Imaging and restoring the operating system is really quite simple. However, there are a few preliminary steps that must be done. Luckily, several of these steps only have to be done once.
The entire process in a nutshell:
- Backup your current files!
- Slipstream Service Pack Two.
- Create a Windows “Live” CD.
- Add the DriveImage XML plug-in.
- Configure your system.
- Create the “hot” image.
- Archive the new image.
- Restore the image.
- Alternatives and asides.
1. Backup your current files!
It goes without saying that before you try ANYTHING that could potentially cause data loss, you should create backups of your critical files. In fact, you should have some sort of backup scheme anyway. Burn everything to CDs or DVDs. Buy a spare hard drive (or two). Create a spare e-mail account just for archiving data. Do whatever it takes to keep your critical files safe. Only when you are sure that everything is secure, proceed to step two.
2. Slipstream Service Pack Two.
This step is only required if your current Windows install disc does not contain either service pack 1 or 2. To create the Windows “Live” CD, you must use an install disc that contains a service pack. Detailed instructions to how to do this go beyond the scope of this article, but one great tutorial is on Paul Thurrott’s site. Once you have (or have created) a “slipstreamed” install CD, proceed to step three.
3. Create a Windows “Live” CD.
Note: a DVD should also work for this procedure.
While Linux “live” CDs such as Knoppix and Mepis have been around for years and are freely downloaded, it is not the case with Windows. Yes, you *can* create a Windows live CD, but only with media you actually own. It is illegal to give away or download a Windows live CD. That said, we are going to use BartPE (Bart’s Preinstalled Environment) to create the live CD. While there are detailed instructions on the aforementioned site, I will also provide some rudimentary instructions. At the time of this writing, the current BartPE version is 3.1.3.
- Download the BartPE package and install it (or just use the ZIP package). For the sake of consistency in this tutorial, I will use “D:\bartsPE” as the reference path for the BartPE files. Adjust your path accordingly.
- Run the “pebuilder.exe” file. In the “source” section, you need to provide the path to your Windows installation files. While you can direct it to the Windows install CD in your optical drive, I found it much more convenient to just copy everything to a folder on the hard drive. If you want to do this, create a new folder, such as “D:\bartsPE\XPCD”. Copy everything from your slipstreamed Windows XP SP2 CD to this folder. When it is finished, point the “source” path in PE Builder to the “XPCD” folder.
- Enable the option to create an ISO, and give it a file name, such as “D:\bartsPE\pebuilder.iso”. You are now set to create the live CD. Now is a good time to go ahead and test it. Using a CD-RW for this is very convenient, as you can test and re-test without wasting CDs. Hit the “Build” button and watch it work. When finished, burn the ISO that it created to CD (as a disc image, not just a regular data file). Make sure your bios is set to boot from CD, and then reboot with the CD in the drive. With any luck, you should have a working Windows live CD.
4. Add the DriveImage XML plug-in.
Now that you know how to create a live CD using BartPE, we can add a plug-in for DriveImage XML. Before we continue, a brief explanation is in order. DriveImage XML does a great job of creating backups, even directly from the system drive, but these backups require a running Windows environment to restore the images. While this is great provided that your system stays healthy, what happens if a virus erases your hard drive? What happens if Windows fails to boot for some reason? What happens if your hard drive dies and you want to swap it with another? Get the picture? Also, you cannot restore an image TO the system drive (usually C:\) if you are currently running the operating system FROM the system drive. This is where running DriveImage XML from a live CD comes into play. Without the live CD, you would be unable to restore an image because it cannot overwrite itself. With the live CD, even if you completely swap your hard disk for another, you can restore your operating system to its previous state.
DriveImage XML integrates into BartPE as a plug-in. This plug-in is currently located under “Available Plugins” on this page of the Runtime Software site. Download the CAB file. Back in PE Builder, click the “Plugins” button. What you see now is a list of utilities that come with BartPE by default. Many of them can be enabled simply by selecting the desired plug-in and clicking “Enable/Disable.” Some of them require extra steps though, and clicking the “Help” button should provide information on the extra steps required.
As you may have guessed, we’re going to click the “Add” button to add the newly acquired CAB file for DriveImage XML to BartPE. Navigate to the CAB file and click “Open.” Once it’s installed, it should automatically be enabled. If it is not, click the “Enable/Disable” button.
If you are interested, you should consider adding more utilities to your new live CD, such as antivirus, spyware removal tools, or a CD-burning application. When finished, build your new CD and burn the ISO to disk.
Now it’s time to create the image. Go on to the next page.