Did your PC ship without a recovery disc or recovery disc creation tool? Take matters into your own hands with our step-by-step guide
hat happens when your hard drive gives up the ghost and requires replacing? In the past, so long as you had a recent backup of your key files and settings you were fine - sure, it was irritating, but all you had to do was fit a new hard drive and reinstall or restore Windows from your installation or recovery disc.
Sadly, these days many manufacturers can't bring themselves to supply even recovery discs with their computers. Instead your recovery files - the only backup you have of Windows itself - is stored on your hard drive in its own partition. Often this partition is visible in Windows, making it vulnerable to all kinds of disaster, never mind the physical death of the drive itself.
If your PC didn't come with any recovery discs, what are you going to do if you lose your recovery partition for whatever reason? At best your PC manufacturer - assuming it's still in business - will charge you a nominal sum for a set of recovery discs; at worst you'll be left high and dry, forcing you to purchase a retail copy of Windows (again, assuming your version of Windows is still being sold) in order to use your PC again.
It's not all bad news, though. While many manufacturers baulk at providing recovery discs, they do at least provide a utility for creating your own set of recovery discs. This is the preferred method of backing up your recovery partition, so look on the Start > All Programs menu or desktop for such a utility - you may find it under a folder named after your PC manufacturer. Alternatively, check the support section of the manufacturer's web site for more advice.
Create your own recovery discs
If no recovery disc creation tool is supplied, the next best thing is to take an image of your Windows drive or partition while it's still working, which gives you something to roll back to in case of disaster. This is best done shortly after restoring or reinstalling Windows, and if you can keep your data on a separate hard drive or partition it's better still. For a guide to taking a fail-safe backup of your drive image, check out our tutorial here
The final, least satisfactory option is to create a fail-safe backup of your recovery partition itself. It's the least satisfactory option because it's far more fiddly than the other two techniques mentioned here, but one advantage is that it's likely to require less than 10GB of available hard drive space or a couple of rewritable DVDs. The first step-by-step guide reveals the initial steps you need to take.
Test your recovery disc
It's imperative that you can rely on your Macrium rescue disc when the time comes, so it makes perfect sense to try booting from it now to verify that it works. You may need to select your CD as the primary boot device when starting your PC (a message giving you the option to select a boot device should appear right at the beginning of the startup sequence) in order for the CD to be recognised.
Once the disc has been verified, label it and store it in a safe place with - if applicable - the back-up DVD or DVDs you created of your restore partition. The Expert Tip box opposite reveals one way in which you can render the need for this last-ditch recovery tool obsolete by keeping a close eye on the health of your hard drive, but in case the worst happens, make a note of the steps outlined below, which should transfer your recovery partition to your new hard drive.
Hopefully, after restoring your partition you'll be booted straight into your PC's recovery options, which will enable you to reinstall Windows from scratch on your new hard drive. If you're given any options, let the recovery process destroy all existing data on your hard drive (your recovery partition won't be touched), so a fresh installation is put into place, ready for you to carry on with.