Nothing is More Important !!


My Nice Clean, Shiny Hard Drive  .  .  .
that crashed and Destroyed all my Files !!


You've been there  .  .  .  we all have  .  .  .  the crisis, the fear  .  .  .  the end of the world !!!  Yes, you just had a hard drive crash, and all is lost.  Or your laptop was stolen from the airport.  In either case, you're finished.  Game over, dude !!  Well, that is, if you did what most people do - and failed to backup your system religiously.


Myself - it has hgappened to me - ONCE !!  I lost 5 years of work, all in one fell swoop !!  My old Western Digital 30 GB drive went south on me.  And it wasn't a virus that I could fix using a McAfee boot disk.  It wasn't a bad FAT table that needed to be rebuilt using SpinRite or Lost and Found.  No, it was a physical CRASH !!  The drive mechanism itself went bad, and the Read/Write heads went berserk, destroying all the data on all platters of the drive.


Game Over !!  


Never again, I told myself  .  .  .  oh, it did happen again several years later.  I lost a drive.  But I had a recent backup of all my main files, and simply bought a new drive, installed Windows, and copied my stuff back over.


The Backup Drive Letter Problem


When you configure your backup software, you select a backup drive to copy to.  But what happens if Windows changes the drive letters?  This can and does happen - especially to USB drives.  


Fix 1 (preferred) - check your drive letters before backing them up - if they have changed, then go into your backup software and change the letters in the configuration


Fix2 (works but has problems - see yellow box below) - Assign a Folder on an internal NTFS Drive (will not work with FAT32) to the external Drive  


There is a fix is to assign a "folder" to the drive, instead of using a letter.  


*** CAUTION - this will fix the problem of drive letters changing, but adds a new problem.  When you try to defragment the drive that now contains a folder or folders to your Backup drive - it takes forever because it not only defrags the main drive you are trying to defrag - but it also defrags all external drive partitions that you have assigned folder to !!!  Also, when you search for a file on the drive - it also searches the external drives !!


You must have at least one NTFS drive to do this, because it requires an NTFS folder to be created, which then acts as a reference, or pointer, to the backup drive.  Here's how (this example will rename my Flash Card Reader, which is currently drive "J", to a folder on my only NTFS drive - my E drive):










Backup Strategies


In general, you should have one full backup of your system hard drive (or boot drive - the one with Windows Operating System on it), and you should run daily backups of non-system files, such as your personal documents, MP3's,  IE bookmarks, Outlook PST files, etc.  The drive that you are backing up from is the "Source" drive, and the drive that you are backing up to is called the "Target" drive.


Target Drive


You will need a second drive which will be your Target drive.  You can use the second drive in your Home Computer, but it is best to purchase an external drive - one that connects via the USB port.  I recommend the Backpack Drive from Micro-Solutions.  It has the option for either USB,  or Parallel, and comes with both cables.  This is very important - because you may want to use it to transfer files to an older PC that has no USB port !!


Even if you choose to use a second drive inside of your home PC - if you use a laptop, you will definitely need an external drive for backups !!


Full Backup - Drive Image


Full Backup of your Drive - you want one and only one full backup of your hard drive, called an "Image".   One backup is enough !!  Make one that can bring your system to a clean, early state


Many people differ with me on this, and they run regular full hard drive backup images.  But it takes a long time, and you end up backing up a cluttered drive - let me explain  .  .  .   as you use Windows, it becomes cluttered with thousands of orphaned DLL's, help files, extraneous temp files, etc.  This is why most experts recommend doing a clean re-install of Windows once every 2 years or so.  Admittedly, it is a painful process, and takes days to get all your apps and setting back in order - but it transforms your system from a crowded, buggy, crach-probe, slow, space-hog  .  .  .  into a well oiled, lightning fast, reliable, speed demon !!   Also, if you do suffer a non-recoverable hard drive crash, what better time to do this ??  One thing is certain - you do not want to restore your computer to a cluttered state !!  


