Backup, backup, backup…

And now for something completely different – a posting devoted to Windows and a Window’s application in a Linux blog. But, let me explain…

I recently replaced my old netbook computer with an Asus Transformer T100 – a so-called two-in-one unit – featuring a tablet computer that docks with a dedicated keyboard. My difficulty with the new machine is that (a) it runs Windows 8.1, and (b) the included Bay Trail chip doesn’t support Linux very well. Furthermore, at least two people trying to get a Linux distro running on the T100 have managed to blow away both the Windows’ operating system and the recovery partition!

So, the moral of this story, as with any major changes to hardware and software systems, is to have a functional backup before you make the switch. My practice is to use disk-imaging software to create an image of the complete hard drive, and to have a bootable rescue disk available that can access the stored backup file just in case it is no longer possible to boot the computer and run the restoration software. However, one small difficulty in this process is that, typically, the rescue disk needs to boot Linux and, clearly, that may not be possible for the T100.

The solution is provided by my favourite disk-imaging software – Macrium Reflect Free Edition – which is a Windows’ program, hence this post. Furthermore, the rescue disk may be created either as a bootable Linux disk (CD or USB), or as a bootable Windows PE (Windows Preinstallation Environment) disk. The T100 is happy to boot into Windows PE and run Macrium Reflect. And, it turns out that the PE-based disk imager can readily locate and restore a backup disk image stored on an external USB drive. However, there are still hurdles to overcome…

Firstly, in my case, I have to be able to plug a bootable rescue USB drive, and a second external USB drive containing the disk images, into the T100. Since there is only one USB 3.0 slot, this means using a USB hub to provide additional connection points. Personally, I find this necessary anyway since, for doing any real work on the T100, I really need to have access to both a wireless USB mouse and a backup USB drive.

So, with my mouse and my external USB backup drive plugged in, and an empty USB drive (formatted as FAT32) available for the creation of the rescue disk, it’s time to lay out the steps necessary to make a recoverable disk image of the T100.

(1) Download, install, and run Macrium Reflect Free Edition. I recommend using Softpedia (http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/Back-Up-and-Recovery/Macrium-Reflect-Free-Edition.shtml) as the source since the download from this site is straightforward (no messing around with the “pre-installers” that some other sites insist on using.)

(2) Macrium’s main window will display the T100’s hard drive as the source, and the external USB backup drive as the target. Click on the “Image this disk” icon in the centre of the window. Make sure that all the partitions on the main hard drive are checked (to ensure a full backup is created).

(3) The radio button for a backup folder should be checked by default. Click on the browse icon (marked with three dots) at the right hand end of the line. Navigate to the folder on the backup drive where you wish the image to be created.

(4) In contrast to Macrium’s wise counsel, my recommendation is to uncheck the box marked “Use the Image ID as the file name. (Recommended)” and give the disk image file a more useful name, e.g. t100_full_hard_disk_10aug14. This will actually create a Macrium image file (or a set of files) in the form: t100_full_hard_disk_10aug14-00-00.mrimg.

(5) Press “Next” and a summary of the partitions to be imaged will be shown. Press “Finish” and in just a few minutes (ten or so) the backup disk image will be created.

(6) Now plug in the blank USB drive and, on Macrium’s main menu, navigate to “Other Tasks – Create Rescue Media” to launch the Rescue Media Wizard. Select the radio button for “Windows PE 3.1”, then click on the “Advanced” button and select “Windows PE 5.0 rescue media”. Click on “Next”.

(7) Make sure that “32 Bit” is selected as the PE Architecture and leave the default radio button for “Default base WIM” checked. Click on “Next”.

(8) Select “Download” to obtain the necessary Windows PE files (about 491.7 MB) from Microsoft. The wizard now goes through a series of somewhat lengthy steps to mount the Windows Image File, set up scratch space, and then unmount the Windows Image File.

(9) Now, there is a strange message to “Check that your rescue media can access your drives”. I think this means to do so once you have created the rescue disk, so just press “Continue”.

(10) Check the radio button for “USB Device” and, if necessary, use the drop-down menu to select the blank USB drive. Finally – press “Finish”. A message will now indicate: “Windows PE USB Rescue media successfully created. Boot to ensure it works.”

