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§ Don't use Windows Backup

Okay, I'm now very late to this party, but let me say: don't use Windows Backup (Backup and Restore). Just don't. I attempted to use it to clone a Windows 7 installation onto a new hard drive, after running into some problems with cloning utilities, and it failed so utterly badly that I'm glad I never tried using it to actually do backups.

Let me start with the backup process. I opted to do only a critical partition backup because I was only concerned with cloning the system partitions. The data partitions I could copy peacemeal myself, but the system partition is harder to clone correctly without messing up symlinks, hardlinks, ACLs, and alternate streams. We're long past the point where you can just do a straight file copy of the Windows folder -- doing that nowadays will cause the WinSxS folder to pop open with a giant SPROING and spray duplicate file confetti all over your new drive. Either a very smart file backup tool or a partition imager is needed to get everything over correctly, and Windows Backup at least knows how to do this.

Now, when you ask Windows to back up only your system drive, it "helpfully" includes other drives that it believes are needed for system startup. I say "helpfully" because it doesn't explain what criteria are used to include drives, nor does it allow that decision to be overridden. The result was that Backup would not allow me to create a system recovery image without including my D: drive. I've since heard that services on other partitions will cause this, which in my case would be my Perforce server. This is a pretty lame requirement to have since (a) the forced inclusion of other drives is inexplicable in the UI and (b) this is still no guarantee that the services will work as they may have data on other drives anyway. Fortunately, C: and D: combined was only 170GB, so that easily fit on my external HDD and wouldn't take too long. Go do something else while it backs up the partitions, pop in a CD-R to burn the recovery boot disk, done.

Then, I tried to restore the backup onto the new HDD. What a mess.

My frustration can be summed up in one word: 80042414. That's the inscrutable error code I kept getting whenever I tried to restore the image, along with a vague mention of not finding a suitable disk and eight things I could do that might maybe work to resolve the problem. Apparently, a 500GB hard drive doesn't have enough space to restore a 120GB C: partition and a 50GB D: partition. Adding to the frustration:

Apparently, the UI is just a wrapper on top of the wbadmin.exe tool, which itself has a not-so-great interface on top of an API with minimal error reporting capabilities. It's scary that people might be backing up servers with this.

Anyway, back to the error. 80042414 is an HRESULT, where the leading '8004' means a subsystem-specific error and the '2414' is the specific error code. A search in the Platform SDK headers reveals that the name for this error code is VSS_E_ASRERROR_FIXED_PHYSICAL_DISK_AVAILABLE_AFTER_DISK_EXCLUSION. From the description, it appears this error code basically means "something didn't fit." This explains the poor UI experience, but doesn't offer any more information than the expanded text in the UI does.

That then leads to why the backup wouldn't fit on the new drive. Not having any more detailed error or log messages, my best guess is that the restore utility was attempting to recreate the extended partition that the D: logical partition was placed in, with its original size. This would have the annoying consequence that despite the backup only having 170GB of partition data, it would still require a 700GB drive to restore to. It would also be consistent with reports that you can restore a C: image to a smaller HDD by shrinking the partition prior to backing up, since in that case there isn't an extended partition to muck up the works. This is a serious limitation since the target drive cannot have even one sector less than the total partition sizes, which is bad considering that a "700GB" drive may vary considerably in the precise number of sectors it actually has available, and so trying to get a replacement drive of the same size would be a crapshoot. They don't usually print the max LBA on the retail box.

Truth be told, I wasn't expecting much from the start, and all of this was just confirmation. What is disturbing is how fragile this restore process is despite the UI that makes it look like a reasonable backup solution. At least in the days of NT 4.0, there was no confusion that using NTBACKUP would be a bit of a rough ride -- heck, it still tried to get you to use tape. With this, though, people get fooled into thinking they just boot their recovery CD with their replacement drive, only to be stymied by a cryptic error whenever they try to restore.


Comments posted:

If you want to move your Windows install to a different drive (of at least exactly the same size), the easiest is to just do a full sector-by-sector copy. Boot the computer with something like SystemRescueCD, check which drive is which with fdisk -l /dev/sdX (put in a,b,c,etc. for X until you find your drives), then simply dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb bs=8M (assuming sda is your source and sdb is the destination; don't forget the bs part, otherwise dd will be slow).