The best way, is to reinstall Windows from scratch, then install your base applications that you use, and setup your personal preferences and Internet connection.


I recommend Norton Ghost for full backups.  It is tricky to use, and the help file is not easy to understand - so I have included a guide below.


Daily Backups

Daily backups are the cornerstone of your backup strategy.  The one full backup will get your machine up and running again, with a fast, clean image.  But your life is in those personal files that you have been working on for years !!  So ALWAYS, ALWAYS BACK THEM UP !!  The best idea is to keep your machine ON 24x7 (make sure to set it to turn off the hard disks and monitor after 30 to 60 minutes of inactivity), and then run the backup routine in the middle of the night at 3 or 4 am.  If you are running backups on your work machine, then let it run during work hours when the machine will be turned on.


Backup Utility's methodology - there are many backup utilities on the market.  All of them must be configured first.  You start the utility, and an Explorer-like interface opens up.  You them must mark the folders/files that you want to be backed up.  To do this, you place a check mark next each folder you want backed up, and by default, all subfolders and files below that folder are also marked for backup.  Then if you want to - you can go into the subfolders and uncheck any folders/files that you do not want to be backed up.  


The backup routine compares two drives - the Source drive and the Target drive.  The marked files on the Source drive are compared with the target drive to see if they are already there, and to see if they are the same version (file size and timestamps are compared).  If they are not the same version then they are copied from the Source to the Target.  


Caution - some of the backup utilities, such as Handy Backup, will not delete files from the target drive !!  They just will keep adding and adding files to the target drive !!   Stay away from these.  You want a utility that will "prune" the target drive (i.e. remove files from the target that you have removed from the source).


Incremental Backups - as opposed to full backups - is the most popular method.  With backup utilities, a full backup does not mean that it backs up your entire drive - instead, it means that ALL files that you have marked for backup will be copied to the target drive, no matter what.  Therefore, even if you have not changed a file and it is already backed up from the previous day - it will be copied to the target drive again.


With incremental backups, the utility checks each file on your source drive that you have marked for backup, against the file on your target (backup) drive.  If they are the same size and date, then you have not changed that file and it does not need to be backed up again.  This saves a huge amount of time !!


Backup Options - all backup software has options for backups, such as "Force Target", "Copy only if Newer", "Exact Copy", "Keep x Number of File Versions", etc.  


My Recommendations 


Daily Backups Utility - Second Copy


- I recommend Second Copy for backups - it is simply the best !!  Very simple interface, flexible configurations, and it has the perfect backup option, called "Exact Copy", where it will add or remove files from the Target, to make sure that at the end of the backup routine, it has the EXACT same folders and files as the Source drive has.


This utility backs up files or folders by monitoring changes and copying the files into backup folders whenever they are modified. You can include or exclude files or sets of files from the copy and keep up to 25 older versions of files. Once the program is configured, an icon sits in the Windows system tray and the program copies files in the background. New options include settings for the compression rate of .zip files,copies that span across multiple disks, and auto log-in to remote systems with Dial-Up Networking.



One-time Full Backup of your Drive - Norton Ghost


Norton Ghost has a Windows interface for configuring backup/restore jobs and creating Boot Disks or reading and extracting files from Ghost image files  -  however, all of it’s Backup and Restore operations are done by booting to PC-DOS.  It is the most popular backup program, with Drive Image running a close second.


Ghost copies all files from an entire hard drive partition into either:


*      a single image file with the extension “gho”

*      one “gho” file and one or more “ghs” (ghost span) files (or if the data exceeds 2 GB)


This is all done via a reboot to either:


*      PC-DOS using either a virtual partition created on the C drive (virpart.dat)

*      a bootable PC-DOS, MS-DOS or Win98 diskette.


Upon reboot, the file “ghost.exe” is executed, and a Menu interface is presented to the user, from which he can backup or restore a drive partition.  Finally, the file “ghreboot.exe” is executed, which will boot the system back into Windows.  You can also select “Quit” to exit the menu interface and do to DOS.


