Ghost Windows for Free with Paragon Drive Backup Express (A Visual Guide)

Paragon - Disk icon Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do with your Windows installation is to just nuke it and start over from scratch. If you’ve ever done that before, you know just how long it takes to get all your files transferred, drivers and programs reloaded, and updates patched. The process can take hours, even days. While a true geek might actually enjoy the process a tiny bit, it’s much more satisfying to create a disk image of your pristine Windows install that you can revert to if it gets screwed up later.

I’ve written about this process a few times before, but today I would like to introduce Paragon Drive Backup Express. Essentially, Drive Backup Express (DBE) is the free version of Paragon’s commercial software. As expected, it lacks features compared to its commercial siblings, but is still quite usable. Hey, it’s hard to complain about free software.

Features

Let’s look at some features of Express (free) versus Personal Edition (commercial) as of 31 March 2009:

Paragon Drive Backup Express Features

Don’t expect too much here – you won’t find any fancy features like scheduling, encryption, incremental backups, or image browsing. The Express version basically gives you the ability to make a backup of your disk/partition, plus the ability to restore it later. No more, no less.

Compared to the free version of Macrium, Reflect, the most glaring omission of DBE is the inability to back up straight to CD/DVD. If you can live with these restrictions (and most people can), DBE is a capable tool. Perhaps because it lacks all the fancy features, it’s also VERY easy to use.

Requirements

Drive Backup Express officially supports all versions of Windows from 2000 SP4 to Vista (32/64-bit). Sorry, no server operating systems are supported by the free edition. Supported file systems include:

  • NTFS
  • FAT16 and FAT32
  • Linux EXT2, EXT3, and swap
  • HPFS

Because DBE supports some Linux file systems, you should be able to back up and restore Linux partitions. I have not tested this capability… yet.

Other requirements are minimal. At the least, you will need:

  • A place to store the image after it is created – yes, DBE can store the disk image directly onto the C:\ drive as it is created, but you need another place to host the image if you plan to erase and restore the C:\ drive. Make sense? A few options include:
    • a large USB flash drive might work (4 or 8+ GB)
    • a blank DVD
    • an external hard drive
    • a spare internal disk or partition

Before we begin, PLEASE BACK UP YOUR CRITICAL DATA! It should be common sense that whenever you are working with disk imaging, you need to have backups of important data. Get a spare hard drive, burn everything to DVD, or look at some online storage (I highly recommend Dropbox).

The Process

Here’s an outline of the entire process:

  1. Install Drive Backup Express
  2. Configure Your System
  3. Create the Disk Image
  4. Verify the Disk Image
  5. Create the Rescue CD
  6. Restore the Disk Image
  7. Final Thoughts

1. Install Drive Backup Express

Here’s the DBE download page. There are separate downloads available for 32-bit versus 64-bit operating systems. Not sure whether your system is 32-bit or 64-bit? If it’s Windows 2000, it’s 32-bit. If it’s XP or Vista, hold down the Windows key and press Pause/Break. Look for the System information.

System - 32-bit

2. Configure Your System

This one is up to you – configure your system in a way that you would like to preserve. A freshly installed state is perfect, but if don’t feel like doing a complete re-install, here are a few suggestions:

  • Get the latest security patches from Windows Update.
  • Defragment your disk.
  • Scan your system for malware.
  • Clean out any unused or unnecessary applications.

I tend to create two disk images:

  1. A freshly installed system with only the latest drivers and security updates.
  2. A full image that also contains all my typical applications.

3. Create the Disk Image

Now it’s time to create our image. When you launch DBE, you will see a Welcome screen featuring a happy guy with an unbranded Macbook. Are we to assume that he just restored his BootCamp partition? Or maybe he’s happy that the Dow Jones Industrial Average actually went UP for a change? Anyway, I digress.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Main

Click the Back up Disk or Partition option. The Simple Backup Wizard will appear.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Simple Backup Wizard

Follow the prompts to begin creating the image. First things first, select which disk or partition you would like to image. You may choose either a single partition or the entire hard disk, complete with the Master Boot Record (MBR). Unless you absolutely know what you are doing, go ahead and back up the partition table (called the Hard Disk Track) as well as the MBR. You will need them if you have to do a restore from bare metal.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Simple Backup Wizard 2

Next, choose a place to store the image. As mentioned before, you cannot burn the disk image directly to a CD or DVD, but you can store it directly on the currently running partition. In other words, if you are running from drive C:\, you can choose to store the image directly on the same drive. Drive Backup Express is smart enough to exclude the chosen storage directory and not create an infinite loop. However, you must move the image to a different location (DVD, flash drive, etc) BEFORE you can restore it since it is not possible to restore a disk from itself.