After it's done, shut down the computer, remove the old drive, boot up from the new drive, then extend the partition.

ender - 24 10 12 - 20:44

Back in ye olden days, I used PartitionMagic and/or DriveImage whenever I was moving partitions around, as they're smart enough to do the necessary partition resizing and have a surprisingly usable UI. Unfortuantly both seem to have evaporated since PowerQuest was borged by Symantec. Using them on Windows 7 is probably bad karma, depending on how much NTFS has changed since they were last released.

Torkell - 25 10 12 - 05:11

Yeah, the error reporting is really awful. And you can never count on restoring -- except to an identical drive. (In which case, backup doesn't really protect you against drive failure, does it?)

If you backup full drives, though, the backup itself is just a .VHD. Worst case, you can always mount the .VHD as a drive and pull off your data, although you'll have to reinstall your applications.

Personally, though, I find disk2vhd to be the best way to image hard drives to .VHD. Like Windows Backup, it takes a Volume Snapshot so that you get a point-in-time backup -- but you can select exactly which drives you wish to include.

Tom - 25 10 12 - 05:58

A few months ago I successfully cloned my 500gb internal netbook drive to a 120gb ssd by using the free version of macrium reflect. I selected the partition with the boot files (for some reason lenovo put the boot stuff in its own partition) and the system and left it do the dirty work of resizing and fitting the partitions. As an added bonus, it also aligned the partitions for optimal ssd usage!

ggn - 25 10 12 - 07:34

Actually these days two "700GB" drives should give you exactly the same number of accessible sectors: 1367473968 (assuming a logical sector size of 512 bytes). There is an IDEMA standard for that titled "LBA Count for Disk Drives".

ik - 25 10 12 - 09:03

For the commenter recommending to do a DD clone, this will fail miserably if you're on a GPT disk (which has GUIDs for stuff), or if you like the article mentions, have slightly mismatching sector amounts.

Zao - 25 10 12 - 14:36

Symantec bought PowerQuest? That explains a lot. I was wondering what happened to Partition Magic. It was awesome back in the day.

Ultimately, Macrium Reflect is what I ended up using, after EASEUS failed (no 4K alignment support) and Windows Backup utterly failed. It mostly worked, except for one big hitch: when the USB-SATA adapter hiccuped and went offline, Reflect didn't notice the drive didn't exist anymore! The activity light went out on the adapter and Process Monitor it showed that every single Write call was failing, but Reflect kept chugging away. In the end what worked was imaging online from the laptop and then writing that to the new drive from the desktop.

Phaeron - 25 10 12 - 15:09

I just used it for backup, not for restore, so I'm happy until now unlike you ;-)

Seriously: I think the backup towards VHD is great! With win7 you should even be able to boot right from the VHD if the bcd database is setup accordingly.

But what I am really missing is a tool like vhd2disk. There seems to be none which could be used e.g. during a restore of a computer.

Someone should really write that, shouldn't be too hard.

So far I only know the rescue disc (I lied: I tried it once: Restoring 500GB took me 2 days using WinPE, probably bad drivers) and maybe booting Linux inside Virtual server and attaching the VHD and also a physical drive to the virtual machine and doing dd.

Does someone know a tool?

Christian - 25 10 12 - 20:14

Note that you need Windows 7 Ultimate or Enterprise to boot from VHD.

You should be able to mount VHDs from the rescue environment using diskpart.exe... but I don't know of an easy way offhand to copy a partition in that environment. Sadly, partition handles are funky enough in Win32 that you can't just use the copy command on them.

Phaeron - 25 10 12 - 20:26

Good old ghost32, I still have it on my winpe pendrive, never failed me copying paritions or whole disks. Windows Backup on the other hand, could not even create the backup file, because my boot partition, that 100 MB hidden one, had not enough free space on. I could only figure this out by googling a lot, not because the backup program told me.

Gabest - 25 10 12 - 20:34

Somebody recommended systemrescuecd and dd...ntfsclone would be a better way. If you can also mount the backup vhd, you're all set.

Alex - 25 10 12 - 21:03

I use Drive Snapshot from time to time:
Windows Backup is only useful in "one disk"-environments, where it's working good (enough).

