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Light Virtualization and Instant Recovery Software: A great overall safety net for your computer

If you were under the impression that a firewall/anti-virus/anti-malware suite and a full system backup are the only tools at your disposal in order to keep your system safe, think again.

26 minutes & 45 seconds read time


Many computer users nowadays are completely unaware that certain software utilities exist which are able to reverse and completely undo most kinds of software damage with just a simple reboot. Seasoned users may have heard of such programs, but are often under the impression that such software belong strictly within the domain of expert users and system administrators.

This couldn't be further from the truth. Most of those applications are extremely easy to use, for as long as users can understand and appreciate their basic principles, functions and possible limitations.

In this article we will be exploring the basic principles behind these software technologies. This will be followed by several individual articles in which we will be analysing the best solutions within this software field, with special focus on their features, functionality and limitations.

The aim here is to provide our readers with all the necessary information so that they can make an informed decision when choosing between such solutions, which we will begin to check out in future article.

Light Virtualization

Light Virtualization (LV in short) is a relatively new software technology. LV's approach is quite different to that of full virtualization, which requires a host system with virtual machine (VM) software installed in order to run emulated operating systems.

One of the main disadvantages of full virtualization has always been the lack of support for certain hardware devices like video cards. When running virtualized operating systems, users had to put up with emulated hardware, with all the limitations this would entail. For example, users could not run graphically demanding applications within an emulated operating system.

This has recently changed with the introduction of Intel's Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d). With VT-d support, virtual machines are now able to access the host machine's hardware directly. The downside to this is that users will need VT-d capable hardware and a relatively powerful host system with a generous helping of RAM, in order to make the most of this technology.

In the case of LV there is no such need for special hardware or for a host system and VM software. The real system is being virtualized and you don't need a powerful system with lots of resources either: Light virtualization works well even on older and less powerful systems. When LV software is installed and activated, there is no need to start repairing when bad things happen. Things like most malware infections, installations of bad programs that mess-up the computer's settings, user configuration errors, even file system errors caused by crashes, all those things are reversible with just a simple computer restart.

So, how does this technology work? LV programs employ a virtualization buffer which is a reserved area that is totally isolated from the rest of the system. Once LV protection has been activated all system changes are contained strictly within that buffer and nothing touches the real system. This buffer is in most cases located on the protected disk. There are some LV programs that can also use RAM for the buffer, with all the speed and security benefits this entails.

Some LV applications are able to protect only the system partition/disk - the one that holds the operating system and is normally designated as C: - whereas others can protect all disks attached to the system, including USB sticks. Some of them work at file system level, with the virtualization buffer itself existing as a file that resides on each one of the protected volumes. Some others work at disk sector level and use the protected disk's free space for the virtualization buffer. This second approach is generally deemed as more secure among fans of such software.

When LV protection is active users have two choices when rebooting. Restart the system without committing any changes that have happened since LV protection was activated. In this case all changes that have happened on any protected disks/partitions will be discarded by default and those disks/partitions will be reverted back to their previous clean state upon reboot.

Commit all changes that have happened since LV protection was activated, and then restart. In this case all changes that have happened on any protected disks/partitions will be committed to those disks/partitions upon reboot. Please note that not all LV software offer such an option to commit changes. Some of them are designed to keep your disks/partitions unchanged no matter what, and as a result they offer no option to commit changes.

The basic concept of Light Virtualization is described visually in the following picture:

Light Virtualization and Instant Recovery Software: A great overall safety net for your computer 1

Important Notes on LV Software Usage

There are certain important steps that should be followed in order for users to make the most of the protection that LV technology can provide. Here are some pointers:

A full backup of your system disk/partition is needed first. Before installing LV software on your computer make sure to create a full backup of your Windows partition/disk first. This will be your lifeline that will bring your system back from the dead in the rare case that the new software proves to be incompatible with your system and messes things up. Copy all your personal files plus any valuable data from your favourite programs to another disk first and then perform a full backup of your system disk/partition. Save this backup on a different disk and make sure to verify it for errors after it is created (most backup programs will allow you to verify a backup after creation). Remember that having an unverified backup is like having no backup at all.

