Shadow Copy service on Windows 7 x64. DriveImage XML worked perfectly for my needs. It would create an image, and even a human readable XML file of all meta data for the image. You’d then use Windows PE (or BartPE) to create a boot disk and restore the image. The only drawback was that you needed to restore the image to a drive of the same size or larger, otherwise, you’d need to specifically select the files you wanted restored to a pre-made empty partition. The problem with that was that NTFS permissions would be reset and it seemed that attributes on files, such as SYSTEM (+S) and HIDDEN (+H), would be cleared. Not a huge deal for me, but you’d often restart and see Windows’ Thumbs.db and Desktop.ini meta files all over the place.

So, enter Windows 7. I figured I’d go ahead and check out 7′s revamped Backup and Restore center. At first it looked pretty impressive. It offered to image my whole OS drive as well as add in separate files to the backup. Cool, sort of what I wanted. I went ahead and created my first image and saved it off to my NAS. Took about 4 hours for about 100GB (over GbE). The end result is a weird file structure which is handled nicely by Windows Explorer (in 7 anyway) and a VHD file, the same image format used for hard disks in Microsoft’s Virtual PC.

Now to restore that VHD. You can either chuck in your original Windows 7 install disk or create a repair disk from within Windows. I recommend using your install disk as you have an easy way to create and delete partitions with the setup GUI. I also found that the repair disk seemed to refuse to start if it didn’t find a partition with Windows 7 on it. This meant that when I had pulled my old drives, it became impossible for me to use the repair disk. What the hell? Why should I need my old drive to repair my PC. This instantly sounded alarms to me. I started to doubt the process and I thought that maybe Windows 7 would only allow me to restore the VHD to a drive that was the exact same capacity or something along those lines. The first few times I attempted to restore to another drive, I was told that the restore utility failed due to not being able to find an eligible drive (or something like that) BUT it turns out this message is just incredibly misleading. To fix it, you MUST connect the destination drive to Master Channel/Port 0. This basically means….SATA Port 0 for SATA drives or IDE Port 0…for IDE drives. The drive must also be the highest priority drive in the BIOS’s boot priority list. Once you’ve done this, you can restore the VHD to any hard disk you want.

I, for example, restored my 90GB VHD (which was a 150GB partition) to a 250GB drive. After restoring it, the partition created by the utility was 150GB (and not 250GB). I had to enter Disk Management and resize the partition to max out to 250GB. I have a feeling that the restore utility will fail with a drive smaller than 150GB (but maybe not if you’re lucky, maybe one day I’ll test). If that’s the case, you can always install Virtual PC 2007 and mount the VHD then copy all the files to an empty drive. That’s the long way around and you’ll probably lose NTFS permissions and/or file attributes. Time taken to restore? Just under 45 minutes for the 90GB VHD (again, over GbE). I’m now writing this from my imaged Windows 7 install….on 4 year old 250GB drive (which happens to only lose 0.4 experience points when compared to the Raptor, gg).

Edit: I probably should also mention that the step just before re-imaging seems to select ALL attached drives to be reformatted and repartitioned (at least I’m pretty sure). This made me scratch my head. The option to exclude drives from this is a tad hidden. Even USB Drives (ones that are Removable Drives, not Removable Hard Disks) were even selected for reformatting (I had one attached for networking drivers that I ended up not needing). So…watch out for that.

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