Backup Windows with External USB Hard Drive?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader 'Holy Hal' writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I am at best an intermediate when it comes to computers -- and I certainly do appreciate all the effort you put into your newsletter! With that aside, my question for you today is in regard to backups. I have Windows 2000 Professional, and I would like to backup my entire Operating System (Windows). Would an external USB hard drive that has some backup software be appropriate for this type of application? Or would I still need to use a software program like Acronis True Image with my external unit? I feel that a software backup program would be lost if the PC crashes. Or, at least, that was my sad experience with Ghost 9. Thank you for your time. "

My response:

There are a few things to note before I answer your question, in case there is some confusion. With respect to external hard drives: just because a hard drive is "external" does not infer that it is a dedicated backup unit which is pre-programmed to image your operating system with the push of a button.

In other words: an external hard drive operates much like an internal hard drive (I.E., the "C Drive") with one major difference: it's external. Yes, it is true that some external hard drives have "backup" buttons which initiate backup software once depressed -- however, this feature will not operate (usually) unless the backup software that came with unit has been installed, first.

I think that this is what you were implying when you made the statement, "I feel that a software backup would be lost if the PC crashes". And, yes, you are right about that -- however, if the backup software runs independent of the operating system [such as the case with an Acronis True Image "Rescue CD"], then you can restore an image backup regardless of whether the PC can boot into Windows.

RE: " Is the backup software that comes with an external hard drive the same as / better than / equal to an disk imaging software such as Acronis True Image? "

The answer is: only if the software or manual which came with the external unit explicitly states that it is capable of "imaging" or "cloning" can you know the answer to this question. And if you find out that it does happen to be imaging software, be sure that it is capable of generating bootable rescue media -- otherwise don't bother using it (or you may not be able to restore your image incase Windows ever becomes unbootable).

Having said that: most (if not all) backup software that comes pre-bundled with external hard drives are "regular file backup" software. And even then, these are typically generic backup programs that are lack-luster in performance and options.

Case and point: I had a friend who recently bought an external Western Digital (USB) hard drive as a dedicated backup unit. None of the included software with his external WD was capable of imaging the Operating System. We ended up using Acronis True Image to image his operating system and data files on a scheduled basis, and it worked out great for him.

Further Reading (Highly Recommended):

Acronis True Image Review (Version 8): In Depth

Acronis True Image 9 Free Trial Download

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