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 Post subject: Five things every Windows DIYer should do/know
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2014 10:27 am 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5297
Making a System Image
Note: This feature may not be available in all editions of Windows. I've been using Pro/Business since vista.

Once in a while, you feel like the system is beyond a deep cleaning and the only thing to make it feel as "new as it once did" is a reinstall. But that's a bit of a hassle. You spend 20-30 minutes installing Windows, another 10 minutes getting drivers in, and hours getting all the programs you need up and running to a state that you prefer. Not to mention you still have to activate the OS and anything else that needs it. But what if you could do all that within about 5-10 minutes? That's what a system image does. To put it in another way, it's like creating the "Recovery Partition" that OEMs like to do these days.

A system image essentially freezes the state of the system partition at that point in time. Windows is activated? It's already activated when you restore from a system partition. Need to activate another program? That too. Essentially the drive is wiped and is rewritten with the image. Before you can start though, you need a partition (preferably an external back-up disk) with at least 30GB free, more if you have more programs.

Using Windows 7
  • Go to Control Panel -> System and Security -> Backup and Restore
  • If you're using an external hard drive, turn it on now if it isn't.
  • On the left panel, select "Create a System Image"
  • Select the "On a Hard Disk" button and use the drop down menu to select the partition.
  • Press "Next" and select only the C:\ and partition labeled "System Partition" (it should not have a drive letter). It will tell you how much space you need though in case you're not sure how much you need.
  • Press "Next" and wait for it to be done.

Using Windows 8
  • Go to Control Panel -> System and Security -> Windows 7 File Recovery
    • Alternatively you can search for "recovery" in the Start Screen search and it should pop up
  • If you're using an external hard drive, turn it on now if it isn't.
  • On the left panel, select "Create a System Image"
  • Select the "On a Hard Disk" button and use the drop down menu to select the partition.
  • Press "Next" and select only the C:\ and partition labeled "System Partition" (it should not have a drive letter). It will tell you how much space you need though in case you're not sure how much you need.
  • Press "Next" and wait for it to be done.

Using Windows 8.1
  • Go to Control Panel -> System and Security -> File History
    • Alternatively you can search for "file ihstory" in the Start Screen search and it should pop up
  • If you're using an external hard drive, turn it on now if it isn't.
  • On the left panel, select "Create a System Image" at the bottom.
  • Select the "On a Hard Disk" button and use the drop down menu to select the partition.
  • Press "Next" and select only the C:\ and partition labeled "System Partition" (it should not have a drive letter). It will tell you how much space you need though in case you're not sure how much you need.
  • Press "Next" and wait for it to be done.

The next time you need to use this system image:

Using Windows 7
  • Upon booting the computer, press F8 after POST before Windows loads. Select "Repair this computer"
    • Alternatively if you have a Windows 7 install disk or recovery environment, you can boot to that.
  • If you booted from an install disk, choose "Repair this computer" after selecting the keyboard
  • If your system image is on an external hard drive, turn this on now.
  • In the recovery options, choose "System image recovery"
  • It should scan and find the system image on the medium you saved it to. Select that and continue

Using Windows 8/8.1
    Open up the top right charm and select Settings -> Change PC Settings -> Update and Recovery -> Recovery (wherever the options for Refresh/Restore are)
  • Select the last one for Advanced Settings on reboot
  • If your system image is on an external hard drive, turn this on now.
  • Once in the recovery environment, go to Troubleshoot -> Advanced Options -> System image recovery
  • It should scan and find the system image on the medium you saved it to. Select that and continue

I highly recommend not updating the system image. That is, say a few months down the road, you make another one. If your system becomes unstable or something else feels off, you won't have a known clean image to recover from.

Backing up the %APPDATA% folder regularly
There's just one problem with the System Image option... say that you customized your programs down the road and it's not the same when you made the system image. Or if you use instant messaging programs like Pidgin, your system image won't have any logs you've saved. Or if you play Minecraft, what'll happen to the worlds you created?

This is where the %APPDATA% folder comes in. The %APPDATA% folder (which points to C:\Users\[Username]\AppData) is where all user-specific application settings and data lives. Unless you moved the Users directory off the C:\ partition, you should back this up before performing any system wipe. After you've done the system wipe and got back to a clean state, import this folder back in.

The only caveat I have if you want to prevent weird things from happening, do not launch programs as much as you can before you import the folder back in. For instance, if you use Firefox and you launch it, it will create a default account in your %APPDATA% folder. Once it does, the one you backed up will not be used if you import it. You have to do some manual deleting and copying and hope it still works. For that reason (among other things), I have another account on Windows that I actually use that I do this process to. Also, you should be a bit judicious in what you import. But normally copying the entire folder back in is fine.

