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I am currently on Windows 7, and want to upgrade to Windows 8. In case something goes wrong, or an important application stops working on Windows 8, how can I create a backup that can be used to revert the upgrade? It should include the whole OS (system files, applications, user files).

I have never backed up my computer, so am not using any existing backup solution. What is the easiest way?

If I need to restore Windows 7, how do I do this? I understand there is a built-in backup utility in Windows 7, but I am unsure how I can restore the backup image created after upgrading to Windows 8.

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Full partition cloning is always the safest way to do this though. –  billc.cn Oct 26 '12 at 21:38
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You can use the free utility from Microsoft: Disk2vhd that will create a virtual image of the running OS. Alternatively, you can use the built-in Windows 7 utilities to achieve the same effect (the VHD file is saved in <target drive>\WindowsImageBackup\<computer name>\Backup <date and time>\). You can then:

  • restore this image to the partition it came from using Windows installation DVD
  • boot your old Windows 7 installation from the VHD file (!!!) - using the bcdboot command
  • mount this partition as a drive in running Windows 8 (e.g. to copy some files from it to Windows 8) - using Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> Disk Management

If it so happens that you need to restore only some files, the easiest way is to mount the VHD image as a drive in Windows 8. If, however, you would like to restore the whole partition, you can follow the Restore your computer from a system image backup article (basically, boot Windows 7 installation DVD and choose System Image Recovery option). If this fails (and it did for me once, because my SDD failed and I replaced it with a tiny bit smaller one and Windows couldn't cope with that), you can use a 30-day trial of Acronis TrueImage for this task. It's the best backup/recovery tool I know. Just follow the Restoring Windows 7 VHD Backup Files with Acronis True Image Home tutorial.

EDIT:

Backup Requirements: if the partition you wish to backup has XX GB used space, you'll need at least XX GB of space on the drive you want to save the VHD file to. The size of the whole partition doesn't really matter, only how much space is actually used on it does. If you want to reduce the required space, you can move some non-application files (movies, photos, etc.) to a different drive before backing up. There's a handy tool called WinDirStat that will show you where your disk space is wasted.

Also, all software used here is free. Well, Acronis only for 30 days, but you'll install it just before deleting the whole partition anyway :)

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The built in backup utility should let you restore from a Windows 7 install disk or a system repair disk.

I personally use a third party utility that should work as well. Clonezilla or Macrium Reflect Free is what I use. Clonezilla is nice since it runs independantly of the base OS so is nicer for unusual situations, like when you have 5 different OSes on a drive. Macrium reflect has a better compression ratio for windows drives in my experience and only backs up the space used. Considering that different sorts of data have different compressibility I'd be lying if i gave you exact numbers. It really depends

Always test restoring your backups before doing anything particularly risky.If this isn't plausible at the very least ensure that your recovery disks work, and can see the drive you have your backups on - in some cases you'd have to go for an alternate build with better hardware support.

I personally tend to do a file level copy out of personal files (things like videos and music compress VERY badly, so copying out your user files is a good idea), then do a system level backup without those files. YMMV

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Always test restore your backups -- good advice. Unfortunately many home users can't test restore without running the risk of destroying/ruining their current setup (if the test restore should fail). I would add the advice to do the test restore on another hdd if possible. –  Nifle Oct 28 '12 at 14:45
    
In my backup software (Acronis TrueImage), it has the ability to "verify" a backup image after completion, and/or on a schedule. Would this obviate the need for the "test restore"? Regardless, I've restored backup images with no problem, so I'm not worried about my own backups. –  Ben Richards Nov 1 '12 at 21:06

You need is to image your hard disk, using a third-party product. The Microsoft backup utility is an option, but it is too limited in scope.

You should still use Windows to create a system repair disk and a password repair disk, just in case, in addition to the image backup.

You need a disk-imaging product that supports boot CD or USB boot disk, so that in case of failure you can boot from it and restore your system disk. You should also choose a product that can do backup only of used disk sectors, preferably with compression, so as to reduce the backup size. The ability to restore to a different-sized disk is also useful in case you ever change to a bigger hard disk.

These products are ususally independent of the operating system, so they will work equally well on Windows 7 and 8.

It is a good idea to partition your hard disk into two parts : One for the operating system and installed applications, and the second for your data. That way you don't need to backup or restore everything every time.

In another remark: Format your partitions using Windows 7, not Windows 8, since there are some differences in format between the two, and their compatibility is not yet known.

A discussion of free disk imaging products can be found in this article : Best Free Drive Imaging Program. (I advice to also read the comments to the article.)

The article describes Macrium Reflect Free, Paragon Backup & Recovery, Clonezilla and Drive Image XML and more. You should look look carefully at the first two.

Among commercial products, I recommend True Image by Acronis (49.95€).

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Windows easy transfer will work moving up to windows 8 if something goes wrong. Just use it to drop all your data into a .WIM file and back that up onto an external location.

This is a guide for release preview but the process is the same in release version.

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Microsoft provides a tutorial for backing up your files here.

Open Backup and Restore by clicking the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Backup and Restore.

Do one of the following:

  • If you've never used Windows Backup before, click Set up backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

  • If you've created a backup before, you can wait for your regularly scheduled backup to occur, or you can manually create a new backup by clicking Back up now. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

If you decide to revert, you can follow the tutorial here. Using this method will allow you to choose what to backup, including the system image.

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