It’s not as easy to backup and restore Windows for free as it is with non-free products. Non-free products tend to cost more than just an initial investment, whether they’re commercial products or not. Many companies license software products in one way or another, restricting updates or customer support.
Some free software products are more difficult to use than others. In my opinion, it’s easier to use a Linux-based product than a Windows-based product when it comes to free.
Hard drives included with new laptops are huge. Even the one I bought in 2014 was pretty big, all things considered. The original failed and I replaced it with a 325 GB hard drive. The laptop I bought recently has a 500 GB hard drive.
I’m using less than 200 GB of space on drive “C”. An SD Card of 256 GB should be more than enough for an image based on only the used space. It isn’t necessary to use an external drive of any kind if I’m only using it as a backup. I can use the free edition of the Minitool Partition Wizard to create a backup partition on the same drive.
I’m planning to set up a dual-boot environment with Windows and Linux Mint, so I want to be safe with the backup on a different drive. Until I’m sure everything is set up correctly, of course. Then I can switch to having backups on the same drive.
There may be more than one software package that does it but the one I tested is the free edition of the Minitool ShadowMaker. Actually, the restore part requires the Windows Preinstallation Environment or “WinPE”.
You have to install the two downloads on that page, install the Minitool ShadowMaker and then use the Minitool Media Builder to create a bootable USB flash drive. It’s best to do it all in that order. Once you boot up from the USB flash drive, you can restore any image you create with ShadowMaker. I tried to do it with my SanDisk SD card. It created the disk but I couldn’t boot from it.
Again, there may be more than one software package that does it but the backup and restore software I like to use, Clonezilla, is incredibly easy to use once you understand how to use it. Luckily, there’s extensive documentation available.
I plan to use it for one or two laptops in the near future. Last night, I downloaded the ISO file and created two bootable drives for testing purposes. I was able to boot Clonezilla from an SD Card as well as a USB flash drive. Rufus is a Windows-based bootable disk utility and it recognized both without any issues. I don’t have any external drives with enough storage space to go any further. At least, not yet.
Years ago, I used a product called “Norton Ghost”. Actually, I used it before Symantec acquired it, when it was still simply “Ghost”. I don’t know if it’s still available and I really don’t care.
The only commercial backup and restore program I can suggest is Acronis True Image. You should only buy it if you can’t use one of the free options.
If you’re using a laptop computer or a desktop tower, you need a backup plan. I’ve practically eliminated mine. I only do backups when I’m changing something, like installing Linux Mint alongside Windows. Everyone makes mistakes and I’ve made my fair share in the past. I don’t want my “system” crippled by any new ones.
I keep data files on USB flash drives, SD cards and external hard drives. Keeping them on the same drive as my operating system is just asking for trouble. The only files I keep on the same drive are those that I can afford to lose.