Store the image wherever you like, such as on the C:\ drive, a spare partition, or on an external disk. Note: you CAN also map a network drive and store the image directly on a networked computer. To do so, click the Network Drive button on the Backup Destination page.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Backup Destination

Browse to find your networked computer and map a network drive to a shared folder. Enter the login information for the remote user. Note: that user must have read AND write privileges for the shared folder or DBE will not be able to store the image there. Also, though DBE can create your image over the network, I have not yet found an easy way to restore it over the network. Before you can restore it, you must transfer it to a DVD or some other external media.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Map Network Drive

Once you’ve chosen your destination, hit Next. DBE will immediately begin creating and storing your image. This process may take a while, so go have a coffee break.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Backup in Progress

And it’s done! Hooray!

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Backup Complete

Now that your backup is complete, let’s talk about how to verify and restore it.

4. Verify the Disk Image

This step is optional, but I encourage you to do it anyway. You don’t want to find out the hard way that something is wrong with the image that you created.

Back on the DBE Welcome screen, click the Check Archive Integrity button to launch a new wizard.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Archive Integrity Wizard

Browse to find the disk image that you created. DBE also keeps a list of archives that you have made, so you can just select it from the list.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Archive Integrity Wizard 2

Depending on the size of the archive, it may take several minutes to verify its integrity. Go refill that coffee or maybe play an online flash game.

If all goes well, the verification should complete without errors.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Archive Integrity Wizard Complete

5. Create the Rescue CD

Before we can restore the image, we must create the Rescue environment. After all, if we’re going to erase and restore the current operating system, we can’t have that system running, can we?

Back on the DBE Welcome screen, click the Build Recovery Media option. The Recovery Media Builder will launch.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Recovery Media Builder

You have a choice: you can build the Rescue environment on either a CD/DVD or Flash Memory. If you know that your computer supports booting from a USB flash drive, this is a great choice. Otherwise, stick to the standard CD approach, which I will use for this tutorial.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - Recovery Media Type

Before you can build the recovery ISO, you have another choice: Typical settings, Advanced, or User-specified ISO.

Paragon Drive Backup Express - DVD Creation Options

Typical – use this option if you just want to accept the default recovery package and start burning the disk. It will build a Linux-based boot disk with a minimal set of tools for restoring your image(s). If you’re unsure, go with this option.

Advanced – similar to the typical settings, but also gives you an option to add your own files or folders to the standard recovery image. For instance, if you have room on your DVD, you could add the folder where you stored the image itself. That way your recovery media also conveniently contains the disk image. Nice.

User-specified ISO – only choose this option if you already have another recovery ISO in mind to burn. Most users won’t have this.

Once you’ve made your choice, create your media. DBE can burn the disc for you directly, or you can choose the Emulator device option to build an ISO that you can burn later with a tool like InfraRecorder.

Now that your recovery media is ready, let’s move on to the restoration process. Please continue to the next page.

23 thoughts on “Ghost Windows for Free with Paragon Drive Backup Express (A Visual Guide)

  1. How does this compare to Macrium Reflect Free? I switched to it (from DriveImage XML) because DXML didn’t support backing up/restoring the MBR. I’ve done backups/restores of XP, Vista, and Win7 w/Reflect without issue, but one thing I wish you could do was a backup from the restore media it creates. That’s about the only “hole” I’ve found so far.

  2. I don’t get it. Why do you keep saying “The main advantage of DBE over Macrium Reflect is that you can create a disk image directly from the recovery media without installing anything”?

    In the first page, you installed DBE to make a backup so why is the above statement very important?

  3. Bill Bob – It’s only important because the option is available. For people who have multiple computers, it’s handy to just pop in the CD and make a backup without having to install software on every computer.

    A few people asked about it in the comments on the Macrium article, so I felt compelled to mention it.

    For most people it’s not important, but there are some who appreciate the option.

  4. I like the option, but I also like the option of being able to actually install the software, which I wasn’t able to do…just an FYI.

