Imaging strategy for Windows

Not sure what imaging software is?

This page is based on the assumption that you know what imaging software is. If you’re unsure please read about imaging first.

The short version: imaging software is an easy means of making a copy of your computer’s software installation to give you gold-plated peace of mind and bulletproof security.

This page tells you how I managed imaging for a Windows XP installation. the routine for Vista or Windows 7 is very similar.

A Strategy for Installing and Maintaining a Clean XP Installation

This is the routine I used for installation of Windows XP Pro (SP1) on a newly built desktop PC. Obviously, the routine is specific to my requirements and will need to be modified to suit your installation and the programs you use. What follows is to illustrate the basic principles.

The main advantage of this method is that I have total control of my full installation at a number of points along the way and I’m (almost) totally protected from any malware that slips through my security. Virus writers eat your hearts out.

If I find that a newly installed program causes problems in my PC. It takes just 15 – 20 minutes to restore the machine to its pristine state at the time I previously backed up an image. I often image my current setup before installing a new program. If I don’t wish to keep the new program, I restore that last image and the program’s gone – along with its dirty footprints in the Registry and who knows where else.

The cost of peace of mind

  • For non-commercial home users the software is free.
  • For commercial uses the outlay is as little as US$50 per computer.

If I’m attacked by malicious software – rootkits are the biggest worry – I can restore my installation from an image and the problem is gone.

Separating Data from Programs

One important aspect of my setup is that, as you will see, I have moved My Documents, and all other data files to a separate partition from Windows and all programs. This allows me to restore a previous image without affecting my data. Hence the desirability of Disk Director or other partitioning software which makes it very easy to set up partitions.

No, I’m not getting a kickback from Acronis. :o)

If you wish, during a new installation, you can boot from a Windows 98 boot floppy or use the Ultimate Boot CD to do your partitioning with the DOS utility fdisk or any number of free partitioning utilities. But with Acronis Disk Director, Partition Magic and similar programs you can make changes easily after your installation – either from within Windows or from a boot CD. Home users can use the free version of Easus Partition Master.

Images of XP may be written to CDs or DVDs. An installation of Windows XP and MS Office 2003 should fit on one DVD RW. However, it’s a lot easier to have a separate partition for your later, larger images, or better yet a second hard drive – internal or USB external.

A Vista or Windows 7 installation probably won’t fit on one DVD even at maximum compression. I no longer mess about with DVDs because hard drives are now very inexpensive.

How I Set up my Drives and Partitions

You don’t have to do it this way. You can settle for one internal HDD and use an external hard drive for your images and backups. You could even just have the internal HDD divided into two partitions, you’d still have a backup in case Windows melts down, but you’d be in trouble if your HDD died. Some may consider my strategy overkill, but I’ve been caught napping before and I value my data.

I have two internal hard disks on my Desktop PC, they’re not expensive compared to your priceless data and they’re easy to install. With this setup, if I restore an image of Windows and my programs – which are on C: – my data files on E: are unchanged. For instance, if I restore to a previous image and open Microsoft Outlook, it opens with my latest data file which is on E:.

If Disc 1 crashes, my regularly backed up data and my image files are safe on Disc 2 (and a couple of other external places as well!)

Disc 1, First partition:

C:Windows

Contains Windows and all programs.

Disc 1, Second partition:

E:Data

All my data files, including My Documents, email (outlook.pst), downloads and extra copies of the first and latest images (backups of the backups! OK, I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me).

Disc 2

D:Backups

This includes the images and backup copies of all my data from E:.

Basic Windows Installation

This page deals with the strategy for your complete installation. I’m assuming that you know how to install Windows from the CD. If you need guidance with that step look here.

  • Back up all your data! Need help? see here
  • If you still have access to the Internet, you may wish to download any large installation files required. e.g. Windows Service Packs if required, Microsoft Office service packs, the latest anti-virus definitions file if your AV program provides this service.
  • If you don’t have the drivers for your motherboard and graphics card on CD, you may wish to go to the manufacturer’s website and download them. XP will recognise most components on older boards.
  • Install Windows XP Pro (in this instance, with Service Pack 1) without connecting to the router or telephone jack (for security reasons).
  • Install our partioning software and create a data partition E: on Drive 1 if this wasn’t done before the installation.
  • Move My Documents folder tree to E:My Stuff. (Right click on My Documents icon, select Properties, then just follow the prompts).
  • Set up Windows Explorer, Taskbar, Desktop and Start Menu to suit yourself.
  • Install Acronis True Image.

Backup to temporary image 1a (D:ImagesImage 1a)

The first two temporary images are created just in case everything goes wrong during the initial phase.

  • Install XP SP2 (needed with some motherboards for USB 2.0 functionality – not needed if your installation disc is XP SP2).
  • Install the Motherboard drivers from the manufacturer’s disk or downloaded files.
  • Set cleartype (only for LCD screens) & font size (if needed for a high definition screen).
  • Install graphics card driver.