Lars - 25 10 12 - 22:30

Acronis True Image Home is my tried and trusted partition imaging tool. It has its share of problems, and some parts of it I despise, but it has not once failed me when it comes to its actual job: restoring an image. I've recently even tested restoring a TrueCrypt whole-disk-encrypted restore, and this worked too (albeit wasn't easy or snag-free, see link).

Roman (link) - 26 10 12 - 23:03

Acronis does it's job pretty well, but it's quite expensive, and for some reason it's slow as hell when doing full image restores or disk-to-disk copies (and this happens both running on a live system, or when booted to WinPE - ProcessExplorer shows 2-3 second bursts of activity, then 20-40 seconds of it doing absolutely nothing at all: no I/O, no CPU, no nothing).

ender - 27 10 12 - 05:10

I have a copy of Acronis, but I avoided using it because it's a heavyweight install.

Phaeron - 27 10 12 - 07:57

Acronis is the best backup-tool I ever used!
Yes, it's expensive, but I think it's worth it.
As Phaeron said it's a heavyweight install, but you can write a bootdisk from the installed program and uninstall it.
The bootdisk offers a lightweight version of the program which means that some tools that are integrated in the full install are missing, but the backup and restore part is working excellent.
I prefer doing a backup from a bootdisk because the system that is backed up is not running while it is backed up.

Tintifax - 28 10 12 - 00:30

I use acronis and have been using it for ages. Here is the process.

1. Install acronis, I recommend version 11 ( you can find this free a lot of times on many deals out there with mail in rebates )
2. Create a bootable media image and then burn to CD.
3. You start with a blank installation of windows, a one time pain of installing windows and drivers with the latest updates.
4. Create blank restore system backup ( boot with CD from step 2 ).
5. Install all applications you typically use as part of the core system and set all the settings .
6. Create a full restore system backup ( boot with CD from step 2 ).
7. Highly recommend using a fast small SSD as main system HDD and keep all other files on a secondary drive.

You now have a very streamlined process. At any point, you can reimage your machine back to the backup state. When major updates come along or the system configuration changes, I typically update my backup file.
1. Restore last good image
2. Incorporate updates
3. Create new restore point

I name my backups core_i7_10292012 with dates to keep track and I keep three oldest updates plus the blank install. My restore file is 20 gigs because I have a lot of applications which are disk hogs. The restore process takes about 6 minutes for me which is super fast.

Do not create backups from windows, this seems to create a problem with acronis and causes slow restore which takes a lot of time.
When installing windows and doing backups, stay offline as much as possible.
All you need then is the boot cd to create backup and restore points.

With a ten minute or less restore process, I never worry about anything going wrong with my machine or trying out new applications. It takes longer to uninstall some applications than to restore the system.

Newer versions of acronis are too buggy for me and slower than version 11.

evropej - 29 10 12 - 05:18

It seems to me that you might be expecting a bit too much from Windows Backup. I might be wrong about it but as far as I know, backup programs in general are not meant to be used for hardware migration or partition resizing.
I have a lot of good experience with Windows 7 Backup as a file backup/restore utility. And while I agree with you that Microsoft has its own idea of how to make 'easy to use' programs and it leaves a lot of stress on people who do not fall into MS image of 'normal PC users', that does not mean Windows Backup is useless or even dangerous.

Kasuha - 31 10 12 - 01:54

Uh, the only thing I changed was the hard drive. I very much expect a backup program to be able to restore to a new hard drive on the same system as long as the partitions can fit. Why would you use Windows Backup if not to protect against hard drive failure?

Phaeron - 31 10 12 - 14:39

I second the endorsement by Lars of "DriveSnapshot". this is BY FAR the best image creation/restoration tool I have ever used. Fast, accurate and simple to use. It even allows operation from within scripting, allowing you to build a simple "one click to backup" solution that a novice can use and get right. EXCELLENT software from Germany and VERY reasonably priced.


