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Christopher Spry

Disk cloning: My suggestions for anticipating and dealing with a system hard disk failure

This page was written by Christopher Spry. I have been trying to promote among my friends the idea of always having at least two disks in computers: a systems disk and a backup of the system disk. I remember trying to get IBM to do this with the early PS/2 computers in 1987. It has never appealed to computer retailers and disk manufacturers have not exploited a potentially significant marketing strategy. I could not think of a better way to insure against a catastrophic failure of the system disk. I used to use this 'two disks' approach on my IRIX Indy, Solaris and Windows workstation and notebook computers and continued doing so for several years. It has paid off handsomely when I had three system disk failures (dead disks) in a short period. Once, I had failures of two system drives after having none for five years. In each case I was up and running again in about ten minutes, using the cloned system drive. PCs can have a removable drive in one of the 3.5" slots, for this purpose and for swapping in additional hard disk space if I need it.

There is a range of software to copy system disks under Windows. Acronios True Image 2020 backup software is highly recommended at comparitech and I use it.

Earlier I noted that PowerQuest's 'Drive Image' v 7.0.1 can handle DOS, Windows 95/NT/2000/XP, LINUX, and other partitions, even when mixed on the same hard disk. They can prepare an 'exact' copy of a hard disk or make a 'disk image' to a file on the same or a networked computer. I keep several image files, going back a month or so, of each computer's system drive.

If your BIOS allows you to alter the boot sequence, it is possible to 'test' the backup very easily. (In my view, a backup is not complete until it has been shown to be able to 'restore'). Down time is a problem when doing the system disk backups with software that requires you to boot with a floppy disk or CD. Initially, I could not see a way round this other than doing it at less busy times of day. However, the alternative of wasted hours while a new system disk is made, after a crash, is more than compensated for by short interruptions (say, up to 1.5 hours) while a full system disk is prepared. Nowdays, TrueImage 2020 can do the cloning while the system is running. It does not require the computer to be rebooted with a CD containing the software, as it runs from the hard drive being cloned.

In addition you can make 'images' of a system disk as compressed files on a networked computer. The disk 'image' can then be copied back to a new system disk, after a failure. I have not used this approach to deal with a 'dead' system drive.

In 1998, as hard disks became cheaper and with a larger capacity than before, I have made images of the system drives on my computers on 120-GB hard disk, which were always available on the network, so that it was easy to update the images. Today, 2 TB drives are cheap and reliable.

I prefer to backup 'user' files (files generated by users of the computer and which change very often), several times a day when the files change, to spare removable hard disks in the computer. I used to use FileSync v 1.54, from Windsor Software which synchronized files and directories while running in a DOS window running under Windows. Now, I use batch files that I create and update as my usage changes.

I have suggestions on how to copy drives under IRIX and Solaris.

comparitech has comparisons of current (2020) drive cloning software.

In March 2005, I installed a Buffalo 'TeraStation' 1-GB network attached storage. I have information on this web on how to do this with this old NAS, but I disposed of it when I changed in 2007 to a Readynas NV+ NAS which is now stored elsewhere with all my files up to 2014.

In 2014, I installed a Synology DS415+ NAS + with four x 6 TB 'Western Digital, RED WD60EFRX - 68MYMN1, 6TB, NAS' drives. These are in RAID 5. It is an excellent and (so far) reliable networked storage site for all my computing activities. In 2014 I made full 'images' and daily incremental backups of my PCs using Acronis 'True Image 8.0 Corporate Workstation'. . I now use my backup batch files to do this. This NAS also contains all the data made in the computers that I previous used.

I also have installed a 6 TB 'Western Digital, RED drive as an off-site backup of the Synology DS415+ NAS. You can never be too careful!

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Updated 14 September 2020