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Monday, September 01, 2008

Free Hard Drive Imaging for your Windows XP / Vista Machine

With my recent desire to ditch the Windows XP operating system that runs on my older Dell Dimension 2400 series, I wanted to take an image of the operating system and then drop it down into a virtual machine -- preferably either a VMWare server or possibly a Microsoft Virtual server environment. I have a good deal of experience with taking images and restoring them on personal computers and servers alike. In fact, I have used Norton's Ghost, PowerQuest's Drive Image and V2i, Altiris, and Symantec's Backup Exec System Recovery as drive image and recovery products in the past for servers and desktops.

Given the end goal of setting up my old Dell Dimension as an server running the Ubuntu open source Linux Platform, I decided to take a look to see if there were any open source or free versions of a software product that would take an image of my Windows XP machine.

After a searching several websites and a few false starts of shareware software that advertised themselves as "freeware", I came across a great tool -- Macrium Reflect. Macrium, based in the UK makes several version of their software packages for disk imaging and recovery for Windows XP, Vista and Windows Server 2003 operating systems. In addition to their "For Sale" products, they offer a more "limited" version called "Macrium Reflect Free Edition."

Now having taken it for a test spin, successfully "imaging" my Dell Dimension 2400 running Windows XP Professional and then restoring it a VMWare -- I am a big fan of Macrium Reflect Free Edition. You should be, too.

Let me tell you a little more about the experience.

Reflect was a pretty simple product to use. I just installed it locally on my Windows XP Pro machine, fired it up and started an image to my network attached storage device (NAS). Reflect was able to capture an entire image (about 34GB) in less than 90 minutes to the NAS via a 10/100 network while the host operating system was running. No need to boot into a Linux, DOS, or other sort of operating system to perform the activity.

Screen shot from Macrium Reflect Free Edition on my Windows Vista machine.Screen shot from Macrium Reflect Free Edition on my Windows Vista machine.

Once the drive was imaged, now the real test would come -- could I restore it to a virtual environment. The good news about Reflect is that while it did come with its own boot disk utility (which I could not get to work), it integrates with BartPE, aka Bart's Preinstalled Environment which is a bootable / live Windows CD as a plugin. Bart's is a great way to boot into an operating environment to perform a number of tasks on a PC or a Virtual Machine.

With both of Microsoft's Virtulization softwares already installed, -- first I tried Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007 and Virtual Server 2005 R2. Unfortunately, I was not able to get anywhere. Not because of the Macrium Reflect Software per say, but because even though the size of the image data was only 34GB, the partition size was 160GB. Microsoft only currently supports IDE sizes up to 127GB in their Virtual Server and Virtual PC products lines. Weak in my opinion in today's day and age -- so I moved over to VMWare Server Edition.

After just a few minutes in VMWare Server edition and firing up BartPE -- it was clear I could restore the 34GB / 160GB drive image to my new Virtual Machine on VMWare. But, would it boot up?

At first, I got a little scare once the restore process completed. But, in previous VM experience -- I knew that the drivers (and the fact that VMWare was emulating AMD vs. Intel might cause an issue. I performed a "repair" reinstall of Windows XP Professional and my old PC was 100% whole again - this time virtually.

After the experience, I must say that I am a huge fan of Macrium's Reflect Free Edition software. They enabled me to easily convert my Windows XP Professional hard drive into a Virtual Machine. This is welcome news for those of you that do not have a drive image software or are running the Ultimate version of Windows Vista that includes it like Ultimate.

Check it out, you will not be disappointed.