Category Archives: Backup/Restore

Macrium Reflect Update Ructions

I’m feeling a bit out of sorts this morning. I’ve just finished updating the mostly excellent Macrium Reflect backup/restore software on my production PC. Because I use Reflect on numerous PCs here at Chez Tittel, I sometimes get bollixed keeping track of what’s what. Reflect got an update on May 14 (release notes). I’ve been catching up here since returning from vakay last Monday. Along the way, I’ve encountered what I have to call Macrium Reflect update ructions. Let me explain…

What’s Causing Macrium Reflect Update Ructions?

Macrium Reflect (which I’ll abbreviate as MR going forward) is good about announcing updates, and warning users to install them. Every now and then, though, one of its updates requires users to reboot the PC after it’s done. I understand perfectly well this means they’ve made changes in code that hooks into the OS. A reboot lets those hooks get detached from old running stuff and re-plumbed into its new replacements. Perfectly sensible.

But what irks me is that their release notes and update notifications say nothing about “reboot required” or “no reboot required.” I don’t like it that I get to the end of an update process and then get informed the PC needs an update before it can take full effect. Sigh.

Why Reboot Timing Matters…

Here’s the thing: If they warned me a reboot would be needed  I’d say “OK. I’ll do this later when I’m getting ready to step away from the PC for a while.” But when I’m working full-bore with two or three browsers, Outlook, Word, and Explorer all open in multiple tabs or windows, password managers enabled, and so forth, I don’t want to “Hold everything!” to reboot right away. It takes a good 5 minutes to shut everything down, reboot, then wind everything back up to return to the status quo. But if I don’t reboot, I sometimes notice laggy performance. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Please, MR developers (Paramount Software): provide a “reboot after install” warning as part of the notification and/or release notes info. It’s much more convenient to know what’s coming, and to be able to plan accordingly. ‘Nuff said, I hope!


Restore Point Pros & Cons

By default, Windows 10 and 11 both turn on restore points (RPs). These may be used to return an OS environment back to a prior state. The OS typically shoots one RP daily, and takes one as it starts the WU process. In addition, app developers may include taking an RP snapshot early on during their own install processes. All this said, there are plenty of Restore Point pros & cons.

What Are Restore Point Pros & Cons?

These days you reach Restore Points through the System Protection tab in the System Properties window in Control Panel. Interestingly enough, you have to navigate through Settings > System to get there. Once you find what you’re looking for (see lead-in screencaps) you can enable or disable RPs, and also allocate a maximum percentage of the system/boot disk which these system snapshots can occupy.

RP Pros

RP’s positives include the following:

  • Convenience and ease of use: you can create an RP manually with a few mouse clicks, and it takes little time to complete one. It’s also fairly easy to revert to a Restore Point using either Windows built-in tools or one of my faves (it’s an oldie, but a goodie): System Restore Explorer. It tool 33 seconds to create one on my i7Skylake desktop, and 1:05 to restore same on that PC.
  • Provides a simple layer of system protection: can easily revert Windows to undo update, app or application, and driver changes. This is faster — but more limited in scope — than even the fastest image backup restore. As a knock-on effect: this can also undo software or library conflicts (after adding an app or application, or a new .NET version, or something else that’s similar).
  • Some cleanup when removing new software: This might be somewhere between a pro and a con.  Restoring an RP does result in removal of executable files and dlls added when installing apps. But shortcuts, preferences, and other files (including home folders — e.g. inside C:\Program Files or C:\Program Files (x86)) remain intact.

RP Cons

By contrast, RP’s negatives include:

  • No antivirus protection: restoring an RP won’t necessarily eliminate triggers for or stealth executables that cause malware infections. Thus malware can return even after using an RP.
  • No data file backup: RP copies the contents of the system volume shadow using the Volume Shadow Service (aka VSS). This does not include data files by intention. So RP provides no data restore capability (see the note at the end of this story for a 3rd-party tool that does provide such capability, however).
  • New user accounts are not protected by RP: if you define a new user account after the point in time at which an RP shapshot is created, those accounts will no longer exist when that RP is restored. That said, the User files for that account will persist. IMO, this is a kind “worst of both worlds” situation. Sigh.

