I don't think this has been covered elsewhere on this site, if so feel free to close this question, smack me with a carp, etc.

If all goes according to plan then tonight I will be installing Windows 7.

I am currently running Vista and I have two hard drives, a 500GB C:\ drive and a 1TB D:\ drive.

There is enough free space on the D:\ drive to store the entire contents of the C:\ drive.

I want to do a full install of Windows 7 - format the hard drive (the C:\ drive), install clean, the full monty (and I will have a full copy of 7, not an upgrade copy).

Back in the XP era what I would have done is basically back up my hard drive's contents to one big BKF file and then just pull things out of that as needed. However, Vista's built-in backup sort of sucks at that.

Basically I want to

  1. Back up the contents of my C:\ drive to the spare space on my D:\ drive
  2. Have the Windows 7 installation format my C:\ drive and install Windows 7
  3. Copy back all the stuff I need from my backup.

I'm well aware of the stuff involved after that - reinstalling programs, doing updates, etc. - so I'm not trying to avoid reinstalling everything.

I could almost get away with just backing up the C:\Users directory but in the past when I did that there would always be some really important data or settings file in some super double hidden location which Windows Explorer would miss somehow and I'd be screwed.

What's the best way to do a one-time Windows Vista backup in order to perform a clean Windows 7 install?


You want to be able to select files and folders from the backup and copy them to the new installation, right? So anything that generates a file in a special format isn't going to be terribly useful.

I'd look into Robocopy.

Usually I just buy a new hard drive for the installation and temporarily install the old drive to copy stuff off.

  • dd doesn't generate any "special format" if that's what you're implying, unless you specify otherwise, such as piping the stream to gzip. dd does a bit-for-bit copy. And if you're logged in Vista certain files in use can't be copied and will spit out robocopy errors. – John T Oct 12 '09 at 18:30
  • He has a point in that I did a big XP BKF backup and then discovered Vista couldn't read those files without a special (from Microsoft) utility. I like his Robocopy suggestion. – Tom Kidd Oct 12 '09 at 18:32
  • @John T: If I understand your dd answer, it creates a single file that is a bit-for-bit copy of the original disk. That's great for when you want to restore as-is to a fresh disk, not so great when you need to pick and choose. Good point about some files being uncopyable on a running system though. – Mark Ransom Oct 12 '09 at 21:06
  • @Mark Ransom: only if your output is a filename. most folk use dd if=/dev/disk1 of=/dev/disk2 which outputs a copy of the filesystem straight to disk, formatting and everything. the downside is you get the partition table too, which won't be using all the space on a larger disk. you'd use gparted or another partition resizer to fix that. – quack quixote Oct 13 '09 at 16:00

For an exact copy that you can navigate through and pry data out of from Windows Explorer, I'd recommend throwing in a Linux LiveCD and using dd. Mount your D: drive then backup to a folder on it.

mount /dev/sdb /mnt/backup
dd if=/dev/sda of=/mnt/backup/backupfolder skip=1

drive associations may change so I'd mount each one first and check contents before doing any operations. The skip=1 part tells dd to skip over the MBR, so that your D: drive is not seen as a boot device when you start your computer which could cause other problems depending on your configuration.

  • if you're trying to back up files and not whole disks, tar is probably a better option: ( cd /mnt/sda1 ; tar cf - . ) | ( cd /mnt/backup/backupfolder ; tar xf - ) – quack quixote Oct 13 '09 at 16:03

Or you could just use the Windows Easy Transfer system within Visat & Win7 rather than faffing around with the above.

Look here:


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