    I’m running Win7 64bit beta and the button to get the serial doesn’t work. I did a quick search and saw others with the same complaint, so I doubt the problem is specific to the beta.

  5. Thanks, Brian. Two questions, though:

    1) I’d like to ghost the entire HD onto an image to be stored on an external hard drive, in case my current internal hard drive dies. If that happens, I want to be able to restore everything to a new hard drive, and I want everything to boot/work as before, including XP and the MS Office products I have on there. Will there be any problems with the MS products working on new hardware, or will the registration not correspond then? (I don’t have the original disks for XP, just the COA sticker, and nothing for Office)?

    2) I’m not sure I agree with your step 6 (Restore Your Image). If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, you’ve just destroyed a working set up. In my case (see above) that means I cannot get XP and Office working again (there is no way to back them up). Yes, I agree that you can’t know for sure that your image works until you test it, but writing over the original seems kind of scary. In my case, what I’d prefer is to restore it to a new internal hard drive at the time my HD begins to fail. What do you think?

    Thanks!

  6. You’re welcome, Che. Two answers, I hope:

    1) Everything *should* work fine. Store the image on the external drive, and if your internal hard drive dies, just pop in a new one and restore from the external. If the only different hardware is the internal disk, all software should work as before, MS products included.

    2) While I encourage people to go ahead and test the restore, the last thing I want is for them to break a working system. If you have a spare internal disk and don’t mind swapping it, that’s even better than simply restoring over the existing installation because it simulates a real-life drive failure and restoration.

    The point is to make sure the restoration will work, one way or another. Good luck!

  7. Brian,

    I’m looking for a free product that can be used to move a WinXP installation onto a larger HD to upgrade the HD in a laptop.

    In your article on using Macrium Reflect:
    – The restore wizard gave you the option of overwriting the MBR.
    – The was a reply from Nick @ Macrium Software confirming that you could restore a backup image into a larger partition.

    Does Paragon Drive Backup Express match these two features?

    Greg.

  8. Greg – Yes, restoring a backup image to a larger partition is almost never a problem for this type of software. Usually it’s attempts to restore to a smaller partition that can cause problems.

    Yes, Paragon DBE can back up and restore the MBR. Good luck.

    Kevin – Thanks. Glad it helped!

  9. Wow, I had been surfing for months for a decent tute for this type of stuff. Your forum is very well put together and comprehensive even for noobs like me to understand. Wish me luck I will be ghosting my computer this weekend.

  10. Great article – I’ve just used this tutorial to transfer all data on my laptop’s old 60Gb hard drive to a replacement 160Gb hard drive. It all went well and the new drive is up and running without a hitch, so thank you!

    One slight problem – the laptop’s hard drive contained a hidden partition for system recovery as well as the main storage partition. Now that everything is on the new hard drive, the partitions are still the same size, leaving me with 100Gb of unallocated space.

    Now I know I can just create a new partition in that space to give me a separate 100Gb drive, but I’d prefer to expand the C: to fill that space instead. Is there a way of doing that without expensive software?

  11. First, many thanks to Brian (TipsFor.us) for producing these detailed and easy-to-follow tutorials.

    After carefully comparing DriveImage XML, Macrium Reflect Free and DBE, I’ve decided to use DBE.

    However, since my Dell’s hard disk has a hidden diagnostics partition, I suspect I’ll have to edit the boot.ini file to point at partion(1) on the new drive, since the old boot.ini (presumably copied over to the system disk image) points to partition(2).

    Bryan provided a very clear explantion about this issue.
    http://www.tipsfor.us/articles/ghost-windows-xp-for-free/driveimage-restoration/#comment-2819

    Can anyone advise how I can make similar amendments to the boot.ini file using the DBE Recovery Media CD or another tool?

    Thanks.

  12. I tried but fail to restore.
    Back up has no problem, verify no problem
    But the restored partition simply did not work. Disk was found but partition was not recognized and fail to reboot. (missing kernel dll)

  13. I must applaud you on your efforts and clarity. I would ask you to consider adding into your articles a statement telling what OS is being used in each and to which the article might possibly apply since differnet OSes can and will have different reactions. I am using Win 7 and do not know if all of this applies. I am however certain that soon, the great majority will be using it since it appears to be the best ever. That said, even the best can break and so I would like to be prepared. I hope that you would find it in your heart to update with Win 7 results when you have the opportunity. Once again, thanks for all of the work on the behalf of a public that you never get a chance to meet.