Calvin (link) - 01 11 12 - 22:23

Symantec Ghost 8 runs from DOS and I use to backup my Server's 500Gb drive with 3 partitions, one for Windows Server 8 express (about 80Gb), the second for the data (300Gb) and the third (FAT 32)(120Gb) for making compressed backup ghost archives of the previous two partitions. Once a month I do a disk to disk backup using the same Ghost 8 program.
Restoring is even easier and faster than backing up. It can backup/restore to different sizes of hard diks. It allows you to see/change partition sizes on the fly while restoring or backing up/copying a hard disk.

PedroRamirez - 02 11 12 - 10:16

Symantec Ghost 8 needs to be installed once. Then you can copy the Ghostexp.exe from where it was installed to wherever you want. From then on, you donīt need to install Ghost. Just run Ghostexp.exe from the DOS promt when you need it. Thatīs it. Iīve been using Ghost for about 10 years now. Versions 9 or newer donīt have the DOS exe, and you are forced to install it and run it from Windows. But Ghost 8 DOS executable works FINE with Vista, 7 and Server 2008.

PedroRamirez - 02 11 12 - 10:24

Ghost 2003 forever. The only downside is that it can only work (see) destination drives below or equal to 1TB.

Alca - 02 11 12 - 13:44

I've been using PiNG (Partimage is Not Ghost, for about three years now, to backup and restore my Windows partition on two lapttops (XP and Win 7). It's free, takes a bit of reading to build a bootup usb stick but after that it's fairly straightforward to use.

Faz - 04 11 12 - 05:05

Norton (sorry, Symantec) Ghost can do what you need -- image the partition and then restore it to another drive or partition which can be different size. It can also store image on another computer running Ghost over a TCP/IP network and it is still a standalone (albeit GUI) program that works from DOS. Maybe you hate Symantec, but Ghost works just fine (we use it all the time), not to mention you can also access files from within the image using Ghost Explorer.

Igor Levicki (link) - 13 11 12 - 08:16


That elaborate procedure takes a lot of time and is outdated the next Tuesday after Microsoft releases 150+ MB of security updates, not to mention video driver updates, etc. You save time when you restore your system but you waste time refreshing your backups. IMO nowadays with fast internet connections and the ability to install from USB it is much easier to wipe and reinstall all.

Igor Levicki (link) - 13 11 12 - 08:22

@Igor Levicki,

That's fine if you run an absolutely stock everything, i.e. no personal preference settings for anything at all.

I really hate the weeks after a reinstall, having defaults all wrong, finding all those well hidden settings I have adjusted, it's just so frustrating.

IanB - 14 11 12 - 08:03

I kinda had the same problem when I wanted to go from hard disk to SSD. Tried Windows Backup first (over the network, using the Win7 install disk), it absolutely wanted to create a weird folder hierarchy already but well... I let it do. It never wanted to restore on the SSD afterwards, for cryptic errors too.

Note that I do NOT trust Ghost anymore for big drives, when I tried to ghost from my 80GB to my 500GB a while back, it managed to create partitions whose end slightly overlapped the beginning of the next one...

So what I did is just to create the partition layout on the new SSD in Windows (as to get the proper partition alignment, namely that the first partition should start at LBA 2048 instead of 63), then patched it using fdisk so that it was the exact same number of sectors as the old one, then dd'ed from old to new. Note: to boot from the new (moved) partition, you have to patch an offset in the PBR of the new partition (I learned the hard way), because NTFS stores a raw disk offset somewhere in there, and moving the partition changed it.

Otherwise, that procedure worked, afterward, I booted into the newly cloned Windows and created a big file that took the rest of the free space and deleted it to force it to TRIM the unused space, then extended the partition to the full SSD size using the built-in partitioner. Works like a charm.

Koro - 15 11 12 - 01:51

Have you tried Clonezilla? It seemed to work fine for me, and it is free (I believe) open source software.

Mapsking - 09 12 12 - 14:26

I just used Acronis true image backup to clone my win7 boot partition and another two partitions onto a larger drive (not SSD). I Swapped them out without problems.

Whosliders (link) - 16 12 12 - 21:43

As PedroRamirez said, Ghost.exe is priceless, but for me also highly useful is Ghost32.exe (also single file) which is of course faster (32-bit) and works in PE or in regular OS. I do backups of USB sticks with it. I have dual boot and just image the other partition from the current running one. I juggle (swap) SSDs all the time. If they are different sizes, Ghost recommends new partition sizes and is rarely wrong (can be also adjusted manually). It alligned my new unformatted SSD correctly. Maybe the bad experiences (Koro's) were with an older version?