Backup to temporary image 1b (D:ImagesImage 1b)

  • Change Windows Update setting to Notify but don’t Install.
  • Install Antivirus.
  • For SystemWorks substitute any reputable Registry Cleaner or do without. CCleaner is a good free product. If you make proper use of your imaging software it’s not so important.
  • Connect to your router (and/or phone line) and internet. Update your anti-virus program.
  • Activate Windows.
  • Install Windows updates.
  • If you’re really paranoid, remove network connection until final Windows update.
  • Run your antivirus program.
  • Empty the recycle bin.
  • Run Defrag.

Backup to Permanent Image 1 (verified to D:ImagesImage 1)

Delete temporary images after testing that Image 1 works by restoring your installation from it. The reason for these temporary images is so that you don’t have to go right back to square 1 if there’s an unforeseen problem. Which there often is.

  • You may wish to copy Image 1 to a DVD or, preferably, run the imaging software for a second time directly to a DVD-RW disc.
  • Install extra Windows components: e.g. Fax Services & IIS if required.
  • Run Windows update again, particularly critical items.
  • Run System File Checker: Start » Run » type: sfc /scannow< » click OK.
  • Run AV.

Backup to temporary image 2a

  • Set Paging file (Virtual Memory aka Swap File) to 1GB minimum and maximum on Data partition – this ensures that the Paging File stays the same size and doesn’t become defragmented. No paging file on C: or D:.
    • The above assumes that system RAM is 512MB. If you have 1GB or more of memory I suggest that the most you need for for your paging file is 500MB. Theoretically, you don’t even need one if you have heaps of memory, but some programs get confused if there isn’t one – go figure.
    • No harm in experimenting with this.
  • Turn off System Restore on all drives except C:, although with the strategy I’m using you can do without it altogether.
  • Set up screensaver, power settings, and hibernation to suit.
  • Windows update again.
  • Disable 3rd party cookies in IE6 or IE7, set IE to blank or your desired home page & move Temporary Internet Files to E:. See here
  • Install Infoselect 6 with shortcuts set to open in E:My Stuff. This is my information manager – it’s a great program, but grossly overpriced, substitute your favourite program. My suggestion is the free version of Evernote
  • Install Office suite: Microsoft Office or OpenOffice.org and activate.
  • Don’t update Office suite yet.

Backup to temporary image 2b

  • Update Office suite.
  • Run Office Settings Wizard from your laptop or other machine if required.
  • Change location of outlook.pst to E:Your StuffOutlook.
  • Install any other major applications.
  • Install Adobe Acrobat Reader or equivalent.
  • Empty Recycle Bin.
  • Defrag C:.
  • Run antivirus again.

Backup to Image 2 (verified)

Delete 2a & 2b temporary images after testing that Image 2 works.

  • Install printer(s) and scanner.
  • Install Java Runtime Environment.
  • Install Nero, InCD or other optical disc writing software.
  • Set up Network and file sharing with laptop and other PCs as required.

Backup to temporary image 3a

  • Install Firefox. Set up security, privacy, cookie management and blank start page.
  • Install the Google toolbar.
  • Install IrfanView, SyncBack and Apple Quicktime.
  • Synchronise E:/My Stuff with laptop if required.
  • Install SUPERAntispyware, Spybot and Ad-Aware. See Malware
  • Install TweakUI.
  • Install extra fonts as required.
  • Run System File Checker: sfc /scannow.
  • Empty Recycle Bin.
  • Defrag C:.

Backup Image 3 (verified)

Delete temporary image 3a after testing that Image 3 works.

  • Install all other software.

Backup Image 4 (verified)

If storage space is a problem. I would keep only the first and last images on the internal drive.

Other Notes

  • If you’re about to do a re-installation and your current setup is still functioning, it’s better that you do your partitioning, downloading of necessary files and moving of data before starting the new installation.
  • Imaging programs allow you to set up automatic incremental imaging of your installation and/or data if you so choose. This is probably an advisable strategy for business users.

Did I mention BACKUP YOUR DATA?

2 thoughts on “Imaging strategy for Windows

  1. I have a little lap top made by SYLVANIA, ya right bright idea, anyway I have no idea what everybody means with this 2 imaging and what would be the best anti virus software with only 512mb/2b? I’d appreciate your help it’s taking a week to get this thing up and running proper.

  2. Hello Krista,

    This page should have been redirected to my tech site here. My oversight. 🙁 You can find out what imaging is right here:

    You can find out about anti-virus here:

    And the best AV programs for Windows here. My pick is Microsoft’s Excellent and free Security Essentials.

    I’m assuming that you’re running Windows on this machine. You didn’t say. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *