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A Bit At A Time

So back to our goal: we want to "clone" (or even back up) a hard drive partition. Is there any reliable way to do this?

The good news is that the answer is "Yes". The key to a successful cloning is to use software that duplicates the entire partition on a bit-by-bit basis. There are several programs on the market that will do this: they read the entire partition one sector at a time and create an identical copy. Since the entire Windows file system is entirely bypassed, everything is copied exactly as it was to the new partition.

PowerQuest makes three different commercial products that can accomplish the task reliably: the full-featured Partition Magic, and its more limited (and less expensive) siblings DriveCopy and DriveImage. There is also a product called Norton Ghost that will perform the function (now owned by Symantec, this was once just known as "Ghost".) Ghost is also a commercial product but you can download a free trial version from the 'net. Note that it does not actually do the copy bit-by-bit the way the PowerQuest products do, but it will still do the clone properly (it was designed specifically for this task.)

There's a significant drawback to these programs however: you normally have to boot the system out of Windows and into DOS to do this type of procedure. This ranges from "inconvenient", in the case of an individual user, to "very disruptive" if the machine in question is a server in a business environment.

Another option, if a bit of a kludge, is to consider using LFNBK, which stands for "long filename backup". This is a utility provided with Windows 95/98 that backs up long file names and then removes them from the disk, leaving "regular" short filenames instead. You use LFNBK to remove long filenames from the system, then back it up, and then use LFNBK to restore the long filenames. I don't recommend the use of LFNBK due to the potential for problems.

Next: As You Wish...

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