Jun 24

Windows backup system image

This post is part of a series tracking my progress in buying a used laptop and setting it up to dual boot Windows 7 and Linux Mint. I hope eventually to switch to Linux. At this stage, I’ve reinstalled Windows 7 and my essential Windows software. Now that everything is set up the way I want it, before I dual boot, I have to make a backup Windows system image. This will be handy to have should I run into difficulties later and want to get back to a base Windows setup with my essential Windows programs. In this post, I just want to pass on some tips on creating the image.

Before you make a system image, run a program like CCleaner to delete temporary files, etc. The image is going to contain all the Windows files and programs so it’s best to remove all the temporary files first. Also, if in the past you’ve performed a repair install, upgrade install, or a custom install rather than a clean install, then you may have a C:\Windows.old folder left over in your new Windows installation. You can delete this too if you’re happy with your new Windows 7 setup. See this post on how to delete the Windows.old folder.  I plugged my new 1TB WD Elements USB3.0 external hard drive into my Lenovo ThinkPad laptop and then followed this guide to prepare a system image on my external hard drive using Windows System Backup and Restore. There’s not much point in repeating these instructions which can be found on a number of sites with a simple search.  I’ll just add some comments on what I noticed creating the image.

Windows System Backup and Restore mightn’t be the fastest imaging utility or the one with the highest compression, but I found it simple to use. It will create an image of all files on any partition, or drive, on the hard drive and will include the system partition. The destination drive cannot be the same as the original drive. Both the original and destination drive must be formatted to use the NTFS file system. When you use Windows System Backup and Restore  to create a system image, you’ll find there’s no option to save the image file to a custom folder on the external hard drive. It automatically goes to a subfolder (with your computer name) of a newly created folder in the root directory called WindowsImageBackup. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m guessing that if I made a system image from another computer to the same external hard drive, it would be sent to a new subfolder (with that computer name) again in the WindowsImageBackup directory, so you could end up with a number of different images for different computers in the WindowsImageBackup folder.

In my case, my Windows 7 Professional OS and essential programs created a system image of 24GB on the external drive. I wanted to be sure I had a duplicate copy so I plugged in my original 1TB external drive and copied the WindowsImageBackup folder to it.  Now that I have a Windows system image of my laptop backed up on both my external hard drives, I plan to keep one external drive offsite at all times and rotate them onsite every week or so. That way I always have a safe backup of everything in case of theft or fire.

So the next step is to shrink the Windows partition and dual boot Windows 7 and Linux Mint. I’ve never done this before and I know dual booting can lead to problems especially for the inexperienced, so that’s another good reason for creating a backup Windows system image before I go any further.

If you’ve any comments or tips on creating a system image or on creating a new partition or dual booting I’d love to hear them before I go ahead.


Jun 17

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know I’ve bought a used laptop partly as a backup system for my Windows desktop PC (I work from home and a backup machine is essential) but mainly to check out Linux Mint and other possible Linux distros which I’d like to switch to from Windows in the future.

I’m at the stage where I’ve re-installed Windows 7 on the Lenovo ThinkPad, I’ve run all the Windows 7 updates and I’ve installed all my essential programs should I have to switch to the laptop if my desktop PC fails to boot one day. The next stage is to partition the hard disk and install Linux Mint.

But first, this is a great time to create a backup Windows system image should I ever need to reinstall Windows 7 in the future. It’s set up just as I want it now with my essential Windows programs. I thought it would be useful to make a list of the Windows programs that are essential to me for work and personal use. You’ll probably be familiar with most but if not, you might find the list useful. I’m not going to provide links to all the programs as they can be easily found online, but I’ll try to link back to any posts I’ve made on particular programs in the past. I compiled the list by browsing through all the programs installed on my desktop PC and paring them down to the ones I couldn’t do without.

My essential Windows programs

Microsoft Office (I need this because unfortunately MS Word is still the standard for document creation and editing in the publishing industry)

Microsoft OneDrive (not really essential, but I use it to backup encrypted work files online)

Microsoft NET Framework (needed to run other programs, e.g. doPDF)

Microsoft Security Essentials (many would argue there are better free anti-virus options but I’ve had no problems with it)

Google Chrome

Mozilla Thunderbird

Malwarebytes AntiMalware

xplorer2 Lite (my Windows Explorer replacement)

Irfanview and plugins (image editing)

7-Zip (file compression and file archive creation)

CCleaner

Speccy (hardware info)

Recuva (file recovery)

NotePad++ (text file creation and editing)

Adobe Reader (again unfortunately the standard for annotating PDF proofs in the publishing industry)

doPDF (create a PDF from your Print menu)

PicPick (screen capture utility)

Skype

Cloudfogger (automated cloud file encryption utility)

Evernote

When I dual boot Windows with Linux Mint, I’ll need to find Linux alternatives for some of these programs. Some I won’t need (MSE, Malwarebytes) and others I’ll try to get working under WINE (Word, Evernote), but more about that later. In my next post, I’ll create my backup Windows system image.