My Net-Net Is: Don’t Rely Solely on RPs

Reading through the previous plusses and minuses, it’s pretty easy to see that  RPs can have value in a limited set of circumstances. But they’re no substitute for a recent image backup, and they’re no panacea for solving non-trivial Windows issues or problems.

I don’t use RPs much myself anymore myself (though I did in the Vista and Windows 7 eras). These days I rely mostly on in-place upgrade repair install for semi-serious to serious troubleshooting, and a clean install (or image restore) for outright system failures and boot problems. It’s also my repair of last resort when nothing else will produce a working Windows instance. Go figure!

Note Added March 19: More Madness

I got a comment from and regular “Old Navy Guy” (ONG) this morning reminding me that the NirSoft ShadowCopyView tool does allow users to view and copy certain data files from a VSS snapshot. This *does* allow access to user files and folders and adds to what you can recover from such a snapshot.

I totally forgot about this tool, and am glad to be reminded of same. More important, I’m grateful to have the chance to point this out to you, dear reader — and to make that tool known and possibly useful for you. AFAIK, this capability applies only to files and folders in the Users folder hierarchy, so if you keep stuff on a data drive — as I do — it won’t help much, or at all. But it could still be helpful nevertheless. Cheers!

Note Added March 21: Including Other Drives

Another Homer Simpson moment has come and gone for me. ONG commented again to remind me that ShadowCopyView does data drives, too. I initially wondered how VSS could accommodate drives other than the C: (boot/system) drive where the OS and other key stuff lives. Then it hit me: you must enable RP protection on those drives, too. Here’s an illustrative screencap:

Restore Point Pros & Cons.ddarrow

Turn on Protection for the D: drive so it gets VSS snapshots, too.

Maybe there’s more to this protection scheme than I originally gave it credit for. It took 12 seconds to capture an RP for my C: drive and 13-14 seconds for my D: (Data) drive on a Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga. WizTree says C: contains ~80GB of data, while D: contains ~400GB. So it is indeed remarkably fast. And with VolumeShadowCopy providing access to contents, it provides workable file and folder level access to bring back items one-at-a-time or as portions of a target drive’s file hierarchy. Good stuff!


Toughbook System Disk Explored

Examination of the disk layout and structure for the Panasonic Toughbook proved both interesting and informative. I used the free version of DiskGenius.  With the Toughbook System Disk explored — it appears as Disk 0 (HD0:) — I observed an interesting and useful disk layout, as you can see for yourself in the lead-in graphic above.

Reporting on Toughbook System Disk Explored

There are five (5) partitions on this disk, as follows:

1. EFI Partition (260 MB)
2. Microsoft Reserved (MSR: 16 MB)
3. WindowsBitLocker Encrypted (NTFS: 450.7 GB)
4. Recovery (WinRE: 990 MB)
5. OEM Recovery (OEMRCV: 25.0 GB)

What makes this disk layout interesting is that Partition 5 is basically a map and a replacement for all partitions. It includes a complete version of Windows 11 (Media.1) . It also uses SWM files (partial WIM files, and something new to me) to offer a variety of install and image files from which to build appropriate replacement images.

This feeds into a BIOS level repair utility from Panasonic that can rebuild the disk from scratch, in much the same way that the WinRE utility typically supports a “Factory reset” capability. This one, however, will work even in the absence of a working Windows image. Indeed, Panasonic also offersRecovery Media to perform the same function without reading anything from Disk 0 (via download, as explained below, or for purchase through the website).

