Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hard Drive imaging

Formatting again maybe? Don't be so hard on yourself any longer. Start imaging!

What is that? It is to duplicate every bit on your hard-drive/partition in an image file for backup purposes. Why? Let me give you an example and maybe you'll discover what I mean:
Usually you format your hard drive, reinstall Windows and/or Linux with their software and settings the way you like it. All fine until something goes wrong and you have to go through it again! It can really take a very long time!
Now imagine just formatting once more, installing everything, backup your PC's hard drive (HD) with an image and later if something goes wrong, you just reload that image on your HD and there you go. Everything back to the way you wanted it. Saves you a lot of time and frustration!

How can one do that? Here is a tutorial containing a link to a downloadable boot CD to get you started:

Ghost4Linux (G4L) makes this imaging process possible. When you want to begin, make sure you have an extra hard drive or a local FTP Server on a different machine than the one you are imaging. The FTP server has to be on your network otherwise you are going to wait like forever! :(
Just because it contains the word 'Linux' doesn't mean that you have to have a Linux distro on your machine or anything, all it means is that it uses a compact Linux version to run its Ghost application to backup your HD.

It is really simple to use and make sure when compressing, you use something like GZip and not the other compress options, they compress more but take longer (Bz2 take MUCH, MUCH longer and doesn't necessarily make the image size MUCH smaller than GZip). It is important though that you do compress your image. I imaged my 160GB hard drive to my local FTP server and ended up taking 4 GB of space (because of the compression).

Now don't think that you'll get the same results, though! I had to do a very good Low Level Format (LLF or filling my HD with 0's). This makes the compression more effective! If you start to image your HD after using it for years, you definitely won't have the same result as I had. Even if you delete files, the data remains on the HD, it is just marked/removed from the File Table of the File System. So when you image your HD, even if you are just using 20% of it, your image file size will be close to your HD's capacity. So do a LLF first. It takes long to do that however (like Seagate's Disk Wizard took 6 hours to fill my 160GB SATA drive with 0's [because it writes 0's on a part of the HD multiple times to make sure the data isn't recoverable]), other software just writes a 0 once and it ends up taking a fraction of the time.
If your HD or FTP server has a lot of space, then it probably won't matter to you.

I remember having to image multiple machines at university 2 years ago. It sure saved a lot of time doing that because UDP has this broadcasting capability. The server just sends 1 packet and the network medium duplicates that packed and sends them to all PCs. We used something that came with DELL PCs which helped do the job well. We could redo like 30 PCs in 30 minutes. Imagine having to format, reinstall Windows and all its applications on each PC at a time, on top of that, you have to carry them all, set them up, configure them for the network, get them on the Active Directory Domain, etc.

I always wanted to be able to image my PC and I am glad that I came across that tutorial to do that. Let me know how you found it.

UPDATE (2008-05-01):
Today I re-imaged my PC because Windows was getting slow (don't we all know) and a bit buggy I reckon. However, after the 30-min re-image session I am back to my backed-up state and my PC a whirling again! Now it takes me about 2 hours to get my PC back the way it was again instead of the whole freekin day! Yay to Imaging! Yay to G4L!

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