No More System Image Backup?

By Joe Callison
23 July, 2018

Microsoft is no longer supporting the System Image Backup feature of Windows 7 that was carried over to Windows 10 and plans to eventually remove it in a future update of Windows 10. Few people were using it and often had trouble using it when they did. There are many third party programs that are easier to use, have more features, and are available in both free and paid versions. We will take a look at some of the best and most popular programs available for Windows and also macOS, as using Apple’s Disk Utility to create a system image backup is no picnic either.  

What is a system image?
A system image is a copy of everything on the portion of your data storage drive that contains your operating system and any additional programs or user files that may be stored there. Most people only use one storage location for everything, usually identified as Local Disk (C:) in File Explorer.

Why should the system image be backed up?
Most backup methods used by people only backup user files. The operating system and any apps or programs added would have to be restored by reinstalling them from the sources. The latest Windows 10 or macOS operating system can be downloaded and reinstalled, and most apps from Microsoft or Apple also if you have a Microsoft or Apple account. Having an account also makes it more convenient to recover your settings and preferences. Third party apps would have to be obtained again from the other sources and may require finding activation licenses that were sent by email when the apps were initially downloaded or possibly available from an account with the supplier if you still have the user name and password to access it. So even though it may be possible to recover your whole system with a lot of time and effort, it would be much simpler and faster to recover it from a system image backup.

My computer has a Recovery feature, can’t I use that?
Some computers have a recovery partition on the data storage drive that has a system image of the computer as it was when shipped, so anything that has been changed or added since then will not be restored. Some computers may also have a feature that allows updating the system image in the recovery partition, but if the drive fails, the data may still be lost.

How often do I need to backup the system image?
Since backing up the image of a 1TB or larger size drive is not something you want to do frequently, I recommend doing it about every six months. With Windows 10 getting major feature updates every spring and fall and all of the problems that have been experienced with some of them, I would back up the system image just before installing a feature update rather than rely on the Windows Update ability to return to the previous version if something goes wrong. For macOS, I would also back up the system image before doing a major operating system update such as going from High Sierra to Mojave. In between system image backups, I would do the normal backups of user files much more frequently or use a continuous backup method such as an external drive with the drive manufacturer’s or another vendor’s backup software for Windows or Time Machine for macOS, or a cloud storage backup service.

How do I perform a system image backup?
There are some good articles on this subject, so I will include the links rather than repeating it here.
For Windows computers, two programs that are highly rated and popular are Macrium Reflect and AOMEI Backupper. What sets these apart from others are the features available even in the free versions, such as the ability to create a bootable system image, the ability to browse and extract individual files or folders from the image, the ability to schedule automatic backups, and the ability to encrypt a backup. Of these features, the ability to browse files and folders in the image is an absolute must in my opinion in order to have any confidence in the backup. Being able to create a bootable system image is a nice-to-have feature that provides an immediately available cloned backup drive with no lost time, but does require a drive dedicated for that purpose as it will delete any existing data on the backup drive.

For macOS, the highly rated and popular feature rich backup programs are SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner.

Posted by Joe Callison

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