Submitted by Kevin Derby

DriveImageXml This is a free (for personal use) drive imaging program that backs up systems hot. There's also a plug-in that allows you to boot from a WinPE/BartPE disk, and restore an image.

Although Win08/Win7 has now changed the backup routine to do this same thing, I hadn't found any imaging program (for free) to be quite as good as DriveImage XML.

Michael's notes

I haven't added this submission to the list of free of admin tools because the program isn't free for commercial use. Essentially, this means that Windows administrators can't use the tool at work. I have, however, posted this article, as I find this tool useful.

To be honest, I am not sure what "commercial use" actually means. If you use your PC at home to do some work, is it then considered a commercially used computer? There are certainly clear cases of commercial use, but there are also many cases where it is unclear. I leave it up to you to decide about your own environment.

Lately, I have been looking for a free imaging solution that I can use to back up my laptop, as I dislike Vista's system-backup tool. My main problem with it is that I can only use the backup image to restore the complete Windows installation, but I can't browse the image to restore individual files. I have already, several times, found myself in a situation where I desperately needed an individual file from a backup image, and so ended up quite annoyed that Microsoft doesn't offer a simple solution for mounting a VHD image. In Windows 7 this has been changed. However, I don’t plan to use Windows 7 in a productive environment until the final version is out.

I have tried using DriveImage XML myself. It is, indeed, an interesting alternative to Vista's backup tool. What I like about DriveImage XML is that you can browse the image and restore individual files and folders. I also like that the image can be split into multiple files. This is useful if you want to store images on DVDs.

However, for a commercial tool, it lacks one important feature. To restore a system drive, you have to create a BartPE CD. DriveImage XML comes with a plugin for BartPE, but if I pay for a piece of software I expect everything I need to already be included. Moreover, as outlined in my post about BartPE, it only supports XP-based Windows PE images, which is a problem with modern hardware, especially laptops.

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If you know of another good backup imaging tool, in particular one that has everything you need to restore system drives already on board, it would be great if you could post a comment below.

  1. Avatar
    Claus Valca 14 years ago


    Building on the BartPE post, with a Win PE 2.0/3.0 disk (for me the aforementioned VistaPE build tool) I do this:

    During my building process I snag and add-in a copy of the Microsoft ImageX.exe file. I know you are well versed in it. With it tucked away on the boot disk/USB tool, I’m set for Windows imaging needs.

    I just off-line boot the system with the Win PE boot disk and ensure a good storage device is attached to put the image onto (say a beefy USB drive).

    I then do an ImageX capture of the partition(s) as needed and save them as WIM files.

    The nice thing about this is, as you mention, if I ever find I need just a particular file, I just have to mount (Read-Only) the WIM file on my main system, then I can simply copy the file as needed and dismount the WIM.

    OR…if I want to “inject” some extra files (non-system) I can mount the WIM as R/W and take/put files into it as needed.

    Granted, you can’t use ImageX for non-Windows system imaging, and if a physical disk has multiple partitions, they must be captured one WIM (or sub-WIM) at a time (rather than the entire disk at once).

    That said I’m finding it a very fast and elegant solution for imaging work.


    –Claus V.

  2. Avatar

    Claus, I have also been thinking of using imageX, but I was looking for a click as you go solution. When it comes to backups, the most important thing is that it doesn’t cost you much time, otherwise you will always find a reason to postpone it. To boot Windows PE to make a backup is a bit too complicated for my taste. But if I don’t find a better solution, I might indeed go into this direction.

  3. Avatar
    Claus Valca 14 years ago


    I’m with you now. Missed the original submitter’s point about a “hot” backup solution. My bad.

    Yep. There is a distinction between “cloning” and “backups”. Some of us (count me in this group) just sludge through periodic disk-clone snapshots for backup purposes…probably because I do enough true system-cloning at work, it is just second nature to do so. I’m doing so knowing the pitfalls and benefits were I ever to need to “restore” from such a “ImageX” solution.

    Instead a true “backup” option is much more nuanced and potentially complicated (not meant in a bad way…) solution. Lots more things might need to be considered; frequency, extraction of individual files/folders from backup file, handling of “locked” files, depth of backup file retention, etc. There are more than a few “lighter” freeware backup apps and utilities I know of, but though I have dabbled with them, I never committed.

    One does stand out to me, however.

    Have you looked into Macrium Reflect?

    Macrium Reflect FREE Edition –

    They also offer a Full version ($) which has many more features including incremental and/or differential backup/image options. It also supports “hot” system imaging/backup…even on normally “locked” files.

    As I read it, you can also mount the image/backup file and extract files from it as needed.

    I did a brief post on it and have received a number of positive comments since.

