This should come as a no-brainer, but you should really back up whatever version of Windows you’re running before upgrading to Windows 10 (which is scheduled to be released on July 29, 2015). That restore partition (if your PC has one) will be worthless to you, so you should probably remove that partition before doing anything else. If you’re smart, your data files are already stored at one of the many cloud services or on an external drive. If you can shrink your Windows partition, you can store your backup on a new partition using the free space your disk drive now has available.
If you trust a Windows utility to do your backup, go for it. I don’t. Why? Because Windows has to be running to use it. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong when you do it that way. I’ve experienced some of it over the years.
I prefer using a free-standing utility, one that runs without Windows running at the same time. In fact, that’s what I used when I did a backup last night, which took about two hours to complete. The software I like to use is Clonezilla Live, which can be installed on a USB flash drive in a matter of minutes.
I have a 64-bit operating system (Windows 8.1) on a 64-bit laptop computer with an AMD processor and that uEFI secure boot nonsense. I have to use the alternative Clonezilla Live version so my USB flash drive will boot up without a lot BIOS fiddling. Even then, the boot order is set up to try the USB flash drive before anything else.
Windows 8.1 is using a whopping 80 gigabytes on my 500-gigabyte hard drive. It would probably be several gigs less if I removed some of the files in my download directory. Before I considered doing my backup last night, I made sure the restore partition was gone and then I resized the Windows partition. I then created a new, empty partition. I used the free version of the MiniTool Partition Wizard and it worked without a hitch.
I originally wanted to store my backup on an external drive, but why bother when I had over 100 gigabytes free on the same drive? I could use the new, empty partition as a true up-to-date backup partition. Clonezilla Live can be a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with anything but Windows, but it doesn’t take that long to figure out (the target drive or partition has to be selected before the source). I elected to back up all the partitions, other than the empty one, to the empty one as a set of image files.
Last night’s backup was really a test run. I wanted to see how much space 80 gigabytes would become when the image files were saved in a compressed state. It ended up being a little over 50 gigabytes used.
After I move the files in my download folder to an external drive, I intend to shrink the Windows partition even more and expand the newest partition. When I do the next backup, I’ll move the backup files to an external drive because I’m preparing to switch to Linux.
I’m not sure when I’ll actually make the switch (using the dual-boot method). It could be before or after I upgrade to Windows 10, but it will definitely happen. I plan to eventually drop Windows altogether, especially now that I no longer need to use Skype for anything (we now have video on Facebook Messenger in the Philippines). That could be as early as after tax season next year – I need to find out if I can use the online version of my tax software, which only runs on Windows.
By: RT Cunningham
June 20, 2015
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