Partitions 1-4 are basically a standard Windows 11 disk layout. Partition adds Panasonic’s own twist to this scheme, and provides an alternate means to reset a Toughbook to factory defaults that include this OEM partition. WinRE will rebuild the disk, but will leave this ultimate partition (5) alone.

Insights from Manuals and More

in a section entitled “About the Partition Structure” the Operating Instructions manual says:

Do not add or delete partitions in Windows 11, as the Windows area and recovery partition must be adjacent to each other in Windows 11.

I also found a link to Panasonic Japan for a Recovery Image Download Service. There I found links to an instruction manual and a recovery disk creation utility. Note: access to a valid model and serial number for a Toughbook PC is required to download and use this tool. Section 3.2  explains the recovery process which drives Panasonic recovery from a BIOS selection “Recovery” that rebuilds all partitions on the system disk.

Good to know!


Bringing Up 2TB NVMe Proves Challenging

About a week ago, I picked up an on-sale SSD, mostly so I could do some off-the-cuff price/performance testing. I’ve got plenty of 1TB models here at Chez Tittel. Suprisingly, bringing up 2TB NVMe proves challenging as I fight with cables, connections and ports to get it recognized and formatted in Windows. Let me explain…

Why Bringing Up 2TB NVMe Proves Challenging

From the get-go, I had problems getting the SSD recognized in Disk Management. There could have been numerous factors involved:

  • Power draw from a big NVMe
  • My attempt to start in a CalDigit TS4 hub
  • The el-cheapo NVMe enclosure I used
  • The USB-C cable between enclosure and port

By the time I did get things working, I had changed all of those things (except the first, which comes from the SSD itself). I ended up working from a USB 3.0 port in my desktop PC instead of a TB4/USB4 port on a CalDigit TS4 hub. Then, I switched from a US$18 Fideco to a US$70 Sabrent EC-NVMe SSD enclosure (I have two, and both work quite reliably). I went from a TB3 rated USB-C cable to a TB4 rated one.

Though it took me the better part of an hour to work through all those changes, I finally got to the point where I could see and set up the NVMe drive inside Windows. Once that was done, I plugged it into my Lenovo ThinkPad P16 Mobile Workstation.

The Price/Performance Story

There’s still something hincky with this set-up or with the SSD itself. I didn’t get very good numbers out of CrystalDiskMark (lower numbers than many HDDs, in fact). But when I ran a full backup in Macrium Reflect, it created a 62GB image file in 06:33.

Bringing Up 2TB NVMe Proves Challenging.cdm

These numbers are about 20% of what I get from Gen4 (PCIe x4) NVMes in this same enclosure.

That’s a data rate of around 9.45 GB per minute (161.5 MBps or 1292 Mbps by my reckoning). It’s about one-third the speed of an image backup to a fast NVMe in the same enclosure. But faster NVMes cost more (a Crucial T700 goes for US$340; a Teamgroup Z540 for US$260; a Samsung 990 Pro for US$150), too.

One more thing…

On the theory that even the Sabrent enclosure is old enough to be overwhelmed by a 2TB NVMe drive, I swapped it into a 2022=vintage Acasis TB4 NVMe enclosure. And whereas the drive had been unrecognizable in a TB4 port before this switch, it now came up. Then look at the difference in the CDM numbers it now produces (funny thing: the other enclosure produces better random R/W numbers, this one is emphatically the other ‘way round). And in this enclosure Macrium Reflect finished in 02:21 rather than 06:33 (that’s on par with other, faster NVMes in the same enclosure).

Emphatic block block differences in the Acasis enclosure!!!

One lesson I take away from this is that it’s important to remember that bigger capacity means a bigger power draw. Therefore, older and slower enclosures are less likely to provide the handling that bigger, newer NVMe SSDs need. I confirmed this by loading up the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus that had been in the Acasis enclosure into the Sabrent enclosure: results were typical for a UASP NVMe (just over 1 Gbps for bulk transfers; better overall random R/W). That’s good to know!

