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Computer Repair Vancouver Introduction: Imaging a Machine

Posted by on 16 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: computer repair, imaging

Last time at Computer Repair Vancouver we talked about how to proceed with malware computer repair.  More specifically, we looked at how to effectively remove malware using Window’s safe mode. Well, today, we are going to begin discussing a brand new topic: imaging (sometimes referred to as cloning). Perhaps you have overheard conversations in which technical support workers talk about creating an image of their machine or cloning their PC. To the computer expert, these concepts may be old hat. However, to the technological newcomer they can be somewhat confusing.

Computer Hardware Overview

In order to simplify the discussion, we here at Computer Repair Vancouver are going to begin by taking a quick, general look at the computer (without going into too much depth). As you may or may not know, your workstation is made up of a vast array of components; each component having a special task to perform. Briefly, here are the major parts of your computer:

  1. The Central Processing Unit (often shortened to CPU) is the brains of the operation. It is primarily concerned with executing instructions and telling all of the components what to do, and how to interact with one another.
  2. The Motherboard is the communication channel within your machine. The pathways on this device allow the electronic components within your computer to actually communicate with one another (through voltages).
  3. The Random Access Memory (often shortened to RAM) is the short term memory. It is here that information is held as it is being worked on, oftentimes by the CPU. RAM is volatiles, which means that once the power goes off, it is erased.
  4. The Hard Drive is the long term memory. It is here that your files, folders, programs, and operating system files are stored. Unlike RAM, the hard drive is not volatile; information is remembered even when the power turns off.
  5. The Graphics Card is the visual coordinator. It takes information and tells the monitor what should be displayed.
  6. The Audio Card is the auditory coordinator. It takes information and tells the speakers what should be heard.
  7. The Network Card is the speech coordinator. It allows your computer to communicate with other PC’s (as well as with other electronic devices, such as routers and network peripherals).

That’s a lot of information, you may be thinking at this point, but don’t fret! For we will be focusing exclusively on item 4: the hard drive. What is the role of the hard drive? Well, its main purpose is to store all of your computers data indefinitely. We say indefinitely, because data should only be removed when you, or your operating system, want it removed (this is why Computer Repair Vancouver likens it to long term memory – it shouldn’t be forgotten upon restart/sleep).

Imaging a Computer

So what is the relationship between imaging/cloning and a hard drive? Well, imaging/cloning is the process of copying a hard drive’s data as well as the process of putting this data onto another location (kind of like pasting a hard drive’s information somewhere – potentially even back onto the same hard drive at a later date in time).

When you are making a copy of a hard drive you are said to be “creating an image” or “cloning” a hard drive.

When you are putting this copy onto another hard drive (overwriting this second drive) you are said to be “imaging this second hard drive.” Sometimes people also refer to it as deploying the image onto the second hard drive.

We, at Computer Repair Vancouver, know that the terminology can become a little convoluted. If you are having troubles grasping the concept just think of a word processor (such as Microsoft Word). The two most common functions are: copy and paste. Copy creates a duplicate copy; paste puts this copy somewhere else (potentially overwriting what was selected previously).

Why Image a Computer?

So, why would anyone want to copy or paste an entire hard drive? There are several reasons why.

  1. Let’s say that you have an old computer which has been set up perfectly. You have all of your documents, music, and videos on it. You have a wide range of applications which have been installed over the years. Furthermore, your operating system (some variant of Microsoft Window) has been configured exactly to your liking. Unfortunately, you have just purchased a new computer. What should you do? The obvious answer is to copy over all of your data. This is all well and good, except that you can’t copy over most programs in Windows (because they rely upon specialty information hidden in the registry). Furthermore, the configurations made to Windows can not be transferred across. Computer Repair Vancouver’s answer to the predicament: create an image (copy) of your old hard driven then image (paste) your new hard drive with it. You will now have two identical computers; one new and fast, the other old and slow. The only thing we have to remind you of is that you shouldn’t be using your old computer anymore since you only paid for a single use license of Windows and most application software.
  2. Let’s say that you are about to do something which may be potentially dangerous. Say, you are going to run a program like CCleaner (which cleans out a lot of your unused files), but want to make sure that you have a backup just in case something goes wrong. If members of Computer Repair Vancouver were to partake in such action, we would begin by creating an image of our hard drive and then saving it somewhere just in case. Once we found out our system was ok, we could delete the image we had created previously.
  3. In the technical support environment pretend that you have to set up 50 identical computers. Instead of installing a program 50 times, you could set up one computer perfectly, create an image of this computer’s hard drive, and then image each of the other 49 hard drives. Computer copying made nice and easy.

It is wise to point out that it is generally preferable to save your image (copy) of your hard drive to a separate device; perhaps an external hard drive or another computer. Why? Well, say your hard drive dies; how, exactly will you retrieve your images since they are on the dead drive?

And this gets to the crux of the matter. Computer Repair Vancouver advocates imaging/cloning because it allows you to safely backup your whole environment: you don’t need to worry that you have forgotten to back something up. Furthermore, as long as your copy is on another computer (or on an external hard drive) it even survives a PC’s death (something which can’t necessarily be said about System Restore).

So there you have it, a healthy introduction to the notion of imaging/cloning. Visit us next time when we begin discussing how to actually create an image (with a free application).