I wonder how to make sure I backed up all files before whiping out C and re-install Windows (factory reset).

I have taken best of care to copy my documents, photos etc. to an external drive. However there is no way I can exclude the possibility that there may be somewhere some files I may need. For example, right after I thought I was done, I found a folder on C where some game had put the saved game files. So I might have lost these if I had not seen them because they were in an unsual location on the drive.

One obvious option seems to be to simply copy the whole system drive (and any other partitions). However, when I do so by ctrl+c and +v (copy and paste), Windows copies far less data volume (in GB) than is on the drive. It seems it systematically omits some files. Maybe these are unimportant system files, but I am not sure.

Hence my question: how should I backup my data before factory reset to make sure I got everything (beyond those things I can easily copy manually)?

Edit in response to @JourneymanGeek: I found this Technet link where the author states it is very problematic to launch a vhd on the same system it images. If that is true a disk image does not seem to be a good solution after all.

  • Hard to believe this has never been asked before. – Moab May 15 '16 at 16:36
  • I have two very important questions. What version of Windows? Why are you going to wipe your installation? – Ramhound May 15 '16 at 17:15
  • I was also surprised it hadn't been asked. For my case that would be Windows 7 which has been installed for 3 years. System is getting somewhat slow and I want to update to Windows 10 starting fresh. Why do you ask? – tomka May 16 '16 at 9:10
  • @Ramhound see comment. Don't know if you get notified. – tomka May 16 '16 at 9:36
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    @DaniSpringer.com the first sentence of their question says otherwise... – Ramhound May 19 '16 at 11:55

Just image the whole drive - it'll backup everything, and most decent imaging software should let you do some flavour of compression. You can then mount the drive directly and get files off.

There's a lot of different options but disk2vhd seems like the 'simplest' option since modern versions of windows support VHD natively. The image would take the space taken up by the contents of the drive and you can grab files off it at leisure. I don't think there's any compression option but the ease of mounting makes up for it.

Likewise, most decent backup software would let you mount a backup. I've used macrium reflect free for this, but acronis or any other common backup software that does images would let you do this too.

  • Aha, sounds interesting, thanks! And I can save that imagine on an external HD and mount it like an own drive it I need it? – tomka May 15 '16 at 14:37
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    yup, You could even pop it on storage elsewhere and mount it to a windows 7+ box – Journeyman Geek May 15 '16 at 14:38
  • Okay running an image now. How can I test-mount it when done? Is there a good guide somewhere? – tomka May 15 '16 at 14:44
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    online-tech-tips.com/computer-tips/create-mount-vhd-windows looks good. You simply go into the disk management plugin, pick attach, point it at the image. – Journeyman Geek May 15 '16 at 14:46
  • What's more, such image can be booted in a virtual machine, for example using VirtualBox - may be handy sometimes, for example when moving to a new machine. You should, however, mind Windows license terms: you can't have Windows installed with one product key on two machines simultaneously, be it physical or virtual ones, and OEM licenses are bound to one machine and can't be legally moved to a VM. For example I had a BOX-licensed Windows installed on my old laptop, so I have imaged it, wiped the disk and ran that system on another laptop with separate Windows license. – gronostaj May 15 '16 at 18:53

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