(11) The final trick is to reboot the T100 from the now-bootable USB rescue disk. We need to access the machine’s setup menus. The actual process for this isn’t too clear. Various source indicate to hold down or press various keys as the machine boots. What I found to work was to press the F2 key as the machine boots, but to do so constantly (press, press, press…) until the system menu appears. Also, start pressing the F2 key as soon as possible. If you see the Asus logo on the splash screen, it’s too late – the machine is booting normally. Now, navigate to “Boot” and change “Boot Option #1” from “Windows Boot Manager” to “UEFI Lexar USB Flash Drive 1100” (or however your USB drive is specified). Press F10 (save configuration and exit) and – voilà! – the machine should boot into Macrium’s PE rescue environment.

(12) The final step is really scary – we want to check that we can indeed restore the backup disk image. The downside to this step in the disk imaging process is that we currently have a working computer – a brand new computer at that! But, if the restore process goes south, this might not be the case afterwards. The danger is that we may be left with an electronic brick – a computer that won’t boot Windows and may also not allow use of the recovery partition. However, the alternative is that if we do eventually crash the system, we won’t actually know if restoring the backup disk image is going to work. That too is a leap of faith. So, what to do? Well, don’t worry, I have performed this test for you. So, if you don’t feel particularly brave, hold onto your disk image and the rescue disk and, should you ever need to do a restore, you can be reasonably assured that the process will work as advertised. But, if you do feel brave, move on to…

(13) Step 13 – some would say lucky 13! The disk image restore process is basically the reverse of making the backup disk image. With Macrium running from the bootable USB rescue disk, the lower portion of the main window displays a list of available disk images. Next to the most recent image – our full disk backup image – click on “Restore Image”.

(14) The next window shows the disk partitions contained in the “Source” – our backup disk image – and the partitions on the “Destination” – designated as “Local disk, GPT Disk 1”. Make sure that all the partitions of the source disk are checked. Click on “Next”.

(15) The final window displays a summary of the disk partitions to be restored. (Last chance to abort by pressing “Cancel”!) Click on “Finish” and, after about 20 minutes, the disk image will be restored.

(16) The final step is to reverse the boot order established in Step 11. Reboot the computer using the F2 key, navigate to “Boot”, toggle “Boot Option #1” back to “Windows Boot Manager”, press F10, and the T100 (hopefully!) boots normally using the restored disk image.

Now, what could be simpler than that?!!

References:

Ubuntu (or other Linux) on the Asus Transformer Book T100
http://www.jfwhome.com/2014/03/07/perfect-ubuntu-or-other-linux-on-the-asus-transformer-book-t100/

Asus T100 Ubuntu
https://plus.google.com/communities/117853703024346186936

Macrium Reflect Free Edition
http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx

Reflections on Disk Imaging Software
http://opcug.ca/public/Reviews/MacriumReflectFree.htm

Macrium Reflect Free Edition 5.3 Build 7109
http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/Back-Up-and-Recovery/Macrium-Reflect-Free-Edition.shtml

What is Windows PE?
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc766093%28v=ws.10%29.aspx

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11 Responses to Backup, backup, backup…

  1. Chris Taylor says:

    Just wondering why you need to select 32-bit image when creating the WinPE bootable media. Should this not match the architecture of the installed version of Windows?

    Also, although it seems to not be the case for you, some computers also have “Secure Boot” enabled and I wonder if this has to be disabled. Perhaps not if using WinPE. Do you know?

    I ran into all sorts of problems trying to create a working image backup method for both my ASUS X202E and my Microsoft Surface 2 Pro. Maybe I will try again using the methods you list. I do know when I tried, I was using the Linux based recovery media. Perhaps the WinPE route will work for me. Thanks!!!!

  2. Alan German says:

    Chris:

    The T100 has 2GB RAM, and a 32-bit version of Windows 8.1, hence the 32-bit WinPE.

    As noted in the post, the system settings can be toggled between Windows Boot Manager and a EUFI USB drive that is plugged into the machine. I didn’t have to do anything else, e.g. play with secure boot; I will have to check if there is a secure boot setting.

    The T100 seems to need all sorts of machinations to make it boot Linux. My understanding is that all the distros come with a 64-bit loader while the T100 needs 32 bit. There are a number of web posts discussing how to run Linux on the T100 including, most recently, the Google+ group that I included in the references. However, clearly a Windows-based rescue disk should work on the T100 – which it does. Hope the same holds true for your hardware. It’s certainly worth trying.

    Alan

  3. Alan German says:

    Chris:

    Evidently, the T100 has Secure Boot enabled by default. However, the documentation for the Win PE version of Macrium’s rescue disk indicates: “If you have a UEFI system and are creating a USB rescue environment, you will be offered the option to create UEFI bootable media. It is recommended you select this option.” Presumably, since I almost always accept the defaults, this explains why I didn’t have to do anything special about Secure Boot.