And needless to say, Ghost64 is even faster still. :)

GrofLuigi - 27 12 12 - 15:05

Coming late to the discussion but two days ago my 2008 server crashed. I had RAID 10 but for some reason that also failed. I felt lucky I had a windows backup scheduled every night.
What a surprise when I found no way to restore from that damned VHD image. I can mount it but not restore from it! Did a lot of googling and nothing, so beware! We backup and think we are safe but for me it didn't work...

Daniel (link) - 06 02 13 - 04:33

I've learned not to trust Microsoft Windows Backup since the early days of Windows 3.x.
It seems nothing has changed, it is still as useless as before.

Denilson (link) - 16 03 13 - 15:19

For what it is worth, I have been using Windows Image and Restore for two years (almost weekly) to clone or replace drives. I even had to restore a Windows 2008 Server using the Windows Restore (from an image) and it has ALWAYS worked flawlessly. The only road block is you must restore an image to AT LEAST the same size drive(s) or larger, otherwise, it is a beautiful thing.


tcsgreg - 20 03 13 - 14:42


Of course I am not using defaults for everything. However, I do two things:

1. I keep all programs that don't need to be reinstalled in a separate PROGRAMS folder along with their profiles and preferences.
2. Over the time I collected a bunch of registry tweaks into a single file which I import when I reinstall and my settings for almost everything are back in no time.

Igor Levicki (link) - 22 06 13 - 01:47

Old post I know just in case others are looking here or if have similar error.

Acronis is good better if you burn the boot image disc where can use the disc image and burn it to cd instead of installing the software. This may have changed over time it could now need software installed first for it to burn the cd image!

Other than that to convert VHD use one of these freeware programs VMWare Converter, Starwind V2V Image Converter also Acronis maybe can convert some images using the cd or after installing the software. Others such as UFS Explorer or Partition Find and mount and similar could also be used

-vdub- - 08 09 13 - 20:41

I know this is somewhat off topic, but it may come in handy for someone trying to simply recover files from that blabla.vhd file.
If you download and install 7zip it can open the vhd just like any zip and allows restores just fine. (Not going to help with a restore, but I was at least able to get my data files off).

JHP - 08 07 14 - 06:33

Thanks to everyone in the discussion! I found this thread while Googling around during a backup/recovery session. I'm grateful to you taking the time to share your experiences, and want to add mine for any subsequent reader.

Earlier in this thread a person named "ggn" recounts how Macrium Reflect Free backed up, restored, partition-resized and SSD-aligned their data from a larger disk to a smaller SSD. I can confirm that this indeed worked for me, after I couldn't get Windows own tools to do it. I don't know if they can, mind you, I just know I couldn't figure out how to get them to do it.

Macrium Reflect Free seems very good; I'll probably keep using it, and if I do, will end up buying the personal edition. I find the interface and the quality of the boot disk crisp and modern, a no-fuss, no-distractions way to get the job done for personal users.

I was very intrigued by the (sage) advice to verify backups. I had an interesting experience. I backed up to a capacious and fast external USB, then I manually copied the file to a smaller USB that wasn't USB 3, which I felt might need special drivers that Macrium's boot disk wouldn't have.

The backup and copy went without a hitch, but (the first) restore failed at 90%, with a claim that the file was corrupt; I was pretty confident that the file was OK, but I verified it. It was, in fact, OK. I restored again from the same file on the same drive, and it worked the second time. Verifying the files will now be part of my standard regimen, and I probably won't be quick to abandon files that sometimes fail to verify (if I need them).

Accessing the Macrium data file directly was trivially easy, and one reason I was encouraged to keep working with the file was that I could open and explore the contents readily and successfully. Quite convenient and a great feature.

Because I had the time, I did all backups and restores unattended, overnight. Using USB 2, I restored 300G to an SSD in 8.5 hrs. That's long, but acceptable to me, since it was all unattended.

Thanks again for your insights, give Macrium a try, and good luck!