At this point you must also create a bootable start-up CD or bootable USB stick that contains your favourite backup program. Test this bootable disc/stick to make sure that your computer can boot from it and that your backup program can run outside Windows without any problems. Once your backup has been created and verified, you can then go ahead and install the LV program, safe in the knowledge that if something goes wrong later you will be able to boot from your start-up media and easily restore your system to its previous state.

You should install LV software on a 100% clean system. If you are not sure that your system is 100% clean and free from malware, then I would suggest starting afresh with a brand new Windows installation. First of all create a backup of your existing installation, following the methodology mentioned on the previous step. The backup is essential and will allow you to restore your existing installation in case you run into problems later. Create and test the startup media that contains the bootable version of your backup program, create the backup, verify it, then boot from your Windows DVD and perform a new Windows installation. Make sure to quick-format your system disk/partition before proceeding with the install: Unlike a Windows upgrade this is a fresh install, and as such it has to be performed on an empty disk/partition.

LV software is not supposed to be a substitute for a firewall or anti-virus/anti-malware software. They are designed to work alongside existing protections and will not stop malware from infecting your system. LV programs do not differentiate between malicious and non-malicious changes and as such they won't protect you from infections happening in the first place. For full real-time protection you will still need a good firewall with HIPS/anti-execution functions, plus anti-virus/anti-malware software, plus anti-keylogging software. LV programs can instantly undo user mistakes and system configuration errors and they also provide you with a quick way to undo most infections with just a reboot, and avoid the hassle of post-infection clean-ups. Essentially they serve as an overall safety net against any malware which may have somehow crept in through your other defences.

You should always activate LV protection for at least the Windows disk/partition before you go online, before testing new programs, or before trying a new tweak/setting that may mess things up. It's no good if the LV program has been installed, but the user has forgotten to activate the protection. It is best to activate the LV protection at least for your system partition, and leave it activated.

Very important: LV software doesn't automatically save changes for software installations that require a reboot in order to become functional. If you install a program while the LV protection is active and that program needs a reboot, then upon rebooting the new installation will be completely undone and the new program will be gone.

You can prevent this from happening by choosing to commit all changes to the real system before rebooting, as mentioned earlier. Most LV software will allow a user with administrator privileges to commit changes. Some LV programs will not ask you if you want to commit changes when you switch off/reboot your machine: They will just discard all changes by default, effectively undoing everything that has happened in the meantime. In this case you may have to go into the settings of your LV program itself in order to commit changes manually before rebooting - provided of course that your LV software allows the committing of changes in the first place. Some of them are designed to always reject changes no matter what. With those you can always follow the committing example below.

Committing example: This is an example on how to commit changes with LV software that do not offer a commit option. Let's say you want to install new Windows updates, or update your firewall/anti-virus suite to the latest version. Or you may want to install a new driver or any other program that requires a reboot. First of all you must be 100% sure that what you want to install is safe and compatible with your system. You must then temporarily disable the LV protection from auto-starting with Windows and then restart the computer as normal. When you're back in Windows keep the LV protection disabled while installing the updates, drivers, or any other software you want. Reboot when prompted for the changes to take effect. When your desktop appears again configure the new software to your liking, then re-activate LV protection. It's that simple.

Committing changes frequently and indiscriminately is something that is not recommended for obvious reasons. Do not choose to commit any changes to your real system unless you're 100% sure that whatever has happened in the meantime has been absolutely safe. Remember that when you commit changes to the real system those changes will stick for good. Once you commit changes the only way to go back to a previous state would be to restore a traditional backup, or to use Instant Recovery/Snapshot software (if such software has been already installed - more on that later).

With some LV software you can specify files and folders which will be permanently excluded from LV protection. Many users choose to exclude their personal user folders which contain frequently modified data. These folders are: Contacts, Downloads, Favourites, Links, My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, Saved Games, Searches and also any folders that contain anti-virus definitions. Of course the Favourites folder is just for use with Internet Explorer, if you are using a different browser you have to specify the location where your browser stores its Bookmarks.

