I recently had a message popup from Windows 7 that my main hard drive was reporting SMART errors, therefore started looking into possibilities for copying all programs/data to a new drive avoiding the need to reinstall.
I did not have to look far because Windows 7 includes a handy “Create a system image” tool (under “Control Panel” > “Backup and Restore”). It even backs up while the system is in use (avoiding the need for downtime).
It did however take me 3 attempts to get right:
- First tried saving an image of just the system partition (thinking I could just copy the data – on a separate partition easily enough manually) to a spare partition on that same drive. Did not work however as although I could save the image, I was unable to restore it (admittedly not ideal to save to the failing hard drive but would have saved finding another drive to use, and I had a separate backup already anyway for important files). When you try and restore, to a new drive however Windows assumes you want to restore to the existing drive, and will not let you select the new drive.
- Second tried saving an image of the system partition to a spare partition on the new drive, again however this did not work because even if it is a separate partition (not the full drive) Windows will not allow you to restore from the same drive to itself.
- Finally found another spare drive (large enough to take the complete system/data backup), saved the image to that, took out the old drive, replace it with the new, and then restored from the spare drive to the new drive.
Luckily throughout all 3 attempts (reading over/copying all data on the old hard drive reporting errors) it did not fail before I was able to complete the 3rd copy, and I was able to avoid reinstalling all programs.