Backing Up Windows Without a Hassle

Whether you're trying to backup your Windows 9x installation, Windows NT Workstation or Windows 2000, it can be a hassle. If you've never done a backup and restoration, here's a brief description of the hassles you will meet.

  1. Unless you are using some fairly expensive backup tape equipment that will allow a restoration from the pure DOS level, backing up your system to a small, inexpensive, tape backup drive can leave you open for disaster as there is no accurate method of determining the quality of the backup, nor restore the entire operating system. The backup program included with the Windows 9x versions is one of the worst in the industry.
  2. Nevertheless, let's presume that you've done your backups regularly and your system crashes. In order to restore your last backup set, you must first install Windows 9x. That's the only way you can access the backup program, and thus the restore feature. Time expended--anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Having to reload Windows is the first hole in the process.
  3. Once you have Windows 9x installed, you must then install the software for the backup drive. Now keep in mind, that while you used your system prior to the crash, you may have made many changes, and even some to the tape drive software. Do you remember what they were? Will this effect how the data from the tape is restored to your hard drive? This is the second hole in the process.
  4. Now you need to start the restore process, and here's the deepest hole in the process. The restore process must be run from within the Windows Graphical User Interface (GUI), not in Safe Mode and not at the DOS level. This means that you be attempting to overwrite existing files, including Windows files, from your backup tape, and Windows simply won't allow this. This is particularly important if you have Windows 9x installed and have been applying all of the updates and patches. The Windows installation you do in order to access the restore function will not have all of these updates and changes, and when you attempt the restoration, Windows will prevent you from overwriting files that it is using. This means that either of two things (and possibly both) will occur when you attempt to start your system after the restore has completed, the Windows operating system will be heavily corrupted, or Windows will refuse to start at all.

Now you do have some choices here. You can purchase a fairly expensive tape backup drive or you can look at the alternatives that we have suggested below. Both work, and we take a look at two things here, the cost of being able to create a reliable backup.

Tape Drives:

Seagate has been a technology leader in both backup software and backup drives. Seagate Technology's TR-4 drive is a good example of a better drive/software combination. The Seagate TapeStor Travan 8GB costs about $390 on the street and offers the additional benefit of either a SCSI or an EIDE interface to help speed backups, although the unit is still much slower than disk-based drives.

The price for a tape cartridge, at 4GB native capacity (8GB with compression) averages $35, which makes the cost of the entire setup with one tape about $425.00 plus shipping. Given the capacity of the tape, with today's new hard drives going beyond 60 gigabytes, you're going to need more than one or two. One problem though is that the installation process requires that you install the software before the hardware, or the software won't work. As for the software, this drive uses a TapeStor-specific version of Seagate's Backup Exec, a full-function program that earned an Editors' Choice Award in PC Magazine in the March 24, 1998 issue. The upside, among its most important features is disaster recovery, so you can restore to a new hard disk should your disk die, and do so without having to install Windows 9x first. One of the downside issues is that you need to start your backup manually.

An Alternative Solution:

Our alternative solution requires you to purchase two items, an extra hard drive (average price for a 20-30 gigabyte drive is about $200), and PowerQuest's Drive Image or Drive Image Pro. If you're a casual user and only concerned with doing accurate backups and restorations, go with Drive Image. If you would like a whole host of other options and tools, go with Drive Image Pro. Drive Image sells for $69.95, and the Pro version sells for $220 and includes PowerQuest's Partition Magic. In any event, for the purposes of this discussion, let's presume that you purchased a new 20 gigabyte drive and Drive Image. Your out of pocket cost will be around $250.

Once you've installed the hard drive and the Drive Image software, you can now use the Windows Scheduler to handle your backups for you. The upside is that it is hands free and extremely accurate, and if you would rather use a CD-ROM burner instead of a hard drive, you could. Although, we are talking about saving money and doing accurate backups at the same time, aren't we? The downside is that you must leave your computer running to do this (but this applies to a tape backup as well).

Here is an efficient way of backing up your drive or partition as often as you like, daily, weekly, monthly, etc., using Task Scheduler in Windows. The following will walk you through the entire process.

  1. First, you will need to create a script file. Relax, it's easy! (This example presumes that your backup image will be saved on your second hard drive and that its drive letter is "D".

    1. Click Start, Programs, MS-DOS Prompt. This will open the MS-DOS shell window.

    2. Now, at the MS-DOS Prompt "C:\", type: EDIT SCRIPT.TXT and touch the enter key. This will bring up the MS-DOS editor to create the script.

    3. In the editor screen, type in the following lines, touching enter after each line:

      SELECT DRIVE 1
      SELECT PARTITION C:
      STORE


    4. Now at the top of the MD-DOS editor screen click File and then select Save. This will save your script.txt file.

  2.  Next, open Windows Explorer and in the left window, navigate to the Drive Image directory. It should be something like PQDI something, depending upon the version installed.

  3. Now locate the file PQDI.EXE, right-click on it and select Properties.

  4. Now click on the Program tab.

  5. If you look at this property sheet, you will see one area referred to as command line. We will need to modify this line.
    1. Change this line to read as follows:

      PQDI/CMD=C:\SCRIPT.TXT /IMG=D:\IMAGES\BACKUP.PQI

    2. Next, click on the Advanced button towards the bottom of the properties sheet and select "MS-DOS mode"

    3. Now close the properties box for PQDI.EXE

  6. Now just open the Task Scheduler, add PQDI.EXE, and then configure it for a specific date and time and you're ready to go!

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