Backing up data is one of the least exciting aspects of owning a digital device, yet it’s also uniquely important.
Computers are susceptible to viruses and malware, and they tend to fail suddenly rather than gradually.
The prospect of losing irreplaceable data is unthinkable for many people.
However, conventional methods of data backups are slow and inefficient, even if you’re disciplined enough to make data backups a regular process.
Knowing which files and folders to back up is hard, yet copying them all may be inefficient if most of the data is already backed up somewhere.
USB-based storage devices like data keys and external hard drives transfer files slowly, and cloud-based solutions are only viable if your broadband provider offers rapid upload speeds.
Even then, you may back up documents but forget about phone contacts – or copy email folders while overlooking the stored web browser login credentials.
To have a working copy of absolutely everything – programs, sub-folders, settings and communications – you need to create an image backup of a specific device.
How does it work?
An image backup is effectively a mirror image of your device’s hard drive at a given time.
It copies the operating system, application configurations and personal settings, alongside any user-generated files and folders.
There are several advantages to this process:
- It generates a complete replica of the hard drive at a particular moment in time
- Creating a full backup can be undertaken with a single instruction
- It avoids any deliberations about which files to update, since everything is copied
- The image ought to be stored in an unrelated location, so corruption or malware on the main device won’t be reflected in its image
How do I make an image backup on a Windows computer?
You can use Microsoft’s proprietary System Image Backup to copy the C drive in its entirety, assuming the PC is running Windows 7, 8 or 10.
(If it isn’t, the inability to create image backups is probably the least of your concerns.)
The software will ask for a suitable location to save the backup – typically on a network, a removable hard drive or a series of DVDs.
As long as the destination location has sufficient free space, a system image backup will be created. It’s also important to burn a system repair disc, simplifying the process of restoring an image back onto the original device further down the line.
How do I make an image backup on a Mac?
A broadly similar tool is pre-installed on Apple computers, called Disk Utility.
However, it’s more complicated.
There are various methods of formatting, depending on the total file size, whether or not the image can be retrospectively edited, etc.
It’s also necessary to create an empty location in preparation for the disk image being copied.
Apple Time Machine is a simpler alternative, but needs a permanently connected hard drive.
Integrated into OS X 10.5 and above, Time Machine automatically saves copies of files, applications and folders into a designated backup location.
The only things it overlooks are trash bin contents, or temporary items like cache files.
Time Machine stores hourly backups for the last 24 hours, then daily backups for the previous month and weekly backups stretching back to the device’s original setup.
Can I make an image backup on an Android or iOS device?
The principles of image backups aren’t really applicable to mobile devices.
If your Android handset is rooted (also known as being jailbroken), NANDroid will back up everything from app data to system files.
If the device isn’t rooted, your best bet involves an official app like Super Backup & Restore, which will save apps, messages, bookmarks and APK files onto an external SD card.
Similarly, there’s no way to create a full image backup for an iOS tablet or phone.
Apple ID data will be copied (contacts, bookmarks, music, etc) to iCloud or iTunes, but this won’t include email settings, Apple Pay data or system information.
If your device has already been jailbroken, apps like FonePaw will duplicate everything from Safari’s browsing history to voice memos. Again, though, this is not a full image backup.