Ghost can also copy a drive partition to another drive partition directly, which is useful for people who have bought a new hard drive and want it to become their main boot drive.


Make sure to run the Live Update after installation !!!  The update files are not on Symantec’s website, so you muct use Live Update.



BACKPACK external Hard Drive (my system only) -  for safe-keeping I prefer to keep the Ghost backup image (“gho” file) on my Backpack external hard drive.  This means Restoring from that drive, or copying the image file from that drive to one of my internal drives and then restoring.  The Backpack drive in Windows, can be connected by either the USB or the Parallel port.  But the Backpack DOS drivers only work with the Parallel port !!!


To restore an image to a hard drive partition, it is best to fist copy the image file to one of the internal hard drive partitions (not the one you are going to restore, though, of course).  If you cannot boot to windows – then you must be able to access the Backpack drive through DOS to be able to restore the image.  If possible, using a bootable diskette with the DOS Backpack driver, copy the image file to one of your internal drives – then reboot using the Ghost diskette with Backpack DOS driver and restore.




*      Ghost can only write image files to FAT32 drives !!!

*      Ghost cannot write to an NTFS drive unless it is restoring an image !!!

*      Ghost can read NTFS and backup NTFS drives

*      Ghost can restore an image to an NTFS drive


The Norton Ghost utility with MS-DOS disks will not recognize NTFS drives for Writing to, although supposedly it can restore an NTFS drive.  For restoral – DO NOT USE ANYTHINGS OTHER THAN  A PC-DOS BOOT DISK !!!  PC-DOS does recognize NTFS drives but there are oddities.  Also, this may re-letter your drives if you have a mixture of FAT32 and NTFS drives.

Backup an NTFS Partition – works fine so long as you save the image to a FAT32 disk


Restore an NTFS Partition-  boot from the floppy and run Ghost. The FAT32 volume will be the only disk it initially sees for image files.  But when you load the image file for restoral, it will see both volumes.  


NOTE:  SysInternals offers “NTFSDOS” (Read-Only) which allows you to create a DOS (5.0 or later) boot disk that can read NTFS drives.  The Full version of the NTFSDOS Pro utility (whopping $299) offers Read/Write.  BUT you probably only need Read-Only access to the NTFS partition, if you have another FAT32 partition to back up the image to – and Ghost does “read” NTFS, so there should be no need for the NTFSDOS boot disk at all.





Norton uses a very unique approach to backing up your hard drive.  It realized that the operating system and files used to run the backup needed to be separated from the drive you are backing up.  This is necessary to ensure unfettered access to all files on the drive to be cloned (backed up) :


Backup Overview


First you start Ghost up within Windows and select what you want to do.  Normally you choose "Backup" which will then prompt you with questions for configuring the job  -  or you can choose DOS interactive mode.  No matter which you choose, Ghost will reboot the system into it's own PC-DOS virtual partition as follows :


1)  system reboots


2) a Virtual Drive is created (in Windows you will see c:\virpart.dat which is where the Virtual Partition data is stored) - the C drive letter is temporarily changed to be one letter past the last valid hard drive partition, and the new Virtual Partition becomes the C drive.  For example, I have three disks comprised of drive C, D, E, F, and G  -  therefore my usual C drive is renamed to H, even though H is assigned to my DVD/CD-ROM Drive within windows (in DOS it is available).


3)    the Virtual partition is created and becomes your C drive.  It's volume label is  -VPSGHBOOT-  and it contains standard 14 DOS boot files such as config.sys and autoexec.bat.  It also contains one folder called "Ghost" with 7 other files including the ghost.exe executable - the primary backup and restore executable is "Ghost.exe".  The path=c:\;c:\ghost   In interactive mode  you can access all your drives from this reboot into PC-DOS mode (not sure about my NTFS "E Drive" but I assume that Ghost can access it from the Ghost DOS boot.  Remember that your C drive was moved to the last drive letter, one letter beyond what is normally your last drive letter (in my case, H). 


