Hard Disk Imaging vs. Backing Up

What’s the difference? Why do one vs. the other? Or is “imaging” just a new name for “backing up using Brand X Software?”

A semi-WAG, but I believe that imaging is used to refer to using programs that will produce a series of CDs, and presumably a 3.5" boot disk, that will reproduce an exact copy of the file structure of your hard drive, including hidden files, file properties (read only, etc.), and everything that is, among other things, self extracting.

“Backing up,” OTOH, I usually hear used when one manually makes CD copies of files on their hard drives. If they ever have to restore, I believe all the copying will also be manual and possibly have all the file statuses changed to “read only.”

Or not. :shrug:


In the old days, image backup programs only allowed a full restore of your hard drive, making them a poor choice for business environments, where individual files are often needed to be restored. These days, most imaging programs allow individual file restoration, thus narrowing the difference.

High end backup software still does some things better than imaging software, such as high-end database backups, which usually require add-ons (often called agents) to do it correctly.

It really depends on why you want to back up your data/configuration etc.

Assuming that you want your backup to be automatic.

If you only want to save some important documents, you use backup software and tell it to save everything in a location or with a particular name.

If you want to be able to rebuild your system exactly as it was at a particular time, you have two options. Image the disk/s or backup all the data and configs.

The choice is up to you but will probably be determined by the complexity of the system and the amount of flexibility you want with the backup solution. If it is a simple single disk PC then a disk image is simple. If it is a complex system or a business, then you need bacup software.

Disk imaging is a one shot system. If you change a config or file ten seconds after the image that change isn’t backed up and if you want to save it, you need to take the image again. If you have backup software, you should be able to track changes and incrementally backup a system.

They serve two very different purposes.

Disk images is for restoring entire systems, sort of like what a rebirth card do, but only better. For you can make a master and copy this image to a number of computers, making mass computer setups easier.

Backup mainly concerns with data. The idea is to preserve what’s important so it won’t be lost even if Bad Things happen.

disk images make a bit for bit copy of the HD (if compresses then the bit for bit copy can be restored from the image) - this includes everything such as file fragmentation, hidden files. You could take this image and install it on another harddrive to get an exact copy (if you have hardware diffrences then the exact copy might not work on another machine). THey are becomming more powerful and can be used to backup and restore data. cd images are usually bootable and fully restoreable from that boot. Very useful for multiple computers w/ same hardware - get 1 running how you want and image the HD for all. Also Imaging software can do an incremental image (at least ghost can) so you can save minor changes.

backup is more concerned with file sturcture then a exact copy. files will be in proper subdirectories - but not nessesxsarly in the exact same location - most consumer level backup needs to be restored w/i windows so if your HD crashes you have to install windows then your backup software to restore your system

As a rule of thumb, imaging is used if you have a standard load on many computers, or as a way to keep a backup of your program files only.

Backup is used to keep a backup of your data files.