How to Create a Backup Image in Windows Vista and Windows XP

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In a perfect world creating a backup image would be useless. Even in the real world, full of viruses, hard drive failures, file corruption, and accidental deletions -- you may never need to fall back on your backup. Nevertheless, when disaster strikes, if you don't have a backup, all is lost. Unfortunately, I know this from experience. The beauty of my job as a programmer is that you never do the same thing twice, and it's just not the same the second time around (if that makes any sense). I cannot tell you how frustrating it can be to lose a month's worth of work, or even a week's worth!

So, even though the process of creating a backup is not very convenient and you have to obtain the appropriate media to do a backup -- the time and effort you devote to this is simply invaluable. If you use your computer for completing any kind of work, I recommend you perform a backup at least once a week.

To help you prepare for the worst, I will first cover the process of selecting the media to use for storing your backup image. After that, I'll go over the steps for performing a full system backup on both Windows Vista and Windows XP.

Choosing the Right Backup Media

Before beginning the process of backing up your computer, you'll need media to back up to. The purpose of backing up is in case of system failure, therefore the media you use should be removable. Backing up to non-removable storage is counterintuitive considering the fact that you want the backup to be able to be stored at a location separate from your computer.

In the old days of computing, it was common to backup to a tape drive. This was not very practical for anything other than backup files that need only be read from beginning to end, making it a cheap solution. Nowadays, it's more common to use CDs, DVDs or an external hard drive. Today massive amounts of storage are much less expensive than they used to be, so this is the more practical way to go.

The Windows Vista Backup and Restore Center has a built-in functionality for saving the backup to CDs or DVDs. In Windows XP, the process of backing up to CDs or DVDs is a bit more complicated and involves an extra step. Using the Windows XP Backup Utility you first need to save the backup image to the local drive, then burn it to the CDs or DVDs. If the backup image is larger than a single CD or DVD can store, then the backup image needs to be split into multiple files to span across multiple disks. A full system backup in Windows XP will also require a floppy disk to use to boot from, if you ever need to restore the backup.

Performing a Full System Backup in Windows Vista

Vista Backup Image

  1. Launch the Windows Vista Backup and Restore Center by clicking the Start Menu | All Programs | Maintenance | Backup and Restore Center
  2. The Backup and Restore Center provides the ability to back up or restore files or the computer. Click the Backup computer button to perform a full system backup. If the User Account Control prompt appears click the Continue button.
  3. When Prompted where to save the backup you can select either a hard drive or to one or more DVDs. Select the media that you will be using for the backup and click the Next button.
  4. If the selected destination does not contain enough space to store the image you will be prompted to select the drives you wish to back up. System drives will automatically be checked and cannot be unchecked and the backup destination drive will be disabled. Click the Next button when you are finished selecting the drives to backup.
  5. Next you will be prompted to confirm your backup settings. Click the Start backup button to begin creating the backup image.
  6. After the backup image has been created a message stating that the backup completed successfully will be displayed. Click the Close button to complete the process.

Performing a Full System Backup in Windows XP

XP Backup Image

  1. Launch the Windows XP Backup Utility by clicking the Start Menu | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Backup.If you have a removable storage device such as a tape drive for your backup, you may be prompted to start the Removable Storage Service. You can start the service through the Start Menu | Control Panel | Administrative Tools | Services then right click the Removable Storage service and click Start.
  2. The first dialogue of the Backup Utility provides the ability to switch to advanced mode or continue in wizard mode. Click the Next button to start the wizard.
  3. Next you will be prompted if you want to perform a backup or restore. Select backup files and settings then click the Next button.
  4. From the next wizard prompt you are given a choice of what to back up. Choose the option to backup all information on this computer then click the Next button.
  5. When prompted for the Backup Type, Destination and Name click the Browse button and navigate to the media you wish to store the backup to and click the Save button. Back in the prompt enter the name for the backup file then click the Next button.
  6. The last wizard prompt will display the settings of the backup. Click the Finish button to begin the backup.
  7. When the backup image has been created you will be prompted to insert a floppy disk to use as the system recovery disk. Insert the disk and click the Continue button to proceed.
  8. After the system recovery disk has been created you will be given the options to view the backup report or close the Backup Utility. Click the Close button to finish.

You also have the option to backup only select documents and files, such as your e-mail address book, your photo or music collection, or your crucial correspondence. In this case instead of choosing the option to backup all information on your computer, you can select the files you want to include in the backup. Before you choose this option however, make sure that you organize your files and figure out what needs to be backed up. For some people, backing up all the information is just easier.

So make this a part of your weekly routine, and the backup process will be easy to remember and easy to perform! Pick one day out of the week and set aside 20 minutes to backup all your hard work and efforts.

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Jason Ensinger

(A+) is experienced in both IT and development. He has completed training in computers, electronics and networking and obtained his A+ certification. Jason is a self-taught developer and over half of his career in technology has been in web and Windows development, while the rest has been IT orientated. He hopes to be able to use his cross industry expertise to be able to shed more light on the exciting life of a developer for those in IT considering making the move to software.

Jason has written articles on various topics including SharePoint, CompTIA A+, and Windows Server 2008.