In normal “backup” mode, the reboot occurs and the backup job is automatically run.  The PC-DOS operating system allows a max of 2 GB files, so a series of linked backup files will be created.  For example, if you configure the backup to use “D-Drive.gho” for the backup image file, and the drive is 5 GB – then three files will be created:






When the backup is finished using Ghost.exe within PC-DOS running within the virtual partition, the file "GHreboot.exe" is automatically executed and it will reboot you back into Windows (only in Interactive mode do you have a chance to do anything yourself from the keyboard or mouse) - restoring your drive letters and making the virtual partition go away (it is still there in a file c:\virpart.dat but inaccessible until the next time you reboot with Ghost for either a backup or restore).


NOTE:  if you want to see what default files the virtual partition has  (plus one file "bphddrv.sys, that I added for access to my Backpack portable hard drive) - I copied them to a subfolder within this Ghost install folder.  DON'T RUN THESE FILES - THEY ARE ONLY THERE FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES !!!




To restore an image file – you boot with a Norton Ghost Boot diskette using either PC-DOS or MS-DOS.  You create this disk within Ghost  “Advanced Utilities/Norton Ghost Boot Wizard”, and add any files you need to recognize your backup media and edit the config.sys and/or autoexec.bat to load the additional drivers.  This disk does not create a virtual partition !!!  All you need to do is run the file “ghost.exe” and follow the menus.


Ghost Explorer


This program can be accessed from the Windows Ghost program, and allows you to open an image file, and extract any files you wish.  It uses an “Explorer” type of GUI.






Norton Ghost backs up your entire partition - every file - and it can access all files and does not have to worry about "locked" files because the actual backup and restore are done using a DOS a graphical interface.  When you open Ghost in Windows and tell it to back up to a ".gho" image file, it reboots you to DOS and then backs up the entire partition - an exact clone - to a compressed image file.


Make sure you clean as much off the drive as possible before running the backup !!!  The gho file is huge, so try to minimize it.  A good strategy is to setup Windows, install the basic apps, and then run a backup.  Then later, if you have space - after you have all apps installed – run another backup.  This way you have a fully functional backup, and a base backup to choose from.


Interactive Backup

I prefer to run "Ghost Advanced/Run Ghost Interactively".  Like the standard Backup selection - this will still allow you to add files to the Virtual partition and add lines to config.sys and autoexec.bat before rebooting.  However, unlike the standard method, it will allow you to set up the parameters of the backup job within the DOS ghost.exe application.  It does not automatically run the backup job, so you have more control.  In addition, instead of using command-line switchers, there is an "Options" tab that has checkboxes for all the options.


NOTE:  if you already have a ghost boot diskette


These steps include configuring the virtual partition boot files to load the external portable Backpack hard drive drivers.  Advanced reboot options must be added when creating the backup job - you need to add the file bphddrv.sys to the Virtual Partition and add the line device=bphddrv.sys to config.sys

1)  depending on if you are using standard or inteactive backup - this step may ask you to tell ghost where the target Image File is and the name of it :  I used H:\D-drive.

2)  you may receive some error messages about hardware that you know is fine (such as printer, USB devices, etc) - Ignore the error messages and click OK

3)  click Advanced Settings

4)  click the “Compression” tab – if your drive is filled with a huge amount of files, select “High” (this will take longer) – otherwise select “None” for a small drive, or “Fast” for a medium drive.

5)  click "Advanced Settings"/User Files tab

6)  click "Add Files" and add the file, bphddrv.sys

7)  in the config.sys edit box, type in:  Device=bphddrv.sys  (if you want to see the driver that load without them whisking off the screen, add "pause" to Autoexec.bat), and click OK

8)  finish up a check the summary, and click "Run Now"

9)  reboot and let the backup run  -   DONE !!!!