All in all, I’m fine with what I’m getting from my US$84 outlay. I am looking for a capable enclosure that’s cheaper than the Acasis TB-401U (still costs US$140 on Amazon). This US $23 Sabrent USB-C 3.2 10Gbps model looks pretty good. I’ll follow up with its results when it shows up later this week…


Seeking Free Windows Backup Satisfaction

As of December 31, 2023, Paramount Software — the maker of Macrium Reflect — will no longer update its freeware version. I’ve been a long-time fan of this software. It has bailed me out of countless jams, many self-inflicted or the results of experiments gone bad. But I feel compelled to recommend a free backup tool to users, thinking that not everybody can (or wants to) pay for Windows backup. That’s why I’ve been seeking free Windows backup satisfaction for most of 2023. So far, I’m not too thrilled with what I’m finding outside the Macrium umbrella.

Still Seeking Free Windows Backup Satisfaction

As I often do when I’m looking for good software in some category, I turned to Tim Fisher at LifeWire. His 32 Best Free Backup Tools story, last updated in September 2023, certainly covers a lot of options. But now that MS has thrown ReFS volumes into the mix with its inclusion in the Dev Home utility for Windows 11, the number of suitable options drops precipitously. (Macrium Reflect, for example, supports ReFS only in its Server versions, which are not free. Many other tools on Tim’s list likewise omit ReFS in free versions.)

Tim’s #1 ranked choice is EasUS ToDo Backup which indeed comes in a free version that includes ReFS support. I’ve been messing about with it and it does the job. But gosh! The free version is chock-full of constant, annoying and even intrusive ads, ads, ads. Honestly, I *hate* it. And FWIW, Susan Bradley at AskWoody recommends buying a license if you use this product anyway. I have to concur, if only to make the darn thing SHUT UP already.

The Slot Remains Open…

As I dig through Tim’s sizable collection of possible Macrium Reflect replacements, I’ve yet to find something obvious to fill its slot. Val Potter at ComputerWorld gave me the option of recommending a paid-for tool instead when I revise my story on Windows Backup sometime soon. I may stick with Reflect anyway just because I know from long and sometimes hairy experience that it works, works, works.

If you have any suggestions for a killer free Windows backup app that’s neither Macrium Reflect nor EasUS ToDo Backup, please use the contact form here to drop me a line. I’m open to suggestion!


Post-Update Reboot Restores Snappy Response

Hah! I should’ve known. I downloaded and installed KB5029331 on my production Windows 10 PC yesterday. When I sat down and started working this morning, I noticed two things. First, a notification popped up to remind I had to reboot. Second, this PC was running much slower than usual with lots of screen stuttering (jerky video updates). I’m happy to report, however, that a post-update reboot restores snappy response.

Why Post-Update Reboot Restores Snappy Response

The install process can’t really complete until the system can work on itself, so to speak. That is best accomplished using the Windows Pre-installation Environment (WinPE) to — as this MS Learn article puts it — “Modify the Windows operating system while it’s not running.” In the meantime, until you reboot, there’s a bunch of dangling stuff left hanging that will only be resolved the next time Windows gets to take a timeout to finish the update job that installing a cumulative update (CU) sets in motion.

And indeed there are some pretty significant changes in this update to Windows 10. Among other things, I see that the new Windows Backup shows up as “Recently added” (see lead-in graphic above, top left). I’m a little disappointed that this new facility lacks an image backup capability, though. As far as I can tell it backs up Settings, Preferences and User files only. Looks like it’s not about to replace my daily full image backups using Macrium Reflect 8. Too bad!

Side note: the new Backup takes a while to complete, too, I fired it up when I started this blog post. As I publish and promote it, it’s still doing its thing . I can’t readily tie it to a process in Task Manager, Details view, either — hmmm. This will require further investigation!

Back to Work!

