06 Sep 2008

Some time ago, while reading comments on this post from Coding Horror, I discovered that there was a Complete PC Backup and Restore tool build-in in Windows Vista (well, at least some of versions of Vista).

What a fantastic feature! In a few click, you can make a copy of your current system. then, if something goes wrong, you can restore it, even on an other hard drive or/and computer if needed.

At least, that's what they say. But if you actually tried this, you may have ran into some issues. However, I managed to get this working and I'm now writing on my system that has been moved from one disk to an other.


A bit more than two years ago, I bought a complete new PC. As hard drive, I chose a Western Digital 76Gb Raptor. It was a bit expensive, but according to the tests, it was well worth it.

I must say that I was very satisfied about the drive. It was a bit noisy, but inside my Antec P150 case it didn't make much noise.

But after some time, I started having read problem on the drive. The computer stopped responding, and could not boot if reset, stating that a read error occurred, or event not displaying the drive at all. I bought a second drive, some WD 320Gb drive (that I'm using as primary drive today), and re-installed the system on it.

I still had some problem then, the computer refused to work with two hard drives at the same time. I still don't know what was the problem, but that is another story.

Anyway, a month ago, I bought a nearly new PC (CPU, GFX Card, RAM and was forced to buy a new case as the power supply of the P150 was not strong enough for my new 260 GTX), but kept my old drives as they were still okay. I installed Vista Ultimate that I received at some Microsoft event, and everything ran smoothly. I finally had a working computer at home.

For a week or so...

The reading error appeared again. This time, there was no doubt, the Raptor was guilty.

I decided to send it back to Western Digital, and to copy my current system on the other drive.

First Attempt: Backup image is on the same (physical) drive

In my configuration, I had two hard drives available:

  • 76Gb WD Raptor as primary drive, 39Gb partition for the system, the remaining space allowed to a game partition;
  • 320Gb WD as data drive, a 100Gb empty partition and the remaining space left for some data.

My plan was simple:

  1. Make a complete PC backup of the system drive (first Raptor partition) on the second partition of the second drive;
  2. Remove the Raptor from the case;
  3. Boot on Vista install DVD and run setup to do a complete PC restore of the backup image on the first partition of the second drive.

You can see the actual steps with screenshots on this tutorial.

The first two steps went well, but third step failed. I received some "The parameter is incorrect. (0x80070057)" error. After some search, I found this interesting post that lists common causes and solutions to backup and restore tools from Vista.

However, even if the error number is the same, the error listed is about File Restore, not Complete PC Restore.

I figured out that this was related to the fact that I only had one hard drive, as the setup never actually asked me about partitions.

Second Attempt: Backup image is on an external USB drive

I plugged the Raptor in the PC again and booted Vista. I plugged an WD Passport 250Gb drive in on of the USB port, and did a Complete PC Backup of the system partition on that external drive.

Once again, I stopped the computer, removed the Raptor and booted on Vista install DVD.

This time, the restore complained again, but with an other error. The error was: "A data disk is currently set as active in BIOS. Set some other disk as active or use the DiskPart utility to clean the data disk, and then retry the restore operation. (0x80042406)".

Googleing on that gave me this page, which held some clues on how to resolve this. Apparently I had to run clean command on the drive I wanted to restore to, using Diskpart utility.

As you can use the command line in the restore menu of the Vista DVD, I headed there and ran Diskpart. I typed in "select disk=0" to select the first disk. Then I typed in "clean", which took a few seconds. apparently that was successful. However, doing some "select partition" command after that taught me that my whole drive was gone with the clean command. So, that command erases all partitions on the drive. Hopefully, nothing important on that second data partition...

Back to the Complete PC Restore utility in the Vista DVD menu, this time it worked. Finally, I was having that progress bar saying that disk C: was being restored.

I went away from the computer while the restore process took place.

When I came back, the progress bar was nearly full, and en error message was saying that some I/O error happened. Well, I guess this can happen sometimes with USB powered external drives... I ran the operation again (going trough Diskpart again, of course), went away again, came back and saw the same error.

Damn, I thought, is this thing working at all?

Third Attempt: Backup image is on an NAS drive

I still had one card up my sleeve. I own a QNAP TS-101 that holds a 500Gb drive (a Samsung drive that I find very noisy, they didn't have any WD left when I bought it).

In one of my previous attempt, I noticed that on top of the images found by the restore tool, you can specify a location yourself. And this location can be on the network.

As this was a few days after, I wanted to make a new backup image of the system. However, when creating a backup image, you can only select hard drives or DVDs as location for the backup... I selected the second partition of the Raptor disk (reminder: the other disk is gone due to the clean command). I then started FileZilla as administrator (otherwise the files cannot be seen in FileZilla) and uploaded the WindowsImageBackup directory on the NAS drive.

Once more, I opened the case, remove the Raptor drive, booted on the Vista DVD and followed the restore procedure.

When the setup scanned for images on the drives, I promptly clicked the "Skip" button, then was able to connect to the network. Although it didn't find anything on the network, I was asked to enter the location of the backup image. I entered the network location, and the setup found the image.

A few clicks later, the restore process then started. I went away again.

When I came back, the screen was displaying the Vista login screen! At last, it worked. I logged in and found my system exactly as it was when I backed it up.

I went to check the state of the drive in the disk manager utility, out of curiosity. I realized that the restore process created a partition of the exact same size as the one I backed-up, and left all the remaining space unallocated.


Here are the things to remember from this experiment:

  • You need a spare drive to restore your system on. Even if you only backed up a partition of a drive, the restore process needs a full drive to restore. It will create a partition of the size of the backed up partition, and leave the remaining space as un-partitioned space.
  • You should avoid using a USB powered disk as storage for image backup. However, according to this post (which is a more successful story than my own), an external drive is ok.

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