Vista Ultimate boasts the fact that it has better security features than the other versions, except Business and Enterprise which contain the same general sets of tools. While all versions of Vista contain a simple file backup tool, Ultimate has the ability to backup the entire computer. This includes your files, applications, games, registry entries and so forth. The great thing about this though, is that it doesn’t -only- backup your primary operating system. If you have other versions of Vista installed or Windows XP, you will have the option to back those up as well.
You are supposed to run this tool after a fresh install once your main slew of applications are installed. That way, you have a completely clean system that’s problem free. You do have the ability to back up your PC like this in the future, but you shouldn’t overwrite the original backup, as your newer backup may contain the same potential virus or data corruption.
To give a test, I backed up both my Windows XP and primary Vista installation. The resulting backup took around 8GB, but this would be higher had these not been fresh installations. The process took around 6 minutes, not too bad for that amount of data. After months of use with many documents, this process could easily take more than an hour or two.
Depending on where you decided to save the backup, Vista will catalog the computer and split the backup into various archives, each one containing a certain part of the computer, ie: the registry. There will also be a huge archive for each of the installations you are backing up. My Windows XP archive was 1.5GB while Vista Ultimate was just over 5GB.
Given the fact that I had multiple versions of Windows installed on a single hard drive, I didn’t want to perform a more in-depth test in case anything went awry. What I did do though, was reboot into my Windows XP installation and delete most of my registry. I exported the sections I removed in case the restore didn’t work. In addition, I also installed Need for Speed: Carbon under the Vista installation to see if it would remain there after the restore.
To proceed with a restore, you first need to use the original installation disc and choose “Repair this computer” at the initial menu. You then need to click the installation you want fixed and after messing around through some menus, you can find the backup you want. At this point, it will tell you when the backup was created and what hard drives it affects. After agreeing to the restore and waiting about 5 minutes, the entire process is complete.
Happily, the restore process went completely smooth and the system was reverted to the same state it was when I created the backup. The incredibly screwed up Windows XP installation had all the registry entries restored and worked well. The same goes for the Vista install… the game was not there anymore. Overall, I’m happy to report great experiences with this.
There’s another thing to consider as well. Take a scenario where you have a 250GB hard drive with a WinXP and Vista partition, and then it fails. You upgrade to a 750GB drive and want to restore that backup. During the restore process, it will give you an option to format the entire drive and recreate the same sized partitions that were there before. This is to keep things congruent, but you must resize or merge the remaining space after the restore.
I only tested a rather simple test, but I don’t have any doubt that it will work well in any situation as long as you keep the backup in a safe place. That’s another thing to consider. It would be foolish to store this all-important backup on the same hard drive. If it crashes, you basically wasted your time.