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Suprise, Windows has a functioning system imaging utility.
Back almost a decade ago I put together my first really nice gaming rig. It was an AMD machine with all sorts of get up and go. I'll spare all the details here because they are not that important now days. However, as part of this screaming machine I purchased a set of brand new off the press Western Digital Raptor hard drives. These were SATA drives that ran at 10,000 RPM. AT the time, that was insane. They have a brilliant 5.4 second seek time and could just kill any of the 7,200 RPM competition. So why did I need a 'pair' of them? Well I was going to utilize the feature I was most excited about on my new mother board. The RAID controller. Yep, I have been running two 36 gigabyte Raptor (because that's all I could afford at the time and they were a couple hundred bucks a piece then) in RAID 0 for max performance.
Well that's a cool story you're telling yourself right about now. What does that have to do with Window's system imaging? Well, being about a decade later I am still running on these faithful and well performing soldiers. However, if you were paying attention, you know that with two 36 gigabyte hard drives in RAID 0 I only had about 72 gigabytes of total space on that drive. Now days, that doesn't get you very far after you have Windows 7, it's updates, office, it's updates, and a couple pieces of software later and you have a full system drive. Sure back when I first put this together it was already not a lot of room but it usually fit World of Warcraft a couple other games on it. On a side note, destroying everyone else's load times in World of Warcraft was well worth the extra money. Now, with nothing else on it I was running maybe nine gigabytes of space and that's not enough to do really anything else.
So last week I started looking at hard drives and wanting to expand my system drive. However I still wanted the performance. So naturally, being 2013, I started looking at the solid state drives (SSD) and figured that for a good drive with 500 gigabytes of storage was still running 1,000 dollars or more. Well that seemed ridiculous. So to buck the trend I looked up what the pricing of a pair of new Raptor hard drives would be and to my pleasant surprise I was able to pick up two 250 gigabyte units for about 200 bucks. Sure, these were kind of old hat a now days and the SSDs were probably still a bit better in general, especially with 0 second seek times and such, but the price just didn't justify it.
Now this week I was off of work on a 'staycation' and decided to go ahead and replace my 72 gigabyte system drive with what would be my new 500 gigabyte one. However it's been awhile since I did something like this and I really didn't have the time to do my normal system rebuild. Which I might still do since nothing feels as good as a fresh install of the OS. Being a long time since I've done any sort of system imaging I started looking for a free utility to help to no avail. So before installing a shady piece of software I found I went to Twitter and asked if anyone had a recommendation where someone pointed out that Windows 7 had a utility built in now. Well I'll be damned it did have such a thing and it seemed pretty easy. Too easy in fact and being Microsoft I didn't expect it to actually work. At least not without a dayís worth of labor to get it back and running.
So that night I created a new system image using the utility and stored it on my storage drive. Then I had to create a system restore disk. This would prove difficult since I havenít had a functioning burner in years. So I downloaded a Windows 7 restore disk (you have to BitTorrent it since it looks like Microsoft shut down all the sites that use to have it for free). I created a bootable USB drive. Then, using 7zip, moved the files from the recovery disk's ISO to the USB drive. Once I did that I did a test run of booting off the USB drive and sure enough that worked just great. Not wanting to deal with a disaster so late at night I waited till morning.
That next morning I got up and decided it was time. So I shut down and replaced the hard drives. After booting up and creating the new RAID 0 array I booted off the USB drive. Once loaded I told it to restore a system image and at this point I should tell you to be patient because it took a long time to find the system image. A tip here is before you decide to go ahead with the imaging, you can exclude what drives you want to have involved in the process. I recommend that you exclude every drive you have connected, including the USB drive you are booted off, except the new system drive of course. It will automatically exclude the drive that the system image is stored on.
Now, it's go time. So tell it to restore the image and boom an error pops up. Typical. Now I'm glad I waited till morning since this will probably take all day to fix. However, with little Googling I found there seems to be a bug in the software when using the USB drive as recovery disk and there is a quick work around. Simply remove the USB drive right before you tell the image to restore. Which sounds like it would never work but alas it works great. I repeated the process, this time removing the USB drive right before I hit restore, and the entire process took a hand full of minutes. Once done the computer rebooted and Windows 7 was fully restored and functional.
Completely impressed I was. The only thing I had to fix once the system was back up was the size of the system drive. The restore utility doesn't allow you to resize the drive you're restoring to fit the new drive. So I simply went into the drive utility and expanded the partition to include the remainder of the drive that wasn't being used. Long story short, the system imaging tool in Windows is completely legit.