Once such exceptions have been defined then all subsequent changes to those frequently modified files/folders will always stick, regardless of the overall LV protection status. For example, if you add new Favourites/Bookmark entries while LV protection is activated and your Favourites/Bookmarks folders have not been excluded, then those new favourites will be gone when you reboot. If on the other hand you exclude the Favourites/Bookmarks folders from LV protection, then any new favourites you add will still be there when you reboot.

Move your user folders to a different disk/partition: Instead of defining such exclusion as mentioned above, many users opt to move their personal folders to a different non-protected disk/partition altogether; so any future changes to those folders will always stick. Of course you need to have a second disk attached to your system for this. Just remember that it is not recommended to use a USB 2.0 disk for this task, it is best to use an internal disk that is always connected to your motherboard. If you want to move your user folders to an external disk you have to make sure that this disk is connected via eSATA or USB 3.0, and that it is always switched on and available every time the computer starts.

If you only have one internal disk and no external eSATA or USB 3.0 disks, then you can always split your disk into two or more partitions, one of which will be the primary active partition that contains Windows, with the remaining ones being logical partitions. The easiest way to accomplish this task is to use a third-party partition manager. Once you define the partitions you want and apply the changes, you will then be prompted to restart the computer. Upon restarting the partition manager will kick-in before Windows starts and split your disk to the partitions you defined earlier. When back in Windows you will now have a primary C: partition and one or more logical ones. You can then proceed with moving your user folders from C: to one of the logical partitions you created.

Moving those folders is not a simple case of cutting them from their original location and pasting them to the new location. All those user folders are located within your main user folder, this is the folder that bears your Windows username and which should be on your desktop. If it is not there you must right-click on your desktop, click Personalize, and choose the Change Desktop Icons link from the top left. Make sure that the User's Files box is ticked, apply and OK the change. You can then navigate to your desktop and open the newly-created folder. Ignore any shortcuts or any other files that may be there. Your targets are the Contacts, Downloads, Favourites, Links, My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, Saved Games, Searches folders. Just right-click on each one of those folders, select Properties and under the Location tab change the path to a disk/partition other than C:. Apply the change, and when Windows asks you if you want to create the folder at the new location allow it to do so. Windows will then ask you to move the contents of those folders to the new location; once again allow it to do so. Do the same for each one of the aforementioned folders.

An added benefit of moving those folders to a different disk/partition is that your C: partition will be much lighter because all your music and videos folders will now reside elsewhere. As a result your future Windows backups will be much smaller in size (since they will not contain any music and video files), and future backup restorations will take less time, too.

Install games on a different disk/partition: Most modern games take a lot of disk space and there is no need for them to be installed on C:. It is best to install games on a different disk/partition and use them from there. If you choose an external disk for your game installations make sure it is connected via eSATA or USB 3.0. Do not use USB 2.0 disks for this purpose, they are not fast enough for gaming and your games will take forever to load.

Make sure to deactivate LV protection before installing a game. This is because some games need to add registry entries and other files on C: and those changes won't stick if LV protection is activated while installing them. Most games also store data in your Documents or Saved Games folders. If you have already moved your user folders to another disk/partition (as mentioned earlier) then your game settings and saves will always be updated, regardless if LV protection for C: is activated or not.

If you get infected and LV protection is on, don't give the malware time to call back to its maker! As soon as you realize that something is wrong, disconnect from the internet immediately and switch your system off. Ignore any new screen pop-ups and messages alerting you to infections and prompting you to clean up: In many cases such messages belong to fake anti-virus malware or ransomware that have possibly infected your system. Only trust such messages if they originate from your existing antimalware programs. If LV protection was activated prior to the infection you don't need to clean anything up anyway, all you need to do is to switch off the computer. If your system is frozen you must hold the computer's power button for a few seconds until it switches off (hard reset). If this doesn't work just switch off mains power or unplug the power cord (and remove the battery if the system is a laptop/netbook). Wait 20 seconds or so and then power the system back on. All trouble should be undone and your Windows partition should be reverted back to its previous clean state.

Of course nothing is 100% fool proof. Certain sophisticated malware can infect the protected disk's boot sector and bypass light-virtualization protection, but such malware are quite rare. Most LV programs should be able to instantly reverse all changes caused by the vast majority of the more conventional malware out there. A select few LV programs are also sturdy enough to actually protect the boot sector from such sophisticated malware attacks.

