Acronis Backup vs. Lenovo Rescue & Recovery

In the past, I used Lenovo Rescue and Recovery to back up my ThinkPad, and for disk migration.  This time I used Acronis True Image Home.

Rescue and Recovery – the backup and restore solution provided with ThinkPad laptops – has been my tool of choice.  I use it to take occasional full-disk backup images.  I’ve also used an R&R image to migrate to a larger hard drive.  It’s a simple matter of making a backup (not a bad idea anyway), installing the new larger hard drive in the laptop, and restoring from the saved backup image.

That has always worked OK for me, but as the drives and images got larger, the backup process got progressively longer and slower.  I use Acronis True Image Home on my desktop for weekly backups, so I gave that a try on the StinkPad.  The short version is: it worked.

The ThinkPad is a Lenovo T400 running Windows 7 Pro 64.  The “original” (not factory) hard drive was a Hitachi 320GB 7200RPM unit.  The Windows install is a Microsoft clean install (not from a Lenovo factory image) updated to SP1 with all available/appropriate Lenovo drives and apps installed.  The MS install divides the disk into a 100MB System Reserved partition, with the remainder assigned to C:  The new part is a Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB 7200RPM drive.  I chose the WD drive for several reasons:  5-year warranty, good reviews, and 512-byte sectors.  Many larger laptop drives have gone to “advanced format” using 4k sectors.  There can be alignment and performance issues with the AF drives and I was uncertain about restoring a 512-byte sector backup to a 4k sector drive.  The external HD used for storing the backup image is a Seagate 750GB 7200RPM 3.5″ drive in a USB 2.0/eSATA enclosure connected to the laptop via USB.

Update 2011.07.01 The new Western Digital drive didn’t stay long.  It got replaced by a Hitachi drive.  See Strange Laptop Drive Noise: “Whoosh”

Update 2011.08.04:  Oops.  That Hitachi  7k750 drive is an Advance Format unit with 4k-byte sectors.  Big fun: Windows Update Broken After Cloning Hard drive

I used Acronis TIH 2010 installed on the laptop to make a full disk backup image on the external drive.  I didn’t time the process (more on time below) but IIRC it took less than two hours, as did the restore.  When using the backup/restore process to a different sized drive, Acronis doesn’t offer the option of manually chosing the target partition sizes.  It scales each partition according to the overall drive sizes.  I believe the Acronis direct cloning option does allow choosing final partition sizes.

NOTE: when cloning (using any tool) the target drive must be installed in the ThinkPad, or the operation is likely to fail. Drive cloning wisdom available here: Hard Drive Clonewars – Klonkrieg der Festplatten

During the restore, I selected both partitions and the MBR for restore, and chose the “preserve disk signature” option, since some of my software is licensed to a specific disk ID.  After the restore Windows booted without complaint.  The only thing (so far) that needed fixing was the option to boot direct to Rescue and Recovery via the “Think” button or F11.  The magical code that can boot a WIM (or whatever it is) directly must need to know where that file is located on disk.  Reinstalling R&R corrected the problem.

The whole save and restore process seemed to be much quicker using Acronis than R&R so I ran a “quick” test to compare the two.  I only compared backup times and image sizes, not the restore time.

Same hardware and installed software as above, but now using the new WD 500GB drive as the source for the backup.  The C: partition shows about 165GB used out of 465GB in Windows Explorer.

Backup Tool Backup Time Image Size
Acronis TIH 2010 1.5 hours 93GB
Rescue & Recovery 4.31 8 hours 84GB

My guess is that the compression algorithms used by R&R are very expensive.  I’ll give up the 10% advantage in space used for the huge improvement in backup time.

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Add some Maguro Sashimi, and  you’ve got yourself a party!

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Repairing Boot Problems Without a Windows DVD

Yike. Windows won’t boot.  Microsoft says to boot the Windows install DVD, and run the windows recovery environment, like this:  How to use the Bootrec.exe tool in the Windows Recovery Environment… (Note the note about trying the Startup Repair option first)

That’s fine, except that your computer vendor didn’t include a Microsoft install DVD, only their proprietary install image, or maybe nothing at all.  Maybe you have an install DVD, but no optical drive.  Don’t give up hope, there are several ways to skin this cat.

