The thing is, this last step is an inexact operation. The reason I'm reinstalling everything from scratch is because the machine is nearly 5 years old and more than a few pieces of junk entries have accumulated over the years. The thing took three minutes to boot up to anything useful.
Some programs on the old install are not so useful. Some documents are not needed anymore. What was I to do?
Drive imaging to the rescue! By taking a snapshot of the state of the machine before I wiped off everything, I can guarantee that the old documents will still be there. Should she ever need a few documents that I might have forgot to copy, I can open up the old drive image and navigate through its structure to pull the old document.
Of course, drive imaging has more uses than that. I also took a drive image immediately after a pristine Windows install, just after the installation of drivers and various updates, so I'll never have to take as much time with re-installation and updates again. I just reapply the image back onto the drive and it acts just like it did before!
Not only that, I was able to do it all for free, to boot!
The program is called DriveImage XML. Lifehacker even has an article on how to use DriveImage XML, so I'll skip the tutorial and cut straight to the review.
- Free for personal use
- Able to image drives as they are being used, so no interruptions
- Can retrieve individual files from the resulting images
- Can compress the image as it is being made
- Allows for multiple split files so image can be saved onto multiple CD-Rs.
- Seems slower than more expensive alternatives like Image for Windows or Acronis True Image
- Can not create incremental or differential backups
- Only operates on logical drives (that is, it only works on mounted partitions like C:, D:, E:, etc., but not on the entire physical drive itself.)
- No boot media options. Can only restore images while inside Windows.
- Only for Windows XP and above.
I'm quite happy with DriveImage XML as a free utility. If I had to pick only one con on the list to fix, I would go with creating bootable media so it can operate outside of Windows. As it stands now, if I wanted to completely restore an image made by DriveImage XML, I would need to remove the hard drive from the machine and hook it up to another machine running Windows just so I can apply the image. Not convenient.
In the end, DriveImage XML did well acting as a data safety net, and I likely will use it again later on in my computer repair adventures.