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Usually I stay away from desktop support, but as I am marrying this one I don't think I can get out of it :)

Whats the best tool for taking a full, browsable image of a disk before a full reinstallation.

When I am doing corporate server support, I know where all the important stuff is on my machines - what can get backed up, what is transitory and can be discarded, and what will be recreated anyway. The same goes for my personal machines.

However, the cardinal rule for end user desktop support is 'they never answer anything fully and completely correctly', so I do not want to end up in a situation where she last lost important data because it was squirrelled away in some non-standard directory that she didnt inform me of.

Basically, I want a non-bootable copy of the entire disk 'as-is'. I could drag and drop, but is there a quicker way?

Cheers Richard

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13 Answers 13

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Have a look at G4L (Ghost for Linux). A bootable Linux based package that will image Windows as well as Linux. It's will also perform all your partitioning tasks. All Open Source of course.

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+1 I've had good luck with G4L. – kmarsh Jul 8 '09 at 14:28
Also similar is FOG - – jmanning2k Jul 8 '09 at 16:19

Use a Windows PE-bootcd with ImageX, easy to create a compressed .wim from a single harddisk on another partition/removable storage and easy to restore with the same cd. With a single command you can mount (read-only or read-write) the .wim-file to a folder and browse/copy the content.

It's not too hard to create a dvd which restores your image with only a single keypress :)

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I would use VMWare Convertor 3.0 and do a P2V migration of it - then you have a bootable virtual image of the machine...

.. Ken

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I considered this, but I really do not want to support a VMWare infrastructure in this instance - even temporarily. I don't have a spare system that can have VMWare installed on anyway. – Moo Jul 8 '09 at 8:20
This also doesn't work if the installation has OEM Windows installed, and you want the image to run on another machine. – Jon Oct 7 '09 at 12:59

Drive Snapshot, There's a free time limited evaluation available but even if you end up having to buy it the price is very reasonable. You can mount the snapshot file as a drive to browse it.

I've used Drive Snapshot extensively and done many restores of snapshots, and it has never let me down!


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Both DriveImage XML and Macrium Reflect are very good for whole image backups, there are also free versions! You can then mount the image and browse it, or if you need to, reimage it back to the disk by booting from cd/usb.

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This answer always seems to work its way in, but dd is your friend. It's easy and comes on any LiveCD.

The image it creates is bit-for-bit, and you can easily mount these to loopback devices to read them just like regular disks.

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Clonezilla is very powerful. It can do something as simple as booting to a LiveCD to take an image, or Clonezilla Server can multicast up to 40 systems across your network at the same time. Take a look at it.

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I use the LiveCD option and backup systems to a USB drive before they get wiped. – steve.lippert Jul 8 '09 at 15:39

You may use a live cd to mount the hardrive partitions and copy all the datas do a network share. You can also make a tar.gz archive of the mounted partitions and then copy it to the network share, next you can browse this archive with winrar for example.

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I've tried the VMware Standalone Client to some success - notebook image to a virtual instance on VMware fusion for Macs - works well. I would assume that it would work for VMware player for PCs as well - but for both routes management of multiple copies of different images would be a near nightmare (but not impossible).

For "browsable" images, I would think that Acronis or Ghost with remote and image file management capabilities would be ideal. I had some successes with Acronis but there are instances with comes out ugly (not too bad, some data is still browsable to pull out manually but if image corruption occurs, RIP). Point is you should take them imaging apps for a spin and select one that are comfy with.

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Use GParted for the good. Simple and straightforward live cd.

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You can also use Parted Magic, which includes dd and some other useful programs! Specifically partimage.

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Microsoft's own WIM format is a very good alternative. Especially if you need to do this on several PCs the images sizes could really build up fast. WIM lets you include several images in one image file, and because of single-instance storage inside the WIM files, only the differences between the various images are stored. So, say that you have 20 near-identical images of various Win XP machines, the file would only contain one copy of the files that are identical across the images. You get the idea.

Have a look at Microsoft's Deployment Toolkit (MDT 2008, or MDT 2010 Beta 2) which uses WIM natively. The wizards for computer redeployment also include options for capturing the entire computer before reimaging/reinstalling it.

I'd say MDT is excactly what you need, probably worth spending a few hours installing and playing with it.


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You can mount those vhd files starting with Windows 7 from disc manager and you can boot them directly in HyperV oder Virtual PC or in XP mode in Win 7

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