Using Paragon Backup & Recovery
While Cobian Backup (full article here) has a backup of all your personal files, you will need a special program to create a backup of your operating system. This is what is meant by creating a system image, which is a sort of snapshot of your computer settings so that it can be restored to its original state before it broke down completely. Having such a system image will enable you (or rather your computer) to revert to its exact situation before the trouble started.
What does this mean? It means that it will be able to restore all your user settings, bookmarks, installed drivers and programs so you will find your computer exactly as it was before the calamity. I remember the hassle I had in making my old printer driver work on my new Windows and the 15 or so programs that I had to reinstall one after another when my PC went kaput the last time. So take your precautions by installing such backups. As the saying goes it would be useless to cry over spilt milk.
Actually Windows is capable of creating such a system image with its Windows Backup. But as each version of Windows has a different way of creating such an image file and thus making it confusing, it would be easier to use a program that works with all the different versions of Windows (Windows 10, 8.1, 8, 7, XP or Vista) and running on either a 32-bit or 64-bit version.
There are a number of other programs capable of creating system images (such as the AOMEI Backupper Standard) but I will confine myself to the Paragon Backup & Recovery here. You can download the free version (for personal use only) from here. Once you have created such a system image you won't have to worry too much if your PC should refuse to boot one day. Even if you can't restore it yourself, the fact that you have this system image in your possession will enable someone else to do it for you.
But there is one point you need to be clear about. There is not one but two different operations that you have to undertake: (1) creating a bootable USB flash drive or CD/DVD disk and (2) creating a system image. For if you don't have the bootable disk, the system image will be quite useless if ever your PC crashes so badly that it cannot boot Windows anymore.
But even with the bootable USB flash drive or DVD, the boot order in your BIOS must be configured (for the occasion at least) so that the USB or DVD drive (depending on which of the two you use) precedes the C: Drive otherwise it will serve no purpose at all.*
Warning! You might need to devote a couple of hours for this if your PC is overloaded so don't start installing and creating both the bootable disk and system image unless you have some time before you to do so! If you don't have an external hard disk perhaps it is the moment to invest some 50-100 dollars on one.
Please keep in mind that the screenshots shown here are from Paragon's Version 14 and that I am using Windows 8.1 running on 64-bit. But despite whatever differences there might be with your own, what follows should give you an idea on how to make use of Paragon Backup & Recovery.
The installation is quite a breeze but before you begin you will need to know if your computer is running on a 32-bit or a 64-bit version of Windows as you will be required to install it according to one or the other. You can get this information by going to Start - Computer (or My Computer) - Properties - System. Once you have downloaded Paragon's .exe file click on it and you will be asked to allow it to install Visual C++ before it can proceed. Click OK.
When installation is completed you will find the Paragon shortcut icon on your Desktop. Clicking on "Backup & Restore" will open the following screen:
But having the system image is useless if your PC cannot even boot (as explained above) so you might want to create a bootable media (with USB or CD/DVD) first by using its Recovery Media Builder. You can find this by clicking on its tile or the tiny icon next to the Backup & Restore tab at the very top left corner (see above screenshot).
Next put a tick beside the "Use ADK/WAIK" box if you want to create a Windows PE-based bootable environment (this article is meant for Windows users). My apologies to Linux users.
There is now a choice between saving it as an ISO image file or in a USB flash drive. I chose the former as I didn't have a free USB flash drive at hand (screenshot below). The .iso image enables you to burn a CD or DVD which can then be used for an emergency booting of the system. But you might prefer to use a USB flash drive for this instead.
The following screenshot appears next (the "Path to installed WAIK/ADK" has been prefilled for you):
As this is a free version, you will have to download WAIK/ADK yourself by clicking on the link there. You will be taken to Microsoft's ADK download page at:
Click on Download and the adksetup.exe file will be automatically installed to C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\8.1\ A message appears to say that it will need 5.7Gb of space.
When this installation is completed go back to the earlier screen and click on Next as it will now be able to find the WAIK/ADK files for it to proceed. If everything goes smoothly you would see the following screen at the end.
Upon checking my external hard disk I see that a file named rm_23_08_2015.iso has indeed been created.
But that is not all. You now have to burn a DVD with that .iso file. In my case I only had to rightclick on the .iso file and choose "Open with ISO Viewer" as my PC already had Cyberlink Power2Go preinstalled. But if you don't have any such program you can download the Free ISO Burner for this purpose. Make sure you have an unused DVD at hand. But you don't need to do this now. You can leave this for later.
Now that we have created a bootable disk (or at least have the .iso file for this) we can proceed to the main business of creating a system image. Click on the Paragon Backup & Recovery shortcut again. It will open up a screen showing a "Disk and partitions list", in other words the state of your computer at this very moment. As can be seen from the screenshot below, apart from the Drive C: for Windows Operating System I also have 3 other partitions called Drive D:, F: and G: You will also see Drive H: which is where my External Hard Disk is lying patiently waiting to receive the system image. By the way the system image should be copied either to a USB flash drive or an external hard disk, never on the PC itself. It would be foolhardy to do so as it would be like leaving your house spare key inside the house! When you need it you just can't make use of it!
So on the top line you will see Disk 0, which is what we need to restore to get the PC in the same state as the day you created this system image.
Choose "Backup to VD" (it's the first one). VD stands for Virtual Disk. You will get the screenshot below:
You now have to select the drives that you want to backup. You do this by pressing the Ctrl button, then clicking on each drive that you want to be backed up. In the screenshot below you will see that I have selected the whole works (no wonder it took more than an hour). Maybe I should have chosen only C: where the operating system is and leave Cobian Backup take care of the other drives!
When I click on "Next" I will be asked for the location of the system image backup (which as mentioned earlier should not be on the PC itself). As can be seen from the screenshot below I chose my External Hard Disk for this. It is already plugged in at Drive H:
Click Next then Finish. But it is not really "finished". You are only finished with the wizard, which is there to lend you a helping hand. All the above work would come to nothing if you don't click on "Apply" in the top menu. Don't say I didn't warn you! It could take some time for the whole process (mine took over an hour) to complete. Say No to "Raw processing" when asked if you want it as it will back up empty sectors. At the end of it all you should get the following message:
To make sure if the system image is created I checked with the H: Drive and indeed there is a folder called Backup_HDD0_20150823_0609 which took up about 95Gb of space on my EHD.
You will agree that such a system image would not be too helpful if you had one created a year ago. This is where you will have to do incremental backups. To do this click on "Incremental backup to virtual disk" every month or so (you have to do this manually if you are using the free version). If you want them to do it systematically for you then you will have to opt for the paying edition. But they are already giving you lots for free so you can't blame them for this, can you?
*Different keys are used to access the Bios just before booting up Windows, depending on the computer that you have. With some computers it is the F2 key, with others it is the F10 key and yet with others it is the DEL key.