CrunchyTurnip - 26 07 14 - 11:24

I've used WSB on servers and computers for years with narry a hitch. We use it to restore a standard image to roughly-similar new computers and to restore single and multi drive backups to desktops, laptops and servers, both with similar and dissimilar disks. I think expecting it to gracefully deal with an extended partition config is probably the mistake here - how exactly do you think this *should* be handled? It's a block-level backup system so is interested in your partitions not in your logical volumes and if you want to restore a partition to a disk smaller than it you'll need to prepare it first. If you'd used a disk big enough for all the partitions you were attempting to create on it, everything would have worked fine.
VHD files can be mounted directly in Hyper-V or Virtual Server - I think even Sun VirtualBox will boot them.

Jim - 18 02 15 - 22:12

The restore operation should create a smaller extended partition. There is no reason to require a 700GB drive to restore 170GB of partitions from a partition-level backup with no additional partitions beyond the extended partition.

Phaeron - 21 02 15 - 07:30

Windows 8/2012 backup is much better. I've successfully booted them in Virtualbox. I've never gotten a single 2008 backup vhd to boot up into a virtual machine.

Justin Goldberg (link) - 25 09 15 - 10:20

Backup is meant to back up data - not clone drives. There are other utilities for that, as others have suggested.
(As for me, I use DD to clone drives. I've never had it fail, but you WILL need to revalidate Windows if you migrate your system to a new drive.)

Windows Backup can (and is) used to restore data to a new computer if there is a drive failure, but there are different options that you need to set.
I have Windows Server 2012, and in the restore options, there's a way to create a key for a saved backup set for machine A to restore to machine B [or machine A with a new HDD, if you will,] in the event machine A had a HDD failure, MB failure, etc. You need to do extra steps - this is BY DESIGN! (My biggest problem with server 2012 backup is that my client backups keep getting corrupted, and I can't find a good reason why... )

I've been in IT for almost 10 years. I've got years of experience repairing/building/etc. computers beyond that. In all that time, I've seen people abuse programs and try to use them for things they're just not designed for time after time after time. This is another case of that. Backup is used to back up *data*, not the entire HD. Restoration of *data* that was backed up is then possible. It is not meant to clone a drive, etc etc.

(btw: For the people who tried using DD and it failed, the trick is to duplicate the ENTIRE drive, not just a partition. Modern operating systems use the sector numbers as part of the file systems. If you duplicate the data, but change the offsets - such as cloning a partition starting at sector 300,000,000 to a new position starting at 125,000,000, then none of those offsets will work and you will have "data loss" - if you're just upgrading the drive size, use DD to copy the entire drive to the new one, then increase partition sizes. If you're hoping to get rid of a partition in the process, then you need to just copy the files over to a new partition on the new drive. I hope that helps people in the future.)

Jeff - 11 10 15 - 02:12

Jeff, I'm not sure what the distinction is between backing up and cloning a drive. This is what Microsoft has to say about the system image backup capability of Windows Backup:

"A system image is an exact copy of a drive. By default, a system image includes the drives required for Windows to run. It also includes Windows and your system settings, programs, and files. You can use a system image to restore the contents of your computer if your hard disk or computer ever stops working. When you restore your computer from a system image, it's a complete restoration—you can't choose individual items to restore, and all of your current programs, system settings, and files are replaced with the contents of the system image."

I fail to see why there is a significant difference between "cloning a drive" and "creating a exact image of the drive that can be restored later," besides perhaps the intermediate copy. If you have the ability to create a full image backup and restore it, you also have the ability to clone a drive. A full-image backup solution that can't create a cloned working installation of the original is not a backup solution, if for no other reason than restore can't be tested beforehand -- which is a requirement for any backup solution to be taken seriously.

As for what Windows Backup *can* do, I'm sure there is possibly a way to make it accommodate differences in hardware, but it isn't clear at all how to do so. Remember also that this is a feature exposed in a *consumer* operating system, i.e. Windows 7. The standard for user interface is higher, and emitting arcane errors during the restore without a hardware requirements warning during the backup is not ideal.

Phaeron - 12 10 15 - 15:46

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An authentication dialog may appear when you click Post Comment. Simply type in "post" as the user and "now" as the password. I have had to do this to stop automated comment spam.

Small print: All html tags except <b> and <i> will be removed from your comment. You can make links by just typing the url or mail-address.