Instant Recovery and Snapshot Software

Instant Recovery / Snapshot software is a related technology whose approach is quite different to that of Light Virtualization. Their main advantage is that they allow users to accumulate changes to the system across several reboots. These changes can be saved as new snapshots at any time, and any of these snapshots can be restored in mere seconds and when needed. This enables users to go backwards and forwards in the time-line of their systems, switching between saved snapshots at will.

With snapshot software users can safely test a new driver, a Windows update or any other program that requires a reboot. You just install anything you want, and then reboot to see if it is useful and suitable to your needs. If it has caused problems, or if you decide you don't want to keep it for some other reason, then there is no need to uninstall it. Just restore an older snapshot that was taken before the program in question was installed. Upon rebooting, all changes that have happened in the meantime will be completely undone and the protected disk/partition will be reverted back to the exact state it was when you took the snapshot you are restoring. This is an invaluable function for testing new software.

The way this works may vary considerably between different programs of this kind. In this instance I will be outlining the basic principles behind the fastest variant of this technology, the true Instant Recovery/Snapshot software (as opposed to other software who also use the term 'snapshot', but whose functions are similar to those of traditional backup programs). During installation the snapshot software will ask you to select which disk/partition it should protect. You must always choose your system disk/partition, it is the one that holds your Windows installation and is normally designated as the C: drive. Once installation completes, the program will restart your system, and will take a snapshot of the protected disk/partition before Windows loads. This is often called a baseline snapshot, the common base on which all future snapshots will be branching out from.

The snapshot software also adds a boot sector driver to the system. This driver enables users to press a key upon system start-up and before Windows starts loading, and access the snapshot software's pre-boot interface. From there users can take a new snapshot, restore an existing one, and also defragment or delete previously created snapshots.

One of the greatest benefits of this technology is the fact that when you save or restore a snapshot, no actual data transfer takes place (as opposed to traditional backup methods where data is being copied over to a different location when backing up/restoring). The inactive snapshots are still there on the same disk, saved on sectors that Windows and every other software deem as empty space; so there is no data transfer and no waiting time when creating or restoring a snapshot - it all happens in a few seconds. Windows and all other programs can only see the snapshot that you have chosen to boot from. The snapshot software keeps a sector map which enables it to see what data is common to one or more snapshots. This way there is no data replication among snapshots, every new snapshot will only include the disk sectors that have been changed since its parent snapshot was taken.

After Windows has loaded, the snapshot program utilizes a driver which protects those inactive snapshots from being overwritten by the OS. This driver intercepts all writes addressed to sectors that contain inactive snapshot data, and redirects such writes to truly empty sectors. This is seamless; there is no noticeable overhead even on older and less powerful systems. Of course the more changes that have taken place since the parent snapshot was taken, the more disk space a new snapshot will occupy. Loading huge snapshots still takes mere seconds though, all thanks to the fact that the data is still there on the same disk.

The following image is a visual representation of the way snapshots work. Of course the specific links between the snapshots in the picture are for indicative purposes only. Users can actually return to any snapshot at any time, add or remove new software or make any other changes to the system, then save the new setup as a new snapshot.

Light Virtualization and Instant Recovery Software: A great overall safety net for your computer 2

Important Notes on Snapshot Software Usage

There are certain important principles that should be followed in order for users to make the most of the features and protection that IRS/Snapshot software can provide. Here are some pointers:

A full backup of your system disk/partition is needed first. Before installing snapshot software on your computer make sure to create a full backup of your Windows partition/disk first. This will be your lifeline that will bring your system back from the dead in the rare case that the new software proves to be incompatible with your system and messes things up. The same backup methodology mentioned earlier should be followed here as well. It is probably best to move all your user folders to another disk too (follow steps 1 and 9 from the LV section of this introduction).

If you leave all that stuff on C: then your future backups will be huge in size and will take longer to restore; and you don't want that. Moving all your user folders (or any other custom folders that you may have which contain large files) to a different disk/partition means that your future backups will be much smaller in size and more manageable. If no such files are contained within your future snapshots you will also be saving a considerable amount of protected disk space later on.