  14. If your hard disc contains a hidden partition (usually a recovery partition from the manufacturer) you would normally have to remove both the system partition and recovery partition, then create a new partition taking up the whole drive before running the restore. Klaw81, if you have forgotten to do this and still want to remove the hidden recovery partition then use another of Paragon’s free tools, Partition Manager which will do exactly what you want.
    http://www.paragon-software.com/home/pm-express/

  15. Hey Brian,

    I’ve been looking all over for something like this, and your post is very thorough, thanks for all the great information! But I do have one question, how well does DBE deal with RAIDs? I’ve been having a hell of a time with a newly built machine installing my XP copy to the RAID, but installing with the SATAs as IDE works fine. So I was thinking install as IDE, backup image and recovery to DVD, and recloning it to the RAID.

  16. Reading your article made me decide to try the Paragon solution. They have updated their product offering and now the free product is Paragon Backup & Recovery 2010 Free Advanced Edition. Didn’t know what to expect but thought it might retain the features you described that I wanted. Not having seen the version you discuss I would still have to say this new version is even better.

    I just got 4 new Dells, all the exact same model and configuration with identical OEM licenses for Windows 7 but delivered with Windows XP installed. It took almost 2 days to get one setup the way I wanted, mostly removing all the stuff Dell puts on their systems and applying all the latest Windows updates. What I wanted was a clean way to make an image of that one configured system and apply it to the other 3.

    I didn’t want the Paragon program to be in the image so I installed it on one of the other 3 systems and created the Paragon Recovery Boot CD. Then I booted my configured system with the CD and made a partition image of the System partition, which is partition 2 because these machines have the Dell diagnostics partition as partition 1. I created the image on an external USB drive. You can also use a USB thumb drive (memory stick).

    Then I simply booted the other systems from the Paragon Recovery Boot CD with the USB drive connected and performed a partition restore to that system’s partition 2, leaving each system’s diagnostics partition intact. Worked great. No problems at all. Both source and destination partitions were 160GB but the image created was only 11GB. That was with “No Compression” selected. You can select different levels of compression when creating the image. Took about 20 minutes to create the partition image and 20 minutes to restore it to each system.

    NOTE that if you’re putting the image on multiple machines that will be connected on the same network you need to rename each machine after booting with the new image. You should also make the source machine Administrator’s password blank before creating an image just as a safety precaution.

    Also if the Windows partition (System partition) will have a different partition number on the target machine, like if you don’t want to keep the diagnostics partition, you need to prepare for that in advance. You have several options. You can create a boot diskette on which you can edit the boot.ini file to point to partition 1 and then change the boot.ini on the hard disk after booting the system. You can change the partition number in the boot.ini file right before shutting down the system to make an image of it. You can also use a Windows XP installation CD to boot to the recovery console and execute the commands that will make corrections to the boot.ini file. You can easily find instructions for doing that on the Internet.

    The new free Paragon program is excellent. It’s been several years since I worked with Ghost but this program is easily as nice if not better than Ghost. Since I will be rolling out Windows 7 to 25 machines at work in the next 6 months I will be requesting permission to purchase one of the Paragon professional packages.

  17. I was trying this for my company use, but it seem doesn’t work out. After I recovery the system, it shows Error Loading Operating System. Because the company was crashed before I made an image, so I found a similar company to make the image, then recoveried on the crashed company, is that why it doesn’t work out? Please help me.

  18. Nice piece of software. The progress bar showed installing the Rescue CD for a while and ended black screen. Finally I returned to Ghost 2003. I am still using it with those 2 boot floppys. Always checking if the image does get installed properly. Better burn your disk images twice if you do not have a spare computer to verify.
    Maybe I failed with Paragon because I have my XP installed on the chipset Raid controller. Otherwise it would have been the total bargain for free.
    Since I cannot use Ghost with USB-Floppy to backup my laptop (cursor out of control), I might use Paragon for this operation.

  19. It wasn’t the best choice for my Windows XP system but it is almost perfect on my Vista laptop.
    The ultimate solution is Drive SnapShot 1.40. Works without installation. Creates bootable DVD or USB-Stick and pretty much everything you want. And restore takes only about 5 minutes where others take 45. This would be my pick for 39 EUR.

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