I am aware of two questions - one here and one on serverfault which ask HOW to do this. I even provided answers myself, having done it a few months back.

But now I'm having second thoughts.

My plan was to be able to backup and restore system and user data independently. But I obviously wasn't thinking straight at the time, because there is NOT a clear dividing line between system and user data. I realised this recently when I wanted to backup the partition with the /Users folder in. The process couldn't access ntuser.dat* files.

So if I suddenly lost my disk, restoring just the system partition wouldn't help at all.

Given the amount of time I invested in doing this, I think I'm just going to wait for the Windows 7 upgrade before I start over, but in the meantime: Is there any reason why this is NOT a bad idea?

5 Answers 5


It's a perfectly good plan. However as you noted ntuser.dat is located in your user folder. This file is where all your registry settings are located, you can see it using regedit and then look at HKEYCURRENTUSER.

ntuser.dat will be held open as long as that user is logged in. This means that you cannot copy it as a regular file, you need to use a backup program that uses the shadow copy service to be able to backup that file as well. Alternativley you can run the backup logged in as another user.

I wouldn't call ntuser.dat a system file since your system is perfectly functioning even if you remove it, You will have trouble using that specific user account but that's all.

All in all, I don't see any real downsides from this setup.


I think it is a bad idea.

I was pretty gung ho about the idea but after reviewing all the relevant questions I could find:

And your blog post on the subject. I did a 180 and decided this is way too much of a process to be worth it. There is too many gotchas and things that could go wrong.

I'm just about to do a fresh install of Windows 7, while I like the idea of separating data from the OS in theory (I do it in Linux all the time) Microsoft really doesn't facilitate the ability to do so easily and securely under Windows. So my plan is to just run weekly Windows backups of my Users directory and restore from that if I need to do a new fresh install.

The whole separation process is easier when you are dealing with a computer that is used by one user, then you can use the alternate solution outlined by gadzooks64 without much trouble. It becomes harder to manage when you have multiple users on the same machine.

Also People running Windows 7 should note that Windows 7 has the concept of libraries, so it fairly easy to create a D:\Music directory on a separate partition and include it in your music library, without even having to move the Users\<username>\Music directory.

  • Thanks for your feedback, I'm inclined to agree with you. I can't face the hassle of reinstalling my Vista now, but when I get round to upgrading, I'll be taking the easy route...
    – Benjol
    Dec 7, 2009 at 13:45
  • @Benjol, just as an aside, windows 7 now will back up your files for you during the upgrade process. You just need to select custom (which is a clean install) it will move your old files to a directory called windows.old. Of course this won't work if you reboot from the install media and do a reformat. Dec 7, 2009 at 13:56

I keep all my Data under the Documents folder and have moved that to my other drive. I moved the Pictures, Videos, etc folders to be under the Documents folder so all of my data is there.

This way I can backup the Documents folder to capture all of my data.

I'm not concerned about the settings and configuration just the data. I can easily reconfigure.

  • Yes, I'm thinking of moving in that direction too..
    – Benjol
    Aug 21, 2009 at 6:23
  • Especially as the registry is the thing (as far as I can tell) that accumulates cruft and slows the PC over time. So it's precisely what I want to be able to reinstall.
    – Benjol
    Aug 21, 2009 at 6:24

System and Programs disk.

Defining the system for me: When backing up MY "system disk" it is system AND programs, not just "system". I want to restore the whole system and the whole programs functionality back.

System Backup: For me backing up the "system" then is not only the base system, and other sub-systems, but also programs, AND parts and pieces of the programs. Many things exist in "USERS" that are "loose data" , and stuff that certannly does not effect the functional recovery of the system,and programs, and its previous ability to operate like it did.

System vrses Loose data: When I use the word "system disk" I am actually referring to the whole operation of the system, and its programs. When I use the words "Data" or Data Disk, I am referring to files and pictures, and documents, and downloads and everything else that does not Break a system.

Loose Data: SO, when moving My own "user" data off of the system (and programs) partition, I prefer it to be only that which does not effect the system and programs, in any way.

all Music files, all video files, all documents, all pictures, downloads for installs. Including "data" that is not a requirement for the system and programs to function, like wallpapers, any large portable programs, or the installation parts (not registry) of games. (just because games not operating correct is not critical to me)

Important User data: Moving Everything in my "user" folder would NOT secure the "system" and all programs, via the one system backup. There are arrays of things in the USER folder that are not Loose Data items, items that are very important to operation of the system and programs. (plus all those settings I made personalising and configuring the system)

The users registry, the programs appdata stuff, the send to, the start menu,the print and net hood, and others.

My junk that could be elsewhere easily: When being intentional about moving "junk that doesn't matter" (to the life of the OS) off the system disk. It is usually the MY junk, that really shouldnt be there to begin with :-). If a person had only One disk, having thier pictures and movies and documents, and loose "user" data on a second partition, makes backing up "the system" simple, and smaller.

Backing up Loose data items Is simple, you can just copy them, they move easily, they dont break anything, they can be stored 20 different ways, in 20 different locations. A few extra copies of this data can be made, securing it in case of a data loss.

Backing up the "system" is not loose data, it has to be where all the pointers point. The data has to corelate with the registry, the shortcuts, the cross links, it has to corelate with the installers and all. Programs that store data all over the system, and in the users location, can break when they do not find all thier parts. Having many whole incramental images of the system backup can be important to recovering the system fully. If the system disk is of reasonable size and not filled with loose data, it is much easier to have multiple incraments of the whole system for recovery.

When it comes to defining the difference between "the system" and "my users junk" that is how I define it. The important stuff that must be kept perfect or the system and programs fail, and the files junk that doesnt matter where it is.


You may use hobocopy to take a volume shadow copy of locked files.

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