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?!!
Ubuntu (or other Linux) on the Asus Transformer Book T100
Asus T100 Ubuntu
Macrium Reflect Free Edition
Reflections on Disk Imaging Software
Macrium Reflect Free Edition 5.3 Build 7109
What is Windows PE?