Imaging with Acronis True Image
Imaging is your ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Imaging allows you to recover your computer to the exact state it was in when you created the image. It's like a factory restore, but so much better. A factory restore allows you to restore your computer to a like-new state in the event your OS volume becomes corrupt, or you get a virus, or some other catastrophic event renders your computer unusable.
The problem with a factory restore is that it returns your computer to the exact state it was in when you first powered it on. This means everything you installed on your computer will be gone when you do a factory restore. As you can imagine, it could take you many hours to re-install the software you had installed, and you will also have to endure all the hassle of finding product keys, and getting all your settings to where they should be.
Most of you reading this guide build your own computers, so a factory restore is not an option. Power users and enthusiasts rely on having a complete image of their finalized installation that includes everything they have installed, along with all the settings they use in place. This way, when we need or want to re-do our Windows installation, it will just take a few minutes to re-image our complete installation, software, settings, and all.
Windows has built-in imaging software, but it is very limited. So limited, in fact, that we consider it worthless. For our imaging purposes, we turn to one piece of software that we consider absolutely essential, Acronis True Image. If you do not own this software, you need to buy it, but it will be the best $50 you've ever spent.
There are many functions that Acronis True Image can perform, but the most important thing Acronis does is it allows you to image to any capacity drive(s), provided the drive(s) capacity is at least as large as the amount of data contained on your volume. What this means is, for example, if you have a 500GB drive that contains 49GB of data, you can restore your image to a drive as small as 50GB. If you create an image with Windows, you will have restore it to a drive that has a minimum capacity of 500GB.
There are countless other functions that Acronis can perform, and we are not going to get into all of them because we are not trying to write a book here. However, we are going to cover the basics of creating and restoring a system image.
Before we start, we want to make something clear: you do not want to clone a drive, you want to create an image, and then restore that image. If you want to replace your disk, do not clone it to another drive, make an image, and restore it to the new drive.
First, we will want to create a system image as soon as we have everything we want loaded on our system and set the way we want it. There are two ways of accomplishing this; the first is with Acronis running from within a Windows environment.
In this case, I am imaging my laptop. My laptop only has one drive, so I am going to backup (image) my entire PC. If you have several drives attached to your PC, you can pick the drive(s) you want to image. Select the destination drive or partition for the image you will create:
If you want to, you can hit "options," and select the type of backup you want to make.
I like to use single version scheme. The single version scheme is a standalone image that is not incrementally updated. Hit "OK."
Acronis will create a system image on your selected drive. The image is a compressed .tib file. If you look at the first screen shot, you can see that my 256GB drive contains 70GB of data. In the following screen shot, you can see Acronis has compressed that 70GB into a 45GB file:
Now your system is completely safe. You can restore it at any time to the very moment you took that image. Instead of hours or even days of re-installing everything on your computer, you can simply restore it in a few minutes from a secondary or external drive, or separate partition on the same drive. Acronis allows you to save and restore from NAS appliances, or cloud drives if you prefer, but those alternatives take hours to create images and restore them, so I do not recommend using them.
So, you need to restore an image to your system drive, or a different drive. Again, there are two ways to accomplish this; the first is from within a Windows environment, as seen in the following image:
On the backup screen, choose the "RECOVER PC" tab. You can either choose a recovery point...
... or you can hit the "RECOVER DISKS" tab, as seen here:
Hitting the "RECOVER DISKS" tab will give you options as to what and where you want to recover the image to. Hit the "RECOVER NOW" tab, and your PC will restart, and Acronis will restore the image to the drive you selected.
The first method we covered is imaging and restoring from within a Windows environment. However, what if you cannot boot into Windows to run Acronis? Well, Acronis has you covered. Acronis can be run from bootable media outside of a Windows environment. In order to do this, we first need to create an Acronis rescue media bootable device. You can create either a bootable DVD, or a bootable USB thumb drive. To create this bootable media device, click on the "Tools" tab of your Acronis interface.
Next, choose "RESCUE MEDIA BUILDER," and then choose "Acronis bootable rescue media."
Now choose the media you want to utilize.
In this case, I want to install the bootable rescue media on a USB flash drive. Hit the proceed tab...
...and Acronis will create your bootable rescue media.
The real gold is the bootable media because it allows you to create and restore images on any PC. It doesn't matter if Acronis has been installed or not.
Now, let's take a look at how to image and restore from our rescue media. The thing to remember is: if you created an image from a MBR partition, do not boot the rescue media as UEFI, boot it as USB, as shown below:
The opposite is true if you imaged a GPT partition; in that case, do not boot the rescue media as USB, boot it as UEFI.
After booting to the Acronis rescue media, you can both create and restore images. To create an image, select "Back Up," and "My Disks" from the "Home" screen.
Next, select what you want to back up.
In this case, I am selecting the entire disk, which is typically what you will want to do. DO NOT select "Back up sector-by-sector"; there is no reason to use it. Next, make sure "Create new backup archive" is selected.
Then browse to where you want to save your image. Give your image a unique name so it is easy to identify later when you need it.
Hit "okay," then hit "proceed"...
...and your image will be created.
That's it, you have created a complete image without ever booting into Windows.
Recovering a partition from your Acronis rescue media is very similar. Again, if you are recovering an MBR partition, DO NOT boot from UEFI. If you are recovering a GPT partition, you MUST boot from UEFI. You can recover the image to any disk you want; it doesn't matter as long as the disk you are imaging to is larger than the amount of uncompressed data that the image was made from.
At the "Home" screen, select "Recover," "My Disks."
Next, browse to the location of the image you want to recover.
Select the drive your image is located on, then select the image you want to recover.
Hit "OK," then choose recovery method (Recover whole disks and partitions).
Next, choose items to recover.
Choose the whole disk. Next, choose the destination.
Choose the disk you want to restore the image to, then hit next.
Hit "Proceed," and Acronis will restore the image.
That's it; after Acronis is finished, you can boot from your freshly imaged disk, and everything will be as it was when you took the image. The only settings that may need to be re-enabled will be Write caching on an array, and to turn off Windows buffer flushing if you desire. This may seem like it is an involved process, but it's really not at all. After you have done it once, it's a very fast and easy procedure.
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