Drive Letters

My "Backpack" external hard drive letters are different in Windows than what they are in DOS.  Also, the addition of the virtual partition upon reboot adds one drive to your system.  This is not a problem, however.  Ghost realizes drive letters may change and it searches the available drives and finds the backup ".gho" job file.  If you use Interactive mode Ghost does not need to search for it - you will create it yourself and tell Ghost where it is.


In Windows XP Pro - my Backpack drive letters are K, L, M, and N

In DOS using the bphddrv.sys driver with a boot disk, my drive letters are H, I, J, and K (they start after the last regular hard drive letter, which is "G").  In DOS, using the Ghost reboot, it moves my regular C drive to H and uses C for the virtual partition.  Therefore the Backpack driver letters assigned are I, J, K, and L.  However, if you need to do a restore, since the Backpack drive is slow and not highly reliable – it is best to first copy the gho file to another hard drive partition – then restore.


NOTE:  if for some reason you do have problems, you can change drive letters as follows - in this example I want my K drive to become H:

1)  Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Computer Management/Disk Management

2)  right-click on H  and select "Change drive letters and path" - change it to P

3)  right-click on K  and select "Change drive letters and path" - change it to H







You can run Ghost within Windows, and open any of your backup image files.  An “Exploerer-like” interface will show you the contents and you can extract and file or files from there.  Using the Ghost DOS boot diskette only allows you to restore the entire image, and this is used mostly for disaster recovery.

*** CAUTION - the restore process will copy the Norton Ghost image file (with a "gho" extension) to your hard drive partition, overwriting the existing files !!!  Therefore, before doing this - if you have access to the partition, back up all files that you have modified or added since you created the backup image (back them up to another partition, an external backup drive, or burn them to a CDR).  After restoring the image to the drive partition - copy them back to the partition.


MAKE SURE TO CREATE A NORTON GHOST BOOT DISK !!!!  You will need it to be able to perform a full image restore if you can no longer boot to Windows.  It boots you into a DOS graghical interface (it uses "PC-DOS" which is very similar to MS-DOS). 


Create a Norton Ghost Boot Diskette


Advanced Utilities/Norton Ghost Boot Wizard

Standard Ghost Boot Disk

Next, Next, click “Use PC-DOS”, Next

Next, Next, Next and follow the Prompts


*** when the Boot Disk is ready:

copy the BackPack driver file, bphddrv.sys to the floppy

add one line to config.sys:


Add one line to autoexec.bat to prevent the “backpack drivers loaded successfully” text from scrolling off the screen :



Boot from the Ghost boot disk.


Run the file, “ghost.exe” and follow the prompts to restore an image file to your hard drive partition.  BE CAREFUL – IT WILL OVERWRITE THE DRIVE !!!

You may also check the integrity of a Ghost image file from withint this interface, or even run backups.  Some prefer to never use the Windows Ghost screen and do all backups and restores using the boot floppy.






*** I have not needed any of these so far !!!

*** to see all of them, see my DOC file or goto Help.Search/Command-Line Switches


To add command-line switches to a task, do one of the following:


*      To set this option as a default, in the Ghost Basic window, click Options.

*      To add command-line switches while running a Windows wizard task, in the Settings window, click Advanced Settings.

*      On the Ghost Command Line tab, type the extra command-line switches.


The Most Useful Switches


ghost  -dlist=CDEFG                - instructs Norton Ghost to look for files on C, D, E, F, and G drives. The path remains the same.


The  -fx  switch causes Ghost to exit to DOS when done instead of booting into Windows.  Useful if you get errors and then an immediate boot to Windows.


skip=x    to skip backing up certain files or folders.  Examples:



Skips any file called Readme.txt in any directory.



Skips any file ending with .dll in the Ghost directory.



Skips the program files directory (note the short file name).


-dlist=drives     Specifies a list of drives to search for span files. If a span file cannot be found, then the drive letters in dlist are substituted one by one to look for the file on other drives.

For example, the command:

ghost  -dlist=CDEFG                - instructs Norton Ghost to look for files on C, D, E, F, and G drives. The path remains the same.