The good news is that my aging but still capable i7-6700 Skylake PC (32 GB DDR4, 0.5TB Samsung 980 Pro SSD) immediately returned to its usual snappy performance after the reboot was concluded. No more lagging or jerky video. As I said at the outset, I should’ve known this could happen and rebooted before I quit for the night last night. Luckily for me, the update process took less than 8 minutes to complete, all told. And now, I’m returning to my usually scheduled activities..


Backing Up P16

I’ve recently swapped out the Lenovo loaner unit for the ThinkPad P16 Mobile workstation here at Chez Tittel. In the same recent period, I’ve written stories for AskWoody about using USB and Thunderbolt versions 3 and 4 for a variety of purposes. When it comes to using any of those technologies with USB-C attached NVMe drives, backup looms large. And boy, are the results for faster storage hookups compelling when it comes to backing up P16. Let me explain…

TB4 Shines When Backing Up P16

The lead-in graphic shows a 1:03 completion time for an image backup on that device inside Macrium Reflect. That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen a full image backup complete on that (or any other) PC, whether to an internal or an external drive. Why doesn’t everybody do it that way?

Let me count the reasons:

  1. Not all PCs or Laptops have fast Thunderbolt4 ports.
  2. TB4 NVMe enclosures are expensive: US$130 and up. Count on spending at least another US$70 or so for a 1 TB NVMe to put inside same. In contrast, you can buy a portable 1 TB NVMe right now for about US$70 (but it’s not TB4, nor even TB3).
  3. One *MUST* use TB4 cables to get those results. Nothing else will do.
  4. USB-C ports can be scarce, so it may be necessary to acquire a TB4 dock. That’ll set you back another US$200-400 depending on ports and features.

But Hey! Look at Them Snappers…

All those caveats said and understood, 1:03 remains a remarkable timeframe for a full image backup. WizTree reports that the P16’s C: drive currently stores 82.8 GB’s worth of stuff. If I’m doing the math correctly that’s 10.48 Gbps as a backup speed. I’ll take it!

I spent over US$200 to put the NVMe enclosure to work, and another US$25 for a year’s worth of access to Macrium Reflect. Is is worth it? IMO, it is. IYO perhaps not…



Replacement P16 Goes Through Intake

OK, then: I started working on the replacement Lenovo ThinkPad P16 Gen1 Mobile Workstation. It showed up at the house on Friday afternoon. Because I was on deadline I didn’t get to begin until Saturday afternoon. I kicked things off upon return from our usual weekend food shopping trip.  As this replacement P16 goes through intake here at Chez Tittel, I’ve been keeping track of what (and how) I put it back to work. That started yesterday, for an upcoming AskWoody story about USB3/4 interfaces. Buckle up: there’s a lot to cover…

Following Along as Replacement
P16 Goes Through Intake

The unit appears with a password-less login into a Lenovo account, to make it easy for reviewers to get in and start working. I always add an admin account tied to one of my Microsoft logins and switch over to that going forward. Then I logged into my office WAP for a Wi-Fi connection, and made sure everything was up-to-date. The very next item was a Macrium Reflect install (commercial license) so I could capture a pristine backup to an external TB4 USB-C attached NVMe drive.

After the initial snapshot was saved, I added a bunch of applications using the PatchMyPC Home Updater. It’s as good at new installs as it is at updating the applications it knows how to handle. Here’s the list of what I used it to install:

7-Zip                 CrystalDiskMark        IrfanView
8GadgetPack           VoidTools Everything   SUMo
Advanced IP Scanner   FileZilla              Revo Uninstaller
CPUID CPU-Z           Google Chrome          Speccy
CrystalDiskInfo       GPU-Z                  WinAero Tweaker

There were a few other odds-n-ends I had to grab to customize Windows Terminal to my usual set-up. This meant using Install-program to install Winfetch, downloading and installing nerd fonts, then going through the OhMyPosh set-up drill to customize my Windows Terminal prompt. I also checked device drivers (and updated the BIOS [UEFI] to version 1.21, using Lenovo Commercial Vantage). A quick download and check of the Intel DSA updated my Arc graphics, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth drivers and supporting software, too. Total time invested: somewhere between 7 and 8 hours over 2 days.