You can always burn all those personal files to DVD or Blu-ray discs later, or just move them to an external disk. Just remember: It is best to have at least two copies of everything you value stored on two different mediums, one copy of which should always be stored away from the computer. Do not trust a single piece of media for your irreplaceable photos, videos, or other important files. Disks and USB sticks can develop bad sectors or even suddenly fail altogether, this can happen without any warning. DVD's can fade with time and the files you burned on them may become unrecoverable, lost forever. Always backup everything twice, in order to protect your personal data from such eventualities. Another good option may be backing up to the cloud with the many various options available, for example Google Drive or Dropbox.

Install Snapshot software ideally on a clean and fresh Windows installation. It makes good sense to install snapshot software on clean and freshly-installed Windows, and before installing any drivers, Windows updates or any other software. After your snapshot program has been installed it will auto-create the baseline snapshot on the next reboot. You want this first snapshot to be absolutely clean and free of any additional stuff. In the future you can always revert to this clean snapshot and bring your system back to its original freshly-installed Windows state in just a few seconds, with no drivers or third-party software introduced to the system yet. You can then add the newest drivers plus the latest versions of your favourite software, essentially creating a brand new and clean setup which you can then save as a new snapshot.

Keep your C: partition and your snapshots trimmed and free of unnecessary stuff. Use standalone versions of your favourite programs and run those from a different disk/partition. A lot of popular software is now available in portable/standalone form. They require no installation, you just place them in a folder and use them from there. If you have such software installed on C: and you need to update them to their latest versions in the future, you would have to load the snapshot that contains them first, update them, and then save a new snapshot and delete the snapshot that contained their older versions. When such programs reside on a different disk/partition as standalone programs, there is no need for any of this. When newer standalone versions come out, they can usually be installed on top of the existing versions, thus preserving your individual settings for those programs. If you put them on a different disk/partition in the first place and use them from there then they will be available regardless of which snapshot you have currently loaded, and updating them won't have to interfere with any of your existing snapshots.

The same applies for games. Most modern games take a lot of disk space and it makes sense to install them to a different disk/partition and use them from there. There is really no need for huge programs like these to be installed on C: and to occupy valuable snapshot space as a result. If you only have one disk in your system then make sure you split it into two or more partitions as explained earlier. Obviously you have to do the partitioning before installing snapshot software. Once the disk is split to a primary C: partition plus one or more logical partitions, you can then install the snapshot software and select the C: partition to be protected by the software. Later on you can install your games on one of your secondary logical partitions, or you may opt to install them on external eSATA or USB 3.0 disks instead. Once again do not use USB 2.0 disks for this purpose, they are slow and your games will take forever to load.

Games may still need to add registry entries, start menu shortcuts and other files on the C: partition. You can still install those games on a different disk/partition, but after their install is complete you will need to save a snapshot in order to preserve those C: entries. You must then load that snapshot before playing. Many games do not need any of this though; they will run just fine from a different disk just by double-clicking their executable directly from the game's installation folder, and without the need to use a dedicated snapshot for them. Most games also store data in your Documents or Saved Games folders. If you have already moved your user folders to another disk/partition as mentioned earlier, then your game saves and their settings will always be preserved and updated, regardless of which snapshot you have currently loaded.

Once again, snapshot software is not supposed to be a substitute for a firewall or anti-virus/anti-malware software. They are designed to work alongside existing protections and will not stop malware from infecting your system. Snapshot programs do not differentiate between malicious and non-malicious changes. What they can do is to fully undo all system changes, effectively reversing the damage caused by the installation of bad drivers, incompatible Windows updates, unwanted software installations plus any user actions that may have caused problems. They can also fully undo infections caused by the vast majority of conventional malware out there - but just like LV software, snapshot programs can also be vulnerable to certain rare sophisticated malware. That's why it is important to always use such software alongside existing anti-malware and anti-execution solutions.

Snapshot software is invaluable for when overclocking your PC: This quality stems from the fact that they can easily undo system crashes. For example, let's say that you are trying a new CPU or GPU clock and your system freezes. All you have to do is to hard-reset and invoke the snapshot software's pre-boot interface. Once there you can load a previously saved snapshot effectively undoing the crash, and all this happens before Windows even gets the chance to warn you of an improper shutdown. With snapshot software there is no need to check the disk for errors after each and every crash. This can save overclockers a lot of time, when trying to establish the limits of their hardware.

