There are several programs that would backup your whole hard disk and would restore it even to a different one, so if your HD dies, you can just pop-in the new one in the computer and be up and running in less than a hour.
One of the most popular program for this type of backup is Norton Ghost. My preference is Ghost 2003, as it runs from a DOS bootable CD or DVD, outside of Windows. The best way to acquire Ghost 2003 is to try to find an old version of Norton Systemworks Pro from 2003 or 2004 that includes it.
To use it, you will need to download or make yourself a bootable DOS floppy image with both CD and USB drivers on it (of course you will need the USB drivers only if you plan to use an external USB disk for backup, but it’s handy to have them just in case). Ghost 2003 has some build-in USB support but in my experience DOS USB drivers work better.
After you have the bootable floppy image ready, burn a bootable CD using that image and put Ghost.exe on it. My favourite program for burning CDs and DVDs in Nero (not Nero Express), but there are some others that would let you do that. Then restart your computer from this CD (attaching the external USB disk beforehand so it’s recognized by the DOS driver) and you are ready to go. With this CD you are able to backup your entire HD to CDRs, DVDRs or external USB disk (you can take the bootable CD out after DOS boots and use the same drive to burn CDs and/or DVDs).
Here is some more help if you have never touched DOS before.
When DOS boots, it shows messages on the screen (white text on black screen) as it loads the drivers. Note the drive letter of your CD/DVD-Rom (usually “D:” or “E:”). When it’s done it will stop at the A:\ prompt. Then type:
D: [press “Enter”]
dir [press “Enter”]
you will see a list of the files and folders on the “D:” drive.
If you don’t see ghost.exe, try typing:
E: [press “Enter”]
dir [press “Enter”]
and see if that’s the CD Rom disk that has ghost.exe. Still no luck? Try rebooting (CTRL+ALT+DEL) and this time note the drive letter for the CD/DVD drive.
When you see the Ghost.exe program, just type:
ghost -span -auto [press “Enter”]
This will start the program.
Once in Ghost, you can navigate with the arrow keys and the “Tab” key, and press “Enter” to confirm your choices. To backup your “C” drive, go to “Local -> Partition -> To image”, then select your internal hard disk (usually the first one). this will be the source disk. Then select the source partition – your “C” drive (again, usually the first one). Then you will have to select where to write the backup file (very big file), the destination. You can put it on CDs or DVDs (you can take out the bootable CD and use the same drive if it’s CD/DVD burner), or you can put it on an external USB disk. If you have a second partition on your internal HD, you can put it there too (but don’t forget to burn it to a DVD later, so you have a backup in case your internal HD dies).
In any case, press “Tab” until you get to the smaller box at the top that lists the drives. Then press the “Down” arrow key and select the destination disk. If you have USB disk attached, you will see it twice there, once for USB 1.1 and again for USB 2. Select the second one (USB 2). Then press “Enter” to select the destination, then “Tab” again to go to the smaller box at the bottom where you type the name for the backup file. Choose a name with no-more than 5 letters and press “Enter” again. Then choose “High Compression”, then “Enter”, then “Continue” and “Enter” again.
After that wait until the backup image is created.
To restore an HD image file to a hard disk, the steps are almost the same, only now you will have to select the source file first and then the destination disk and partition. If you are restoring to a brand-new hard disk that hasn’t been partitioned yet, you will have to select “Local -> Disk -> From Image”. Then Ghost will let you set the size of the destination partition and automatically create it.
True Image is somehow easier to work with as both in Windows and when run from CD it has a wizard driven interface. The newer version 10 is very feature rich. It can create a hidden partition and backup to it as well as all other media (CDs, DVDs, USB, Network). It can also do incremental and differential backups or specific file backups, scheduled backups, etc.