I’m going to go out on a limb, here and say that we are all aware that our computers software has to be backed up. Your data, the Operating System and the Applications that you have installed, all should be backed up with some regularity. Data is fairly easily backed up with a simple “copy” or a free backup utility such as SyncToy, but up until Windows 7, the system had to be backed up with an “imaging” application that was typically not for free. But now, with Windows 7, Microsoft has provided a feature (Image and Restore) that allows the system (OS and Applications) to be easily backed up. Windows 7 refers to the backup of the system as an image because it is a bit-for-bit copy (an image) of the system that is loaded and running in memory. The saved system image is what you use to “restore” your computer after a problem is fixed. The problem could have been a bad virus infection, a replaced hard drive, or any hardware problem that may have kept you from booting your system in a normal fashion. (I’ve had each of these types of problems in the past and none of them are very much fun. Fortunately, I’ve had my system backed up so after the problem was fixed, I was back up and running right after the most recent Image was Restored.)
The “Image and Restore” capabilities can be found in the Control Panel. If your Control Panel is in the “Category” view then it is under System Security, just click “Backup your computer”. If you prefer the Icon view of the control panel, click on “Backup and Restore”. Either way you will get to the Backup and Restore screen. In my opinion, this screen is not the easiest to understand. The middle of the screen has a lot of Backup and Restore information, but none of this applies to the system image. The upper left area has the two controls for the system imaging process. A system image is created by selecting “Create a system image”. The other control is used to “Create a system repair disc”. (The system repair disc is used to initially boot the system after the problem has been fixed.)
To create a system image, click “Create a system image”. After you make this selection, you will see a screen that indicates “Looking for backup devices…” and finally a screen that asks “Where do you want to save the backup?”. (Note here a confusion with terms, in that the “system image” is referred to as “the backup”.) This screen also gives you a link to “How do I restore my computer from a system image?”, which you can click on to review some ideas relating to restoring the system image. The system image should be stored on something that is not part of your normally operating computer. The typical choice is a set of DVDs, or preferably an external hard drive. If you choose DVDs, you will probably need from 5 to 15 blank DVDs. A DVD can hold approximately 4.7 GB, while an image of your OS and applications could be from around 25 or 30 GB for a fairly new installation with few Applications, up to 70 or 80 GB for a system with loads of Applications that you have been using for a long time.
An external drive is the preferred choice for saving a system image. Today, external drives are fairly inexpensive (under $100), and are large enough (500 GB and larger) to save multiple system images. Most external drives are easily connected to the computer via a USB connector. In order to take advantage of your external hard drive, and make it a choice for the system image, you have to connect the external drive to the computer, before going to the control panel. So if you intend to put the system image on an external drive, exit from the control panel, connect the external hard drive, go back into the control panel and choose “Create a system image”. Now one of the choices for the saved system image should be your external drive. (If you don’t immediately see your external drive, try pulling down the triangle in the “On a hard drive” box, where all possible drives will be listed.) The external drive should be listed with an indication of the available space on it. If you have previously saved a system image on this disk, that date will also be indicated. (Also note that if you try to put the system image on the same physical drive the OS is currently on, you will receive a warning indicating “The drive selected is the same physical disk that is being backed up. If this disk fails you will lose your backups.”)
After you have selected DVDs or external drive, you will be asked to “Confirm your backup settings”. These settings are the Backup location:, (where you are going to store the system image), and a selection of “The following drives will be backed up:”, (typically the C: drive). The Backup location setting also gives an estimate of the size of the backup. If all looks right, then click the “Start backup” button in the lower right corner of the screen and be prepared for a long process. If you have selected DVDs, be prepared to remove the DVDs as they are finished and mark them as indicated, and to put in blank DVDs when requested. If you have chosen an external drive you can leave the system unattended until it completes.
When the system image has been created (backed up), don’t forget to “Create a system repair disc”. For this system repair disc you will only need one CD. When you click on “Create a system repair disc”, you will be presented with a window that describes the uses of the system repair disc and a button to “Create disc”. Put a blank CD into the CD/DVD drive indicated and press “Create disc”. It will only take a few moments to create the disc. When it is finished, label it and include the date and the computer you used to create it. Keep the disc and the system image backup (DVDs or external drive) together in a safe place, and hope you never have the kind of tragedy that forces you to use them. But, when that day comes, you will be very happy that you took the time to create these “Restore tools” with this Windows 7 very useful feature.