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Booting From External Hard Drive

By ChrisLam ยท 13 replies
Sep 29, 2007
  1. I recently bought a 250Gb Seagate FreeAgent external HDD. I want to create an image of my current computer (Windows XP SP/2) so in case my computers won't boot up, I can use my external HDD to boot up and restore my image (somehow). How can I make my external HDD bootable without sacrificing the rest of the 200GBs? (I lost my Windows XP disk somewhere). I have a program called DriveImageXML and I don't know if it can create bootable images. If it doesn't, what FREE programs are there that have this feature?

  2. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,431   +77

    Welcome to TechSpot young Chris !

    As a rule, one does not bother to make an image actually bootable as it stands. One saves the image in a compressed form. This is done with an imaging program which also comes with a method of creating a bootable CD or DVD (even floppy if you have one). Then to replace a broken system, one starts with this independent booter, and restores the compressed image to the partition it came from (or more usually a new HDD!)

    One of the best is Acronis True image, whose version 8 was free for personal use. I am not sure if there is a current one which is still free, but with a little googling you could probably fins an older-than-current version which will work just fine. Of course there are other free alternatives, take your pick, but as I say, before using it, make sure you can create the bootable starter.

    If you have a C: drive which you also use for data, you will find the image is also rather large (look for 40% compression). In my long experience, an all-round better safety measure is to add a second partition for data, and use the C: drive just for programmes, which keeps it down to 5-10Gb and will image to 3-6Gb. Acronis allows a single image to be split into a number of sub-images each sized to fit on a CD, or DVD whichever you want.

    In the main, you are very unlikely to ever need this image, so to use a removeable drive for it is not really a good use of space. My own favoured method is a second internal hard drive, carrying a C: drive image and frequent incremental backups of my data partition(s). This protects me against a complete failure of my main HDD.

    During my career, some of the problems I have hit are : images on a second partition of the same drive that failed, taking the image with it; not taking full images often enough, so when the need suddenly and unexpectedly became vital, it was up to a year old!

    Good luck in your career - you are showing early signs of significant understanding.
  3. ChrisLam

    ChrisLam TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 82

    Well, my computer currently has two partitions. C: and D:.

    C: is for Windows, programs, documents, etc. about 40GB total, 12GB used
    D: is used for images. about 35Gb total, 17GB used

    I don't think it will take that much space off my external hard drive. I don't want to use CDs/DVDs, etc. either. In case of a physical problem or a virus that erases both partitions, I want to be able to get back into Windows (without any problems) and restore my backup image. Is that possible?

    I suppose you saw my profile? :)

  4. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,431   +77

    You don't actually need Windows to restore the image, plus you cannot restore the image of a partition actually in use. Are you thinking of having a duplicate Windows system on your removeable HD? I doubt if that will work very easily. Using DVD imaging seems easier to me, and a far more cost-effective method. No need to waste space on something you likely won't need.
  5. ChrisLam

    ChrisLam TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 82

    All I want is something to restore my computers in case they won't boot up. So how can I restore an image to my computer without booting it up?. I have two Windows XP SP2 and one Windows Vista Home Premium (laptop) in my house. I'd rather the images be on my external hard drive rather than burnt onto CDs/DVDs too. I'll have tons of space on my external hard drive. The hard drives on my current computers aren't even close to halfway full.

    Also if you have time to answer this, how do I create a duplicate bootable Windows OS on my hard drive? Do I need to create some boot sector thingy and boot.ini or something?
  6. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,431   +77

    Pay attention at the back there !

    You create bootable media from the imaging solution software. You boot off that bootable media (can be floppy, CD, DVD, network, external drive, memory stick according to version) then restore the image.

    There is no point in having duplicate bootable Windows unless they are different operating systems.
  7. ChrisLam

    ChrisLam TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 82

    So you must get into Windows to restore the image? What happens if I can't get into Windows? Do you have to use Windows?
  8. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,431   +77

    NO, NO, NO. just read what I said
  9. fdm2000

    fdm2000 TS Rookie

    Booting from an external hard drive

    I too just purchased a Seagate 250 external HDD and have been in communication with Seagate's support techs. I had hopes of creating a copy of my primary internal HDD that could be used in the event that my internal drive died or could not be booted.
    What I have learned from Seagate is
    Here is what Seagate says:

    "Creating a disk image is the process of storing a sector by sector snapshot of the disk, which includes the operating sysytem, the registry,drivers,software applications and data as well as system areas hidden from the user.
    It does not back up swap file information (pagefile.sys in Win XP) and hiberfil.sys - in so doing it reduces image size and speeds up image creation and restoration of the data. Note: this process does not create a bootable drive.
    Cloning is copying the operating system from an existing boot drive to a new drive. The process copies the entire contents of the old drive which includes partitions,programs,files,operating system, etc to the new targeted drive and the new drive can be used as a bootable drive.

    Seagate has external hard drives that you can use as an extra storage device or to make an image backup, however cloning is only possible on internal drives. Neither Acronis True Image or Symantec Ghost will not do cloning to an external drive."

    From what Seagate says it seems clear that 1. external drives will not clone or create a bootable drive in the external device and 2. an image backup does not include everything on the existing internal HD. Just what pagefile.sys and hiberfil.sys do is unclear to me.

    Anyone jump in on this with comments please because I am unclear on how to proceed.
  10. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,431   +77

    Once more......

    Seagate says external drive cannot be used to boot from, only for storing an image. You create non-windows bootable media (of many types - your option) from which you boot, then restore your original bootable partition from the image on the external drive.

    fdm2000, there is no point in cloning or imaging pagefile.sys which is a file Windows uses to extend the real actual memory in your PC whilst running, nor hyberfil.sys which is an image of the running Windows memory whilst it is NOT running (hybernating). Both of these are just junk once Windows is closed. Portable users are recommended NOT to use hybernation because it wastes space on what are typically small hard drives.

    I would be far from surprised if someone jumped in and claimed an external drive CAN be booted. So what.
  11. fdm2000

    fdm2000 TS Rookie

    Booting from an external hard drive

    Thanks for the input, gbhall. Seagate offers am imaging software application that is powered by Acronis (I assume that it is a redacted version of Acronis True Image).
    I will have to read and digest its features which on first glance appears to allow creation of bootable media.

    Any dos or don't dos would be appreciated if I attempt to make a bootable CD.

  12. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,431   +77

    One thing that trips up raw beginners is that the boot order of devices might need to be adjusted to allow for booting from CD. Generally speaking a PC from new has CD before HDD so if it has not been changed, no problem.

    I have an idea that some packet-writing software has trouble properly writing a boot sector , but again if the software came with the drive and/or computer, there should be no problem.
  13. fdm2000

    fdm2000 TS Rookie

    Booting From External Hard Drive Reply to Thread

    Thanks again gbhall. Seagates disk imaging software (DiskWizard) installation guide describes a method for creating a bootable CD or DVD - using what it calls Bootable Media Builder apparently it is powered by Bart PE.

  14. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +419

    Just because you mentioned it :D

    Here is an article on booting from a USB thumb drive, I think it applies to a USB HD as well. Basically you can do it, but you have to edit files (some easy to edit some not as easy) and then recreate an installation disk. Its sort of a mess, and like you said above, completely unnecessary for restoring a backup.
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