All’s Well … and Working Well, Too!

Yesterday I started working on my AskWoody story and learned a few things I didn’t know about the already familiar P16 ThinkPad. This unit has 64GB RAM (rather than the 128GB as in its predecessor).  USB-A Port 5 (see tech specs) is supposedly USB 3.2 but behaved like USB 2 when I ran CrystalDiskMark on an mSATA device. It jumped to more normal non-UASP SSD speeds when I used a USB-AtoC converter and plugged it into Port 10.2 which is listed as a pair of TB4/USB4 USB-C ports on the rear edge of the laptop. Much better!

So now, I’m back at work and making headway using the replacement P16. Once again, my thanks to the Lenovo Reviews team for their prompt and friendly turnaround on restoring my ability to work (and test) unfettered on this beast of a laptop. Go team!


Send It Back: P16 Goes Home

I’ve been in a pickle since I returned from our family trip this weekend. My beloved and heavily-used Lenovo ThinkPad P16 Mobile Workstation got caught in a “doom loop.” When I asked the reviews team what to do about it, they asked for its return. When they said “Send it back,” P16 goes home to its maker. Now, let me explain what prompted this action.

Why Send It Back: P16 Goes Home

My “doom loop” was insidious because the machine wouldn’t restart. When I instructed it to do so through any and all means (see list), it would hang on the “spinning balls” labeled Restarting, and spin forever. Of course, that greatly limited my repair options, since I couldn’t get at repair stuff through the OS. Before I explain how I would’ve gotten over that hump, let me explain what I tried:

  1.  The Restart option via Start → Power button → Restart
  2. Various other equivalents via the command line (e.g. shutdown /r ...).
  3. Recovery capabilities via Start → Settings → System → Recovery → Advanced startup → “Restart now” button

I even made registry tweaks to turn off Fast Startup and performed an in-place upgrade repair install. None of this worked. I happened to mention this to a member of the reviews team who was working with another review unit I’d just returned to their North Carolina depot. He asked me to return the unit so they could understand what happened. So that’s what I did: I’m expecting a replacement to show up today.

What Would Have Been Next…

While the P16 wouldn’t restart, it would shut down. Thus, I would have shut down, then booted into the BIOS (strike the Enter key during the boot load phase and you still get into the UEFI/BIOS menus). Then, I would’ve attempted repairs from a repair disk of one kind or another (Macrium, Kyhi, DaRT, and more: I’ve got all of them accessible on my Ventoy USB-C NVMe enclosure). Failing repair, I’d have wiped the drive and done a clean reinstall of Windows 11. That pretty much always works.

Instead I’ll unpack a replacement unit later today and restore my most recent backup image from the old machine to the new. That should put me back where I was with minimal time and effort. Stay tuned: I’ll report back on those efforts next week.

Life is always interesting here in Windows-World. That goes double when you have a great group of people like the Lenovo reviews team backing you up!

Out with the Old, In with the New

The replacement unit showed up after lunch Friday (August 4). I didn’t get started on setup, app installs and customization until Saturday (August 5). I’ll be blogging about my adventures with the machine and its specs tomorrow (August 8) as a kind of auto-birthday present (my age will be a prime number greater than 67 and less than 73). TLDR version: great fun, lots of stuff to do, and some interesting nits to pick. However, the new unit restarts without any difficulties. Thanks again, Lenovo Reviews Team: you rock!!!


Failing Backup Signals Regime Change

OK, I think that’ll do it for my current production PC. I noticed this morning what when my scheduled backup started,  it failed almost immediately thereafter. Further investigation into the Macrium Reflect logs shows