1. You need an external BOOT option, in case your machine won't start in Windows. To even get this option, you have to enter Setup during boot, and make sure you set up the Boot Sequence to CD or USB first. In the Acer, you press F2 key while it's booting, right away, before you even see the screen turn on. In Dell, you can press F12 or F2 or F8, depending on your system. For HP, F8 worked (on a 6400 workstation, the only HP machine I have). For this reason, it's a bad idea to enable Fast Boot, which is another option in Setup.
2. The BOOT media you need, depends on what your system will accept. Most will accept a CD boot media; most newer machines will accept USB boot media, aka 'pen drive' or 'flash drive' like Kingston, Patriot, SanDisk; not sure if you can use an SD, though I've seen some videos using them for machines back in 2007. If CD, it might have to be under 1 GB (typically 700-800 MB), although newer (post-2007?) machines might be able to use DVDs. If your machine is 8 or more years old, you likely need CD, and can't use USB. If USB, machines of 2008 vintage and shortly prior, might require a FAT32 format and 2 GB capacity; newer ones can be FAT32 and higher capacity; usual recommendation is 4 GB or more.
3. Creating the Boot Media can be done by Windows directly, or by third-party programs like EASEUS, Acronis, Macrium Reflect Pro, other programs. I've not had good luck except with Macrium, but the first two are in common usage. Windows creates something it calls (in Windows 7) a 'Repair Disk'. It will only do it on CD. The others allow you to create boot media with pen drive, external hard drive, or CD/DVD.
=== > Finally, there is a non-Windows alternative Boot media you can insert at startup, which is some form of Linux 'live' distribution. It will boot you into Linux not Windows, from which point you can do a lot of file management functions like backup, edit, copy, move, even get on the internet, etc. You just insert the CD prior to turning on the machine, assuming you did Step #1. Alternatively, you can put the CD files on a pen drive, though I'm not sure it will always work. The most popular version used is GParted, thought I don't like it much. YOU WILL NEED TO BOOT INTO LINUX AT SOME POINT, so pick a distribution and keep it handy. Most full-featured version is Debian, but the easiest to use, appears to be Ubuntu or Mint. Ask around for what folks prefer.
4. The boot media created is designed solely to get you into a pre-Windows state so you can troubleshoot a gradual and interactive starting of Windows (i.e., in case certain programs or drivers are the problem impeding startup). You can also use that opportunity to restore some prior backup.
5. Alternatively, you can CLONE your drive regularly, and boot up using the external cloned drive. A clone is a live bootable replica of your PHYSICAL hard drive, including all the files on it (OS, data, programs, everything). Numerous ways to clone with third-party software; EASEUS and Acronis are popular, but they are unintuitive and buggy in my experience with them (others disagree and like those programs). Clonezilla CD (not the USB version) is a handy way to clone your hard drive, and is available at Amazon for $8. Idea is to clone your drive every day, so that if next morning you can't boot, just plug in your clone and get working quickly. You can always clone back to your internal drive after you've found out what's wrong with it. Macrium Reflect 5 Pro is good at cloning, too.
6. However, cloning doesn't protect you altogether. First, it takes a long time (20 minutes to an hour, depending on drive size and in what way you clone); second, whatever made your machine dysfunctional, might be on the clone. So you need redundancy.
7. BACKUP is a type of redundancy. Excluding RAID, which is a hard drive configuration of live redundancy akin to cloning (and very problemmatic), the typical vanilla backup system offers you the most speed, variety and protection. Speed, because you can schedule backups and make them incremental, which means a daily (or more frequent) backup lasting only a few minutes. Variety, for if your machine goes bad, you ideally have the backup BEFORE it went bad, to select. Protection, because you'll usually have multiple backups at different times, so if one of the backup files goes bad, you have one prior, to use.
8. For BACKUP, just as with Boot Media, Windows has its own programs. I've never had any good success with them. These programs are distinct from Refresh and Restore -- including 'restore points', which allege to work like Norton GoBack used to work. The first two, only access the recovery partition (or external media) for your OS. The claim is that you don't lose your files, or that earlier versions are restorable, too. But I've never seen that actually happen. Instead, everything gets wiped out, and your OS is restored to factory settings. Windows' own 'restore points' are buggy, too. Its backup program is also notoriously arcane, slow, annoying. So like me, most people don't use Windows own Refresh and Restore.
9. So for BACKUP, there exists a large number of third-party programs. But BACKUP itself, is in three flavors: live files, backup files, or image. The live-files variety is traditional, idea of copying a file somewhere else and it's immediatly still useable. Best program I've found for this is Retrospect, but it's hard to learn. Others prefer EASEUS or Acronis. All three will also create BACKUP files, which are compressed files that cannot be immediately used, but must be 'restored' via the program (just as in Windows' own version). So if you lost a file you couldn't just go to the drive and 'call' it, but would have to first call up the backup program, locate the file, and 'restore' it. Among 'backup' alternative formats, you have the traditional 'backup' file, or an 'image', which is a digital 'snapshot' of the disk or selected files. (Most external hard and pen drives contain their own proprietary programs which are 'live file' or even 'backup' programs, but I've never seen them work well.)
10. BACKUP can back up your whole hard drive on a schedule, whether you choose 'backup' files or 'image' as your style; you generally configure the schedule within the sofware itself, or through Scheduled Tasks in Windows. The advantage of 'image' is that the files might be smaller; but you might not be able to use 'image' if you wish to restore from a pen drive. Windows' own imaging backup program will not allow storage to a pen drive. Furthermore, the format of the backup media must be NTFS or later, as an image file tends to be larger than 4GB, which is the maximum size a FAT32 pen drive can 'read'. So if you're subject to those limitations, you can't do 'image' backups. Effectively, this means that if you're on XP or prior, you can't do image backups using Windows. You can maybe do them with third-party software, but I've not found any which will allow an image backup to a pen drive. In that case, pick Retrospect version 6.5 or prior (available used at Amazon). Its 'Duplicate' function is a live copy of everything, though to restore the OS, you'll need to use its Backup feature. It works with Win98SE and FAT32.
Next post will cover the resultant strategies.
This post has been edited by brainout: 31 January 2013 - 10:47 PM