With SSD as system drive...what'd be the best backup?


Nov 24, 2010
So my old 80GB spinner was getting long in the tooth, plus it seemed to be burdened tremendously with pagefile operations. Rather than wait for it to die completely, I decided to retire it and upgrade to an SSD, and ultimately did that as a clean install - to a SanDisk Ultra 120GB SSD. That system reinstallation was an epic, partly because I seldom do this, and partly because, well, it probably always is. More and more, I am coming around to the realization that there's more to life than days spent in the reinstallation of software after catastrophic drive failure.

But fast-forward by a scant 75 days: that SSD starts coughing up blood. For a short time, it will show its file-structure, but not let any files be copied. Soon thereafter it won't show up anywhere except in BIOS - not in Disk Management, and certainly not in My Computer. I can't recover anything, apparently - please correct me if anyone knows another trick.

SO...warranty RMA, right? SanDisk's Indian call center agents are busily calling me to follow up on this at 5AM in recent days, asking me (three times now) for my home address, while I am asking myself, "Dave, do you REALLY plan on trusting this RMA'd replacement SSD?" Even if SanDisk had a slick customer-service routine, I'd be asking myself that at this point. (They DON'T.)

My experience with backup doesn't include anything other than non-system drives, and even there, it's sketchy and irregular, though that has to change very soon. What, then, on re-creating this recently-departed C-drive, can be done to maintain a backup system-drive that could, in my fantasy, be swapped out for the NEXT failed C-drive with minimal pain and loss of life? Could a second SSD or spinner be automatically/frequently cloned from the first, say?
There are many ways to do this. I'll tell you mine.

An SSD system drive can be backed up to an ssd (expensive and wasteful), an HDD, DVDs, magnetic tape, or anything for which you have the patience. I use removable HDDs, which hot-plug directly into my system. Now that USB 3.0 has been invented, you could use a nice USB drive without waiting forever for the backup to complete. I like to use bare drives in a hot-swap bay; I've got 14 of them lying around (well, 8 are in a good anti-static storage case). End of hardware section.

There are several philosophies of backing up a system drive. Going from my least favorite to the one I use, three of these are

1) RAID1 - have a mirror of the system drive in realtime. If the system drive fails, the other drive keeps on running. THIS IS NOT A BACKUP. It does increase reliability because your system will keep running if the primary drive fails, but it is vulnerable to other issues such as a wild voltage spike from a failing power supply.

2) Clone of the system drive. Clone your system drive to a similar drive every so often. If the system drive fails, pull out the failed drive, pop in the clone, and boot. I recommend two clone drives - alternate backups. So if the system fails in the middle of the clone you still have a good one.

3) Take image backups of the system drive. Use software such as Ghost, EASEUS ToDo Backup, Clonezilla, or Acronis True Image. Some are free, some are not. These backups are then big files, and you will have room for more than one of them on a backup drive. If the system drive fails, you put in a good, empty drive, boot to your backup software CD, and restore the last image. Then boot. This is what I do.

End of philosophy section.

Finally, and it sounds to me as if you are doing this already, I consider it best practice to have your OS and your data on separate drives, or at lease separate partitions. Ideally, if the OS drive crashes, catches on fire, and is thrown into a woodchipper, you will still have your data after building a new OS. You have to do a fair amount of work to ensure that none of your user data, or your iTunes (if you use that), live on the OS drive.

I have an unusual strategy related to this. Windows systems tend to crud up and slow down over time, partly due to accumulations of registry entries that are no longer used, uninstalled software that is still loading its auto-startup when you boot, and the occasional virus infection. I have absolutely no qualms about wiping my OS drive and reloading my previous backup. In fact, if I am going to install new software I re-load the last backup, apply updates, do a malware scan, install the new software, and make a new backup. As a result, my machine doesn't have three-and-a-half years' accumulated crud. It's running as if it were a few months old.

Yes, this is extreme. But a side-effect is that if my OS drive goes south, I pop in a spare, restore, and go on my merry way. By the way, if you have an image of a good install on an SSD and restore it to an HDD, your system will still boot. At least, mine did when I tried the experiment. SSDs should be Secure Erased before you restore to them, to reset them to factory condition and effectively do a TRIM on the whole drive.