Snapshot software is ideal for software testing: Let's say that you want to benchmark four different versions of the same driver for comparative purposes. If you want to avoid any chances of driver leftovers affecting your benchmarks, you would have to restore a clean Windows backup before each driver installation, with all the time and effort this would entail. You would have to use a clean Windows install every single time, on which you would install the first driver, benchmark it, then boot into your backup program, restore the clean Windows back up again, boot back in Windows, install the second driver, benchmark it and so on.

With snapshot software none of this is necessary. All you have to do is install snapshot software right after Windows has been installed for the first time, and before adding any drivers, updates or any other programs. The program will then take its baseline snapshot which is your clean fresh Windows install with nothing else added.

When it's time to test those four drivers you just restore this baseline snapshot, this will bring you back to your clean barebones Windows in seconds. Add the drivers that are needed for all your other devices, leaving out the drivers for the device you want to test/benchmark. At this point you should also install your desired benchmarking programs. If your benchmarking programs can run as standalone applications from another disk this will save you from having to install them on C: at this point.

You save this new setup as a new snapshot; this will be your benchmarking base for the testing of those four new drivers. You then install and configure the first driver, reboot for the changes to take effect and once Windows has loaded you save a new snapshot that now contains the first driver.

You reboot once more and restore the clean benchmarking base snapshot. Remember that unlike traditional backups, saving/restoring a snapshot takes just a few seconds. Once back in Windows you install and configure the second driver, reboot, then save this as a new snapshot which now contains the second driver.

You repeat this process for all the drivers you want to test. In the end you would have five new snapshots, all branching out from your initial barebones mother snapshot. The first of these snapshots will be your temporary benchmarking base where you have installed all your testing prerequisites, and the other four will be its daughter-snapshots, each one of them containing a clean install of each version of the driver you will be testing. It would take just a few minutes to create these four individual clean driver setups and you now can switch between them with just a reboot and benchmark each driver cleanly. I simply cannot imagine software testing without the great helping hand that snapshot software provides for such a purpose.

Here is another useful example on how snapshot software simplifies even hardware testing. In the past I had to perform a comparative analysis of an NVIDIA versus an AMD video card. Snapshot software has helped me to do so with minimal fuss and without having to uninstall existing drivers or having to restore clean backups first. Here is the methodology:

Once again I started from my clean barebones snapshot which was taken when Windows was freshly installed with nothing else added. On that snapshot I added all my latest hardware drivers apart from the graphics card drivers. I applied any needed system tweaks and then saved that snapshot and powered the system down. This would be the mother snapshot for these tests. I then plugged in the AMD video card and rebooted into the new mother snapshot I had just created. I installed the latest AMD drivers, DirectX packs etc. and then saved this setup as a new snapshot before powering down the system again.

Next step was to remove the AMD video card and plug in the NVIDIA video card. I then booted back to the mother snapshot, added the latest NVIDIA drivers and DirectX packs, and saved this as a new snapshot. For the next week or so I could just swap video cards when needed, load the appropriate snapshot and test-drive those new cards. All my benchmark apps were available as standalones from another disk, so I could use them regardless of the snapshot loaded. The moral of this little story: With snapshot software you can easily switch between different hardware and use those on the same Windows install with minimal effort. While this is very valuable for testing purposes, it also gives you the best of both worlds: If you know that a game runs better on an AMD GPU or an NVIDIA GPU, you just switch off the system, swap your cards over, then load the appropriate snapshot on the next reboot. Within a couple of minutes your graphics setup will have been changed according to your gaming needs, and without having to restore backups or to uninstall existing drivers first.

Snapshot software also allows you to define different software setups to suit different computing needs. Here are some examples of the kind of software setups you can create, my personal favourites:

Media Encoding Snapshot: This is a strictly offline snapshot with my CPU overclocked to 5.0GHz, and many non-essential Windows services disabled. This is a clean snapshot with only my hardware drivers installed and no other software added apart from my motherboard's utilities which allow me to overclock from within Windows. I use this snapshot strictly for video and audio encoding tasks. My encoding programs run as standalone apps from another disk, and as such they require no installation.

