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How to backup a Windows Partition using SystemRescueCD
Revised 11.MAY.09


This is a newbie guide on how to backup a hard drive partition using the Open Source tool SystemRescueCD. The software is distributed freely at the project's website in the form of a 240Mb ISO image file, which can be easily burnt to a CD using CDBurnerXP or InfraRecorder (both freeware). The guide assumes that the "source" partition (the one to be backed up) is C: and the "destination" partition (the one in which the backup files will be saved) is D:. It doesn't really matter whether D: is in the same hard drive as C: or in a separate one. Also, since SRCD can detect external drives (plugged before booting), D: could also be an USB hard drive or thumbdrive. However, If you don't have an available drive/partition in which to save the backup, you'll need to create a new partition in your current HD. For that, you can use a program like Gparted (already included in SRCD) or PartitionMagic.

I strongly advise everyone to run Scandisk and Defrag (in this order) before starting the backup operations. After all, healthy drives with cohesive data tend to "ghost" more reliably. Moreover, you might have a hardtime to mount partitions if Windows hasn't shutdown properly, so running Scandisk would help with that too.




SystemRescueCD is a GNU/Linux "LiveCD" packaged with a number of tools to help you with maintenance and rescue of PCs. This guide will employ some of those tools to backup a Windows installation. I've tested them with the 32bit versions of WinXP, Win2000 and Win7 Beta, and the results have been great.

Start by booting your PC with SystemRescueCD. You'll be shown the screen below. To see all boot options (useful if the SRCD can't boot with its default settings) use the [F2]-[F7] keys. My XP machine has a LaCie USB DVD drive from which SRCD can only boot when I use the altker32 option. If you don't type in anything within 5sec, SRCD begins loading with its default settings. The screen that follows prompts you to choose a keyboard layout. Go ahead and select yours.






Now you must choose a Graphical Environment. You have 2 options: a) type in startx to use Xorg with its default settings; or b) type in wizard if you'd rather select a GUI from a list. Note: due to its simplicity and rate of accuracy, it's recommended that you use the first option.






Well, If you ended up choosing to launch the Wizard (not recommended) you'll be shown the options below. One of them is sure to work with your PC -- both Xorg-Run and Xvesa-Run work on my hardware! Next, depending on your choice of GUI, you might be prompted to choose the Resolution and Refresh Rate settings for your monitor. Pick those that better suit your device.






Once the Graphical Environment loads, you'll see the screen below. The yellow window belongs to Terminal, an app that resembles the "Command Prompt" found in Windows. You'll be using Terminal soon, so don't bother closing it. Now it's time to start GParted.






Gparted is a free partitioning utility similar to the good ol' PartitionMagic. It can perform all of PM's most useful tasks at zero cost to you! Yes, it does support creation, deletion, merge and resizing of NTFS partitions! Give it a try someday.... It has never failed me. Anyway, Gparted's role in this guide has nothing to do with disk operations. You're going to use it to find out what Linux calls your "source" and "destination" partitions. However, if you do need to re-partition your current hard drive to make room for the backup files, search the web for guides on how to use Gparted.

After opening Gparted, look around and identify all your hard drives and partitions. Use the cascade list at the upper right corner of the program to see all HDs and thumbdrives recognized by SystemRescueCD during its boot. Next, write down the Linux names of the 2 partitions (source and destination) with which you will be working. As you can see in the screenshot below, the Linux names for my C: and D: drives are sda1 and sda2, respectively.

By the way, "a2" means "hard drive #1, partition #2". Note that the File System on the "destination" drive (sda2) is NTFS. Write this down as you'll need this information later.






Out of the box, SystemRescueCD can only read one NTFS partition: the "boot" one (C:). So, how can someone save the backup files to another NTFS drive such as D:? The answer is NTFS-3G, a driver included in SRCD! Here is what you need to do....

First, refer to the note you made a few minutes ago while checking out Gparted. According to Gparted, the Linux name for my "destination" drive is sda2. Armed with that information, I can get back to Terminal and enter the following command (note: Linux is case-sensitive, so type it all in lower case):

ntfs-3g /dev/sda2 /mnt/windows



This command tells the NTFS-3G to mount the sda2 "device" (the destination partition) on "read/write" mode. It also determines that the /mnt/windows directory should be used as the "mounting point". Note that you do not need to mount the C: drive (the "source"). Also, you don't need to worry about creating the windows sub-directory inside mnt because both folders are already part of the directory structure of SystemRescueCD.

By the way, if you are new to Linux, you'll find very odd that the first "/" (slash) in /mnt/windows is actually a folder! In fact, that's the system's root folder! Also, if you'd like to check out NTFS-3G's help, type ntfs-3g -h or visit the project's website.




And since i mentioned the web, it's probably a good time to say that yes, it's possible to surf the web from inside SRCD! You can do it using the disc's networking capabilities and built-in browser (Firefox). To obtain Internet access, launch SRCD's network connection wizard by typing the command below in the Terminal window and following the prompts.

net-setup eth0






If you want to make sure NTFS-3G has indeed given you "read/write" access to sda2 (the destination partition), launch Midnight Commander from the contextual menu and navigate to /mnt/windows. Once there, try to create a directory. Remember that the first "/" on any path is Linux's root directory! I know Midnight Commander looks odd for a file manager, but rest assured that, despite its unusual appearance, MC can perform a lot of the tasks commom to Windows Explorer, Konqueror and Nautilus. Precious little jewel....






Now it's time to launch the program which will image your C: drive. Right-click the screen and, from the menu, choose Partimage. The screenshot below shows how you should set it up in order to "save" (ie, backup) your "source" partition (sda1) to a sub-directory named backup in the "destination" partition. Remember that you mounted D: onto /mnt/windows. So now, in order to write data to D:, you must refer to its "mounting point".

For this guide, I'm naming my image file(s) partimage.gz, but feel free to name yours whatever you want. Regarding the backup directory, you do not need to create it before hand, because Partimage will do it for you on the fly. But if you ever find yourself in need to create or delete folders in your "destination" drive, launch Midnight Commander and get it done.

Before moving on to the next step, make sure you have checked the option Save partition on the bottom left. In this context, "save" means "back up". Once you're all set (remember, Linux is case-sensitive!), press [F5] to continue.






Now it's time to configure the details on how the saving should happen. The options are quite self-explanatory and I suggest you accept the defaults. If you enable Enter description (optional), you'll be prompted to enter a short description about your backup. To continue, press [F5] once more.






The remaining screens ask for confirmation regarding the settings you've picked. If you are satisfied with everything that you have configured to this point, choose [OK], otherwise go back a few screens and change whatever you need. The screenshot below shows what the Progress screen looks like.






This ends the guide on backing up a Windows partition. Now, when you need to "restore" a backup to your C: drive, you'll boot SystemRescueCD again and setup NTFS-3G and Partimage in slightly different ways. Here is what you need to know to get your system's backup restored to C:.

First you need to tell NTFS-3G to mount the partition that holds the backup files (ie, gz.000, gz.001, gz.002, etc). For example, lets say you need to restore a backup that was saved to D:\backup, you'd need to enter the following command on Terminal (remember, D: is sda2):

ntfs-3g /dev/sda2 /mnt/windows

Once the drive that holds the backup files is mounted to /mnt/windows, it's time to launch Partimage and start the restoration process per se. So this is how you'd setup Partimage to bring an old system image back to life:

1) Partition to restore: sda1 (the C: drive)
2) Image file to use: /mnt/windows/backup/partimage.gz.000
3) Action to be performed: Restore partition

Note that you would only need to invoke the backup's very first file: partimage.gz.000. Partimage would queue any subsequent files.