Vista Feature Eases Backup Pain

At the beginning of the year, I opted for a notebook with a performance hard drive--an 80GB 7200rpm Serial ATA (SATA) drive--over the higher-capacity, but slower, 120GB 5400rpm SATA drive. I could have gone to a 100GB 7200rpm drive, but the price delta at the time was steep (about $150 for an additional 20GB of storage), and I couldn’t justify the cost.

After using the notebook for the better part of a year, I wasn’t left with much working space. An 80GB drive formats closer to 70GB, and after installing applications and having about six months worth of active data files, I found I was down to about 20GB of free space. Windows Vista and my installed applications took up about 30GB. A weekend’s worth of photography could easily take up that much disk space, and I had to make sure I pruned my data and deleted anything I didn’t need.

I noticed that the ever-present market forces had driven down the cost of 2.5" SATA notebook drives and that capacities of over 200GB were available in 720rpm, which meant that smaller drives could be cost effective as upgrades. I found a 160GB 7200rpm drive for less than what would have been the cost of adding 20GB at the beginning of the year, which would take me from about 20GB of free space to over 100GB.

But upgrading the hard drive in a single-drive computer, especially a notebook, has always been a major exercise in frustration. More than one IT staffer has wasted hours moving data to a new drive and making sure that a bootable OS was available.

However, a feature in Vista helped minimize the pain. Complete PC Backup, found in the Backup and Status application for Vista, lets the user run a backup of any drive volume, including the system volume. I had been using this backup method prior to taking my notebook on trips and after each major application installation or upgrade, keeping the last few generations of known good configurations on an external USB drive.

Presuming that the worst that could happen was that I wouldn't have an easy time adding a larger drive to my notebook, and that I would need a day or two to do it, I went ahead and ordered the new drive.

When it arrived, I pulled the old drive out, installed the new drive, and placed it back in the computer. I booted off of the Vista CD-ROM, went into the Windows Recovery Environment, and selected Complete PC Restore. The application prompted me for the location of my backup, having discovered the external USB drive with no prompting from me, and let me select the version I wanted to restore from, then went off and did its thing.

Forty-five minutes later, I booted the notebook with its new drive and found myself with an 80GB volume on a 160GB drive. Bringing up the Computer Management MMC snap-in, I launched the Disk Management snap-in, which allowed me to extend my existing volume into the unallocated space. A few minutes later, I had 108GB of free space available instead of the 20GB of an hour earlier--no application problems, no Windows Activation issues, just a bigger workspace in a relatively pain-free fashion.

It's nice when your backup tools work; it’s even better when the restore tools work, and this Vista tool works well. I’ll continue using this backup technique because I can maintain three generations of complete system backup on a under $150 500GB USB drive, and I’m comfortable that I’ll be able to restore to new hardware if necessary.

Vista has several other built-in backup technologies. For these features alone, the OS adds a lot of value to users. More details on Vista backup features can be found at the URL below.

Tip --
For users who are concerned that an add-in to Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.0 (IE 7.0) in Windows Vista is causing problems with a Web site or Web-based application, Vista offers the user the option of launching IE 7.0 without any ActiveX controls or browser extensions loaded.
1. Click the Windows Start icon
2. Open All Programs
3. Open Accessories
4. Open System Tools
5. Click Internet Explorer (No Add-ons) to launch a cleaned version of IE

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