Gaming OC Snapshot: On this one my CPU is set at a more moderate 4.7GHz, perfect for gaming without getting too hot. Again this snapshot is a strictly offline one, as I rarely game online. I have installed all the necessary gaming components on this snapshot, things like gamepads, joysticks, latest video cards drivers, DirectX updates, Visual C++ packages etc. I usually install all games on a different disk anyway. As I mentioned earlier modern games are huge and in my opinion there is no need to install them on C: as this would result to huge future snapshots and even larger future backups. My user folders also reside on a different disk anyway, so game settings and saves are preserved even when I switch to another snapshot. I have created dedicated mini-snapshots for any games which need to store registry entries or files on C: Those snapshots take very little space because the games themselves have been installed on a different disk anyway.

'Green OC' Snapshot: I also have a 'green' overclocked snapshot, courtesy of my friends and hardware aficionados David and Rick. This one has my system under-volted, all my security apps installed and active, and Light Virtualization software installed. I use this snapshot for everyday tasks and non-demanding programs which don't require for the computer to be at full overclocked throttle. This is an ideal 'green' overclock for lower power consumption. It reduces hardware strain, prolongs component life expectancy and results to lower overall temperatures. It is also a great setup for hot days, or for when I have to leave the computer on overnight.

With snapshot software installed it is relatively easy to establish the minimum voltage requirements for your hardware in order to create a 'green' overclock. You just set the system to a moderate overclock first and then use the Windows overclocking utilities of your motherboard to reduce voltages bit by bit. You keep the values for each field written on a piece of paper and run stability tests as you go along. At some point the computer will crash, once this happens you hard-reset and upon rebooting you restore the previous snapshot in order to fully undo the crash. Once back in Windows you just increase the voltages back to their last-known good values and your minimum voltage discovery effort is over. You can then save the snapshot as your "Green Overclock". On the next reboot don't forget to also go to your BIOS/UEFI, check that your new clock and voltage values are as they should be, and save this setup as a new BIOS/UEFI profile.

Basically you are only limited by your imagination in regard to the wide variety of mission-specific setups that you can create and save on a clean and fresh Windows install when using snapshot software. And you can easily switch between such setups in a few seconds, with a simple reboot.

Final thoughts

In my view, Light Virtualization and Snapshot software are both invaluable computer utilities. Using them for the first time is often a one-way street: Once you familiarize yourself with their features and benefits, you may end up wondering how on earth you have managed to cope for so long without them. It is hard to explain to the uninitiated the almost intoxicating degree of control over your system's setup and security, which such utilities offer. As a rule people normally don't 'get' any of this until they actually start using such software themselves.

Some people only use LV programs while others prefer the Snapshot variety. Personally I believe that the full benefit can only be experienced from a combination of both technologies. I use snapshot programs because they offer an unrivalled degree of control over my system's setup and configuration. On top of that I have added Light Virtualization for the added bonus of its excellent resistance against zero-day malware threats.

Some LV apps are brilliant against sophisticated threats, and their ability to fully contain and undo certain sturdy malware infections makes them a perfect supplement to snapshot applications. I use LV software for the purpose of providing greater overall system security, a final safety net against infections that snapshot programs alone wouldn't be able to handle and contain. Both of these technologies are indispensable to me and I couldn't imagine any of my computers left without the unique benefits of such software.

I hope that you have enjoyed this introduction to those very useful software technologies. Within the next few articles I will be exploring the best LV/IRS software solutions currently available, with special focus on their features, functionality and limitations.

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Tasos Laurentiadis was born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, but now lives in London, UK. An avid computer enthusiast with a passion for hardware and software alike, he has been around since the early days of the Commodore 64 and the BBC micro. He later moved on to a 386 PC and never looked back. Tasos loves the buzz of installing and testing new hardware and software, and is a keen gamer. He also loves hard rock, metal, ethnic/folk music, and has been the lead vocalist with numerous rock and metal bands since the mid-eighties.

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