    Alan

  4. Craig says:

    RE: “why 32-bit WinPE”, my take is that while the processor in this computer is 64-bit, the UEFI is only 32-bit. 2GB of RAM with no upgrade ability so no immediate need have a 64-bit UEFI. I haven’t gotten any form of Windows to boot in 64-bit mode, but I have booted Ubuntu in 64-bit. Still needed a 32-bit EFI setup though. FWIW.

    Tip for getting into the UEFI or selecting boot image: hold down the “volume down” button on the tablet while you press the power on button. On my T100 this works flawlessly and is much easier to do. Even allows you to not have to worry about changing and then resetting the boot device in the UEFI, it is a run-time boot menu.

    Personal preference, I’d use Macrium to create the bootable USB first, boot off that, then image the drive. While imaging “live” works I always feel more at ease when the imaging has been done while the device being run isn’t active. Especially when there is no way to test the restore other than by wiping out the disk that was backed up.

    Curious, when you booted off the Macrium recovery USB did you notice an additional drive showing in the list? My T100 shows some additional 7-8GB drive that has a “recovery” partition. (I think, going from memory) Apparently this is visible on some units and not on others, at least once in Windows. I know I can see it under Ubuntu. Haven’t figured out if this is something that is a duplicate of the recovery partition that is on the main drive.

  5. Alan German says:

    My 64 GB T100 has a number of system partitions, including a couple marked as restore/recovery. Using a combination of Macrium Reflect and the Disk Management Tool in Windows, I can see and identify a 100 MB EFI (boot loader) partition, a 900 MB Recovery partition, and an 8GB Restore (Macrium) or Recovery (Disk Management) partition.

    There are three “Troubleshoot” boot options (with the user manual descriptions in brackets), namely: Refresh (re-establish the system without changing files and applications), Reset (return to the default settings), and Advanced Options – System Image Recovery (re-load the original image file).

    I think “refresh” is simply a function of Windows 8.1 and is meant to eliminate the junk that accumulates in the OS after a considerable period of use. Reset is likely the restore function, and system image recovery the recovery option.

  6. AlixB says:

    ” The T100 is happy to boot into Windows PE and run Macrium Reflect.” Are you sure this also works with the T100TA with Windows 8? I’d like to install Ubuntu on my T100TA and, of course, make an image of the machine before. My big problem is, that the T100TA doesn’t boot from USB-stick or external CD-ROM drive. I disabled Secure Boot and changed the boot order to my Stick / bootable CD but nothing happened. I can even force it to dismiss the windows bootmanager (with boot override), but the stick (bootable stick with Redo Backup and Recovery, made with Rufus) still won’t boot. There is even a shortcut to the Boot Menu by hitting Esc and Tab during the booting process, but that doesn’t work either. We also tried another disk-imaging software on a bootable stick (working in other systems!), but: nada. UEFI doesn’t even give the option to launch CSM. Do you have an idea how to fix that?

    • Alan German says:

      AlixB:

      The process of booting into Windows PE and running Macrium Reflect refers specifically to using a bootable rescue USB drive created from a Windows-based version of Macium Reflect. This is necessary just in case the T100 ends up not being able to boot from the hard drive and it is required to restore a disk imaghe from an external drive.

      Backing up the T100 before loading Linux can be done directly from Windows using Macrium Reflect. The rescue disk is just “insurance”. Macrium will definitely create a bootable USB drive suitable for UEFI systems such as the T100.

      When you are ready to install Ubuntu onto your T100, it will be necessary to build an installation USB drive that has the required boot and EFI folders. See my posting: Installing 64-Bit Linux on the Asus Transformer Book T100

      Alan

      • AlixB says:

        Thanks Alan, I’ll try that and let you know if it worked! Do you know by chance if an UEFI-update to a newer version will have the “launch CSM”-option? I guess that option could make the whole process much easier.

      • Alan German says:

        AlixB:

        I have never had to use the CSM option and don’t really know anything about it. Right now, on the T100, I disable Secure Boot, set the system to boot from the USB drive, and use a UEFI-modified Ubuntu installation drive. This works as advertised!

        Alan

  7. GuiΩ says:

    Hello and thank you for the job

    Do you think it’s possible and judicious to create the disk-image on the 1To HDD which is in the T100’s dock and just create the rescue boot system on an usb stick ? (I haven’t currently on usb drive big enough for the disk image).

    Thank you very much and sorry for speaking a terrible English

    • Alan German says:

      I don’t see a problem with this. The backup will be on a different drive than the main SSD and the recsue disk will be on a USB stick. So, if the SSD crashes, you should be able to easily restore the system.

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