Norton Ghost Caveat:
Need 2 Hard Drives
If you're thinking all this disaster-recovery mumbo-jumbo sounds too
good to be true .. you're right. Here's what I mean: You'll need
a second hard drive (or CD/DVD burner) to take full advantage
of Ghost's supernatural back-up protection. Let me explain.
If you only have a single hard drive (with multiple partitions) .. and that drive dies .. or develops serious media problems (begins to die) .. or is
unusable in any way .. for whatever reason .. you'll be unable to
use that drive to restore the image file stored on it.
you think about it for a moment, it will make sense. It's kind of like
driving around with a flat spare tire: you won't be able to use your back-up when
you really need it.
But .. with a Ghost image stored on a second (physical)
hard drive, if your boot/system drive ever dies (it
will), you simply replace the dead drive (usually still under warranty)
with a new one, and restore the image from the second drive.
If you had been there the last time I did this, when it was all said and done, and the system was back up & running, you'd have heard me exclaim (in my best Muhammad Ali impression), "I'm a baaaad man."
I have done this a few times already. From the time the FedEx man hands you the new drive, you can be back up and running within 30 minutes (if you hustle).
Before I learned how to use Ghost, something like that would've set me back a week. (Windows System Restore can't help if your hard drive dies.)
If minimal downtime is important to you, you should keep a spare drive
tucked away in a drawer, so you can use it to replace a dead drive on
the spot, and deal with the warranty formalities later. This is what I do now.
Test Restore to New Hard Drive
Altho not necessary, the *ultimate* in RELIABILITY involves a 3rd hard drive, which allows you to TEST-RESTORE your newly-created image. [Yes, you can TEST-RESTORE to your *original* system drive, but if something goes wrong, you're screwed.]
Here's how it works: you create the image of your 1st hard drive (your system drive) onto your 2nd hard drive. Then, shutdown your system & remove the 1st, or simply disconnect the data cable.
Install the 3rd hard drive in place of the 1st (same jumper configuration, partitions, etc.) and *restore* the image (stored on your 2nd drive) to the newly-installed 3rd drive. Fire up your system & boot from your new (3rd) drive. If all goes well, you will sleep better knowing you can actually restore your system should the need arise.
Personally, I leave this 3rd hard drive physically installed in my case. Only the power & data cables are disconnected. This is something I recommend if you have an extra 3.5-inch slot. (Most systems do.) Otherwise, you can keep that puppy stashed away in your sock drawer, or someplace safe.
This TEST-RESTORE method is more important if you're using Norton Ghost v9.0, cuz the RESTORE environment of v9.0 (Restore CD) is *different* from the environment
used to CREATE the image (normal Windows).
Ghost also allows you to CHECK (or "TEST") the image for integrity. This integrity check tells Ghost to walk thru all the steps of restoring the image without actually writing data to disk. [It takes the same amount of time as an actual restore.]
Obviously, you would have more confidence in an image that passes the integrity check. But a successful integrity check is *still* not as reassuring as actually restoring the image to a new drive and booting from it, which represents the Holy Grail of back-up protection for the home user seeking peace-of-mind.
It's like yanking your spare tire out of the trunk, and actually mounting it on your car, and then driving your car around the block. You would feel better, knowing everything will work should a real situation arise. In the process, you might discover a problem that might prevent you from doing this in a *real* emergency (e.g. the spare is flat, you don't have a lug wrench, somebody stole the jack, etc.).
Your decision to use a 3rd disk depends on how much you value the data contained on your system disk, and how adversely it would affect you to
lose your system drive. The only downside of this method is the co$t of the 3rd drive.
But, as you know, hard drives are pretty cheap these days. Personally, I feel the cost is well worth the peace-of-mind it buys. And you don't need the best/fastest drive for your emergency back-up (standby) drive. Pretty much anything will do.
Admittedly, my standby-drive strategy represents an extreme approach. But if your system drive *did* die, my method would have you back up & running in 30 minutes (and that includes a coffee break while the image restores).
Test Restore to Dummy Partition
You can also create a small dummy partition, copy some unimportant data there, image that dummy partition, and then test-restore the image back to the dummy.
This procedure respresents a simpler compromise between performing no test-restore at all and using my (ultimate, more complicated) 3rd-drive method mentioned above.
If something goes wrong with the test-restore to dummy, no problem, since it wasn't important anyway.