Good luck, and have fun.


Nov 24, 2010
WK - Good stuff; thanks for all the details. I will have to re-read this a few times to let it soak in.

I didn't know standard cloning-type software will do anything for an OS drive, though I should have suspected so (and what of Win7's built-in imaging utility?) Ghost couldn't have been less successful when I tried to use it to clone my old HDD C-drive, intending to re-create it on the now-dead SSD, with no useful support from Norton in that process (still trying to get them to credit me for at least the cash cost of that) but maybe I will try another option as you mentioned.

I've never understood the notion of an "image" backup, specifically what you & others I think are indicating is the relatively small space it takes up to produce one, simply because this sounds like a free lunch: if one can effectively store all the data that is needed for restoration by an "image," then why would this be less space-intensive than a "clone" done for the same purpose, or a "backup" if that's indeed different than a clone?

Size of that image: as you surmised, I do indeed segregate my OS and data on different drives. Because of that inevitable OS-encrustation you mentioned, I like your idea of keeping some generations of images of my OS-drive around for later restoration, though I'd also imagine it would be a bit frustrating to go through a few days or weeks' worth of "oh, yeah, I must've installed that /after/ this generation, so I'll have to repeat that install now..." And how do you decide what version is worthy of saving? Or are they maybe smaller than I would imagine, so it's not a problem to keep a bunch around at the ready?

If I go back to using my still-working old HDD 80GB system drive as a stopgap until SanDisk sends me an RMA'd SSD replacement, should I indeed be able to clone from HDD to SSD? Some said this simply isn't possible, and I surely had no luck in the process myself.


Jul 12, 2012
If you just to clone your 80 GB HDD to an SSD this shouldn't be a problem, you only need to be able to connect the HDD and the SSD at the same time.
You can download Acronis True Image Home Trial and install the trial. You can create a bootable cd which also allows cloning.
If you use the CD you need to select clone -> source drive -> target drive -> here you go. Should take some time but not to much if you only habe 80GB.
Hmm. Let's see.

mad-max supports, I think, my option 2. Perfectly valid, but not my favorite because you get one backup per backup drive (see answer to "image" backup). It sure is the fastest to get you back into business - plug in the clone and boot.

"Image backups" may take up a little less space, but the advantage for me is that I can fit multiple image backups on a single backup drive. You can only do one clone to a given drive, but with my teeny-tiny OS partition at 60 GB and my backup drive at 500 GB, I get quite a few versions on one backup drive. I hope that answers your question about the space taken by an image. Yes, images can be compressed and I've gotten some significant space savings, but for me it's all about getting eight images on one backup drive. If the latest one is an image of a flawed OS, with a bug or virus, I just restore the previous one.

Sorry that you had trouble with Ghost. I use EASEUS ToDo backup right now, it's free and it works. Until I had Win7 and an SSD, and had to worry about alignment and the hidden partition, I used Norton Ghost 8.0. I think that that is the 2003 version.

Yes, Windows comes with a (rather good) backup utility that can indeed make an image and restore an image that will be bootable. I have a strong personal preference for images made when the system is not running. This is probably historical; in earlier versions of Windows, full system backups made while the system was running might not boot if restored. At work I use Acronis True Image, making images from a live system, and I have used them for disaster recovery. I just feel more comfortable doing system-drive backups after booting to the backup utility from a floppy (yes), a CD, or my five-way-boot thumb drive.

To the question of which generations to trust, I've got so much storage space that I can go back at least a year. I also keep a log of installs between backups. It's not as troublesome as it sounds due to my habit of restoring the last backup before an install and backing up afterwards; the activity I have to log is in a small time period. But, I'm weird.

As to cloning the HDD to the new SSD when it arrives, if you read these forums everyone recommends a clean Win7 install. But if the drive is SATA you could do the install to it AS IF it were an SSD, following the SSD install guides on this site or others. Then you would have an SSD-tuned installation on the HDD which you could clone to the SSD. I don't see why it would not work.

Always install 7 with the installation drive being the only drive on the system, and the disk controller set to AHCI mode. Then see this: http://www.computing.net/howtos/show/solid-state-drive-ssd-tweaks-for-windows-7/552.html .


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