That’s where you want to end up, and here are a couple of ways to get there.

Of course, if you have the appropriate MS install DVD, just boot it.  If you had the foresight to create a System Repair Disk ( Start -> Maintenance -> Create System Repair Disk) before the crash, just boot that.  Failing that, ask a friend with same OS – Vista or ‘7, 32 or 64 bit must match – and boot that.

If you don’t have access to a repair disk, Neosmart had made free ISO downloads available: Windows Vista Recovery Disc Download, Windows 7 Recovery Disc DownloadBe sure to burn the ISO to CD as an image – not as a data file.

Update 2012.04.18  Neosmart is now charging for those ISO downloads.  Another option (with a reasonably fast internet connection and a DVD burner) is to download a (legal) ISO of the Microsoft full install DVD, burn that, and boot it.  As stated, chose one with a “bitness”(32 or 64) that matches your install.  LEGAL Windows 7 Download Links

Those without a built-in optical drive will need either an external drive, or if their machine will boot from USB (most do these days) the recovery media can be put on a bootable USB flash drive.  Neosmart instructions are here:  How to make a windows 7 or Windows Vista USB Recovery Stick (thumb drive)  In my experience, adding “QUICK” (without the quotes) to the format command will speed things up.  A lot – especially if this is being done with a large external hard drive instead of flash.  If you select the wrong disk, you may trash your system!

This approach can also be used to copy a System Repair CD, or the entire MS install DVD if available to bootable flash, if the flash drive is large enough.  If physical media is available, just create the bootable flash drive, and copy the files.  It isn’t necessary to fool with ISOs.  If you do have to go the ISO route, I prefer 7zip for extracting the files from an ISO.  It’s a very versatile tool that can do much more than just unroll ISOs.

Finally, it’s also possible to boot an ISO file directly.  I use grub + memdisk, since that’s the way I boot my multi, multi, multi boot “swiss army” flash drive.  That makes it easy to have multiple versions of the rescue software (32 and 64 bit, for instance) on a single drive.  More on that later.  In the meantime, other approaches are here: Bootable USB Flash Drive Tools.

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Bootable USB Flash Drive Tools

Back in the day – you know, when we had to walk uphill to school both ways, with nothing but a paper sack for a hat – we had to make our bootable USB flash drives by hand.  Like this: Knoppix Linux and Grub Bootloader on USB Flash.

These days, there is an abundance of GUI tools.  Here are few (windows-flavored) that can make bootable drives from ISOs: UNetbootin, XBOOT (I haven’t tried it), and YUMI – Multiboot USB Creator.

I’ll post an aritcle about a more modern command-line approach one of these days.

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Sudoku Solver

The Mrs. is a Sudoku solving machine.  Me, not so much.  I don’t think I’ve ever gotten one right.  I aways screw up something with fatal results.  Out of desperation, I wrote a tcl/tk program to help.

This little toy program was really just a learning exercise.  I’d never done anything with a GUI before, so this was a good opportunity to give it a try.  Tcl/tk was an obvious choice, and the nice folks over at the comp.lang.tcl newsgroup were very helpful.

The solving algorithms were just ones pulled out of my … head.  There are probably more that could be added.  Just for fun, it will display in either arabic numerals (1,2,3) or kanji (四,五,六).  It isn’t a puzzle generator, just a solving tool.

For the curious/brave, here are the links to a windows executable, tcl text, ascii text, and a (rather ugly) OS x version.

NOTE: Christian Werner, the author of Androwish, helped me get this running on Android machines.  He also spotted a typo: in the source linked above I use a font I called “courrier” – which doesn’t exist 🙁  It doesn’t throw an error but causes things to look pretty strange on some platforms.  The font is – of course – courier.  I haven’t corrected the code in the links above.

It will look something like this (except on OS X where the native buttons are fugly):

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