    I haven’t had the time to play with it so I can’t yet speak from personal experience but you might want to take a look at it.


    –Claus V.

  4. Avatar
    Daniel Mundy 14 years ago

    I’m interested by this imagex solution. I haven’t dabbled with it much, yet… What I was wondering, can you do hardware independent restore with this? Also, does it work the same for Windows XP as it does for Vista?

    I’m always on the lookout for a solution that I can use on PCs, servers, everything.

    I like to be able to take an image before making system changes (especially on servers!) that I can roll back to.

    Also to be able to clone a server and then restore it on a test server (usually running different hardware) would be handy in a few cases.

    I’ve had a quick look at DriveImage XML but don’t have much confidence in the product yet. I don’t know why, it’s just a gut feeling! I have the impression it would take me a lot more playing around to make it work under all scenarios. (in which case I may as well write some imagex scripts!)


  5. Avatar
    Keith 14 years ago

    Going on the point of if you have to pay for a corporate solution it might as well be good, I really like Acronis True Image. It’s extremely easy to use, and I’ve never had any issues with it. You can backup to network drives, USB drives, local partitions. It also lets you mount the images as a drive in Windows so you can browse and restore files.

  6. Avatar
    Bill Minton 14 years ago

    I’ve used DXML quite extensively, with batch files to automate nightly image builds, etc. and it has one glaring weakness, the inability to backup/restore the MBR. Macrium Reflect Free has this ability, but can’t easily be added to a BartPE disk. Macrium also can’t create an image from its boot disk, it can only do restores from there. I have used both tools to successfully backup/restore Windows XP/Vista/7 & Linux installs though, and have no problems recommending either. I do use Macrium for my own needs, because of the MBR thing though.

  7. Avatar
    Claus Valca 14 years ago


    You might want to start looking at this Microsoft TechNet page on ImageX:

    What is ImageX?

    To answer some of your questions:

    If you are going to transfer a system between hardware platforms you really should still use Sysprep first. Otherwise when you apply the image to the new hardware, the existing HAL may not play well with the new system it is placed on. If you are simply using ImageX to “backup” a system, then possibly restore to the same system hardware…you should have no issues.

    You need to capture the image under a Win PE enviroment; “off-line” if you will.

    That said, according to the TechNet link:

    “…it can capture and apply images for any version of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and Windows 2000 Professional.”

    I’ve done so quite successfully in managing our XP Pro system images across may different hardware platforms, as well as Vista systems. I haven’t tried it yet on Windows 7 RC or Windows Server 2003/2008 but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for them as well.


    Claus V.

  8. Avatar
    Sebastian Huber 14 years ago

    If you are looking for a solid image based backup solution have a look at ShadowProtect from Storagecraft (

    It’s fast, not that expensive for home or business use, supports VSS, can restore to different Hardware and comes with a WinPE 2.0 based recovery CD (Vista based or Server 2003 based in one disk). You can back up and restore using the boot disk, load drivers, edit files, … I think even VmWare can use ShadowProtect’s image format as VHDD.

    I use it at home and at work and it didn’t disappoint so far.



  9. Avatar
    RoninV 14 years ago

    I’ve been using Cobian (current v9) for years, though not in a corporate setting. It has the same features as Acronis (see Keith). It can be run as a service or individual app.

  10. Avatar

    Thanks a lot for all the useful hints! Storagecraft has an article from the IT magazine C’t (in English) on their website (PDF) that compares a couple of imaging tools. The article is almost a year old, but still very useful. There also is a comparison table. I think I will have a closer look at Macrium Reflect first. Free tools attract me magically.

  11. Avatar
    Phil N 14 years ago

    Microsoft warns against using imageX as a backup tool.

    For system imaging I use the Ghost32 product from within Symantec’s Ghost Solution Suite v2.5. This is a high quality tool for enterprise folks, not the home user Ghost. It isn’t free, but can be found cheap. I found mine on ebay for $15.
    There are just two programs you really need. Ghost32.exe to make/restore images and GhostExp.exe (image explorer) to open, browse, add/remove files to images.

    I just finished testing it on Windows-7RC by making an image, formatting the partition and restoring. Perfect.

    And ghost32 & Ghost explorer run flawlessly from a WinPE session. I don’t do hot backups. It’s just too simple to boot to WinPE from CD or Flash drive and image cold. Always have had perfect results. I just upgraded the XP box with a new harddisk last week. From WinPE ghost cloned the old system to an external USB with the new disk in it. Swapped the drives and done in 30 minutes flat.

  12. Avatar 12 years ago

    Microsoft is against using imageX as a backup tool. I don’t know why.. but they are..

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