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Or is it just effectively a file by file copy of what's on the disk?

The reason for the question is that we need to restore some deleted files but the physical disk no longer exists. However, we do have a System Image from very soon after after the deletions.

So what I'm asking is, would it be possible to restore the System Image and then use an undelete tool to recover some of the files? Or has the system image effectively ignored the areas on the disk that aren't officially part of the file system and so we're out of luck?

And by 'System Image' I mean the built in tool included in the Backup and Restore functionality.

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If it is a Windows Image (WIM) then probably unlikely. However I'm not sure what you mean by a system image. There are some hard disk clone utilities that will create images like you explain in your post, but I doubt you would do this to create a normal backup. –  Bad Dos May 14 '12 at 23:08
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He likely means an image file as used by the installer - WIM files. Windows 7 setup is a image based mechanism. –  TomTom May 15 '12 at 3:23

3 Answers 3

A Windows 7 system image is a literal copy of the sectors on the disk. However, sectors that are free are not included in the image. So you won't be able to restore deleted files from an image. If you have 80GB of data on a 120GB partition, the image will take 80GB, not 120GB.

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I'm assuming that you mean an image created from Windows 7 itself, using the built-in tool. However, there are numerous ways to create a system image and we shouldn't have to guess or assume. Please be specific. –  John Gardeniers May 15 '12 at 2:01
    
Do you know of anything that could be described as a "Windows 7 System Image" that copies the contents of free space? –  David Schwartz May 15 '12 at 2:04
    
None of the ones I've used but I have seen products that will copy every sector. None are windows 7 specific but everything I've ever used will create a Windows 7 image. I don't recall their names though. –  John Gardeniers May 15 '12 at 2:14
    
THe whole sense of the system image is installing, NOT backup. It makes zero sense to store not used sectors - just makes things slow. The OP should have made a backup, not a system image. –  TomTom May 15 '12 at 3:22
    
That sounds file-based, no? If it's not including things that aren't defined as files... –  Jeff Ferland May 15 '12 at 4:20

A .wim file is not sector based, it's file based. A .wim file or windows image contains only a set of files and the associated metadata. Unfortunately you won't be able to undelete files from a windows image file.

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Grab yourself a Linux bootdisk image and use that to clone the partition. Any bootable system Linux cd or live image should include a copy of the dd program.

Here's a quick guide to using that for disk cloning.

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