Jun 10

Lenovo ThinkPad keyboard

I bought a used Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530c laptop on eBay recently. The idea was to have a backup machine should my desktop Windows PC pack in and also to install Linux Mint on a partition to see if I could move away Windows altogether eventually. I discussed my reasons for buying a used Windows laptop in the previous post.

The eBay seller had a 100% reputation, and his seller’s comment on the laptop was:

This item is as new but has no box. The laptop is unused. I’ve booted it up but never completed the registration. This laptop is in perfect condition.

Yes, I know, it seems pretty unlikely that anyone would buy a laptop and then sell it unused. The machine arrived as the seller said with Windows 7 Professional 64 bit installed. When I booted it up, it was at the point where you enter a user name and computer name so I carried on with that. It didn’t come with disks or a Windows 7 Product Key but I used Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder on my USB drive with utility programs to track that down. I also installed the system information tool Speccy, which provided all the hardware details, the serial number and the Product Key. I wanted to find out just what I could about its previous life. I already knew that Event Viewer would have a log of previous events but I suspected that the hard drive would have been wiped and Windows 7 Professional installed so Event Viewer wouldn’t necessarily tell me much. So as usual I enlisted the help of Reddit and I asked the Techsupport subreddit about checking out a so-called unused laptop. The thread makes interesting reading and offered a number of great suggestions. I’ll go through how I applied those suggestions to check out this used laptop.

Laptop Condition

Sure enough, the laptop was immaculate so that was a good sign. As suggested out by one redditor, I checked the trackpad and the red nub for wear and there was none as you can see from the header image. So that’s a good start.

Event Viewer

When I ran Event Viewer, I found there were no events before 31-5-14. That was when I booted and completed registration (computer name, network name, windows password, updates, etc). But Recently Viewed Nodes were created on 1-10-12. Recently Viewed Nodes provides information about where events have recently taken place on the system. No idea what that means, possibly the clock hadn’t been set correctly when those events were logged.

Hard Drive Wear

I installed CrystalDiskInfo to check the hard drive. A few redditors said check the Power on Hours.

CrystalDiskInfo

As you can see, Power-On Hours is really pretty low. Hard drive health status was indicated as good. So far so good.

Deleted files

One redditor suggested running Recuva to check for deleted files. This was great advice as I noted a bunch of deleted Windows OS files. Here’s just part of the list of deleted files

Recuva

So it looks like the previous Windows OS was deleted, probably Windows 8.

Date of manufacture

With a Lenovo laptop, it’s possible to determine the date of manufacture from the external sticker or the serial number. I had no external sticker but I had found the serial number with Speccy earlier. I used the serial number to get the date of manufacture. So that gave me these details: Base Warranty Status: Start Date: 20 September 2013; End date: 18 November 2014. So the date of manufacture was 20 September 2013 and the laptop was still under warranty when I bought it.

Hardware scan

Lenovo have software to let you run a hardware scan. Check if your laptop manufacturer has included software to run hardware diagnostics.

Lenovo Hardware scan

The Lenovo Solution Center allows to check a whole bunch of hardware: Memory, Motherboard, PCI Express card, storage devices, WiFi card.

Lenovo Hardware scan results

All the hardware checked out fine.

Putting it all together

It looks like my Lenovo laptop was sold in September 2013 with Windows 8 installed. From its condition, power-on hours and hardware diagnostics, the first owner obviously didn’t use it much, then wiped the hard drive with Windows 8 and downgraded to Windows 7 Professional, and sold it leaving me to complete the registration. I’m still unclear if it was originally registered with Windows 8, but I don’t want to take that any further. I have found the Product Key and from a hardware point of view, the machine is fine.

After a few days of use, a few things started to niggle me. The boot-up time was way too long and there seemed to be quite a few Lenovo Utilities running that seemed unnecessary. I had no programs or data on it to speak of so I decided just to reinstall Windows 7 Professional 64 bit. I downloaded the iso file, burned it to a DVD and reinstalled Windows 7. Everything went fine until it went to search for an internet connection. After a bit of searching online (on my desktop PC!), I discovered that I would have to download a network driver and several ancillary Lenovo utilities from the Lenovo support site. This turned out to be quite a mission, as anyone who has come across the Lenovo support site will know – it’s a real challenge to identify just what you need to download. Anyway, I got there in the end with a great feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.

The laptop now boots quickly into Windows 7 Professional 64 bit and I have a pretty much ‘as-new’ machine. Once I have installed the software I need, and Windows is set up just as I want it, I’ll make an image backup in case I ever need to reinstall Windows. However, this is unlikely because, at the end of the day, the main purpose of this machine is so I can get familiar with Linux Mint, so eventually, I’ll wipe Windows 7. My next step is to partition the hard drive and dual boot Windows 7 with Linux Mint. I’ll let you know how I get on.

How do you check out a used laptop? Anything else I could have tried?


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