Do note though this does not retain application activation and other DRM states. Also be weary that some programs may use the C:\ProgramData folder instead (but this is normally a global data and configuration folder, which I haven't encountered a program that uses this to the point of needing a backup).

Making use of symbolic links
Symbolic links are a kind of shortcut that is a bit abstract at first, but makes sense once you see it in action. To steal from Wikipedia:

Quote:
[A symbolic link] is a special type of file that contains a reference to another file or directory in the form of an absolute or relative path and that affects pathname resolution


Basically, if I have a file C:\Users\Alice\Desktop\foobar.txt and a symbolic link pointing do that in C:\Users\Bob\Desktop, all programs that open, modify, etc. foobar.txt behave as if the file exists in C:\Users\Bob\Desktop, but in reality it's being written to C:\Users\Alice\Desktop\foobar.txt. That's not all. Say Alice makes a symbolic link in C:\Users\Alice\Destkop called Music that points to C:\Users\Bob\Music (this time a folder, not a specific file). Now when Alice goes into Explorer and opens up the Music link, Explorer will think it's in C:\Users\Alice\Desktop\Music.

So where is this practical? Moving the Users directory off the C:\ partition for instance. Other applications I've done this in is make a symbolic link for My Documents to another folder. Why do that instead of having the location point somewhere else? Because the folder I mark is treated as that user's folder, meaning other users can't access it unless they force it. So it's more of a convenience thing. You could also, say, muck with your Steam library this way.

More on this topic can be found with some searching. Or http://lifehacker.com/5496652/how-to-us ... in-windows

Migrating from an HDD to an SSD
I've used this technique plenty of times with success.

  1. Before migrating, install the SSD.
  2. On the SSD, create a 200MB NTFS partition with the label S:\
  3. Mark the SSD as "Active" (either using DISKPART or Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> Storage)
  4. Clone the Windows partition into the SSD
  5. Open a command prompt as an administrator
  6. Execute the following command:
    Code:
    Bcdboot D:\Windows /s S:

    This is assuming D:\Windows is the Windows partition on the SSD.
  7. Boot from the SSD.

Using separate accounts
This is more of a security measure if anything. By default, the first account made in Windows is an administrator. Running with this willy nilly is similar to running as root in Linux/UNIX. What I like to do is run everything I do on a separate Standard User account. The reasoning, in theory, is twofold:
  • If malware does get in and runs on this Standard User account, it should have very few privileges and it won't be able to do much.
  • If the account is compromised, just delete the account and make a new one

I've yet to run into a scenario where I need this, but I still do it out of habit. If you are running Windows XP, I would say this is mandatory as UAC is not there to prevent an admin account from doing system level changes. The only downside to this is that UAC prompts require you to plug in the password of the admin account for the action to happen. But then again, so does doing sudo on Linux/UNIX.

Also like I mentioned, it's easier to muck around with some tasks if you have a separate account.


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 Post subject: Re: Five things every Windows DIYer should do/know
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2014 3:31 pm 
Thunderbird
Thunderbird
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Joined: Sun Dec 30, 2007 6:17 pm
Posts: 861
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Very nice. I learned a couple of refinements that I will have to try.


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 Post subject: Re: Five things every Windows DIYer should do/know
PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 10:01 pm 
Coppermine
Coppermine
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Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:40 pm
Posts: 703
Excellent advice and tips, LatiosXT. As always, your prowess in front of a computer amazes me.

I do have a question about symbolic links:
Let's say I have sizable music library (75GB) that was originally on my C: drive (C:\user\Music). Since my C: drive is an SSD (240GB) and I've used 190GBs, I decide to move my music to an HDD. I create a new folder (D:\Music) and transfer all my music to the new location. I use a symbolic link to connect the original location (C:\user\Music) to the new location (D:\Music).

How does the computer recognize the drive usage? Will the computer 'see' the 75GBs as being on my C: or D: drive?

My main concern is that while my C: drive physically holds only 115GB of data (190-75), the computer recognizes it as still holding 190GB which would impact my ability to add data to my C: drive later.

Thanks!


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 Post subject: Re: Five things every Windows DIYer should do/know
PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 10:15 pm 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5297
btdog wrote:
How does the computer recognize the drive usage? Will the computer 'see' the 75GBs as being on my C: or D: drive?

Symbolic links have no impact on drive space enumeration. So that 75GB will live on the HDD, not the SSD. Otherwise it would be possible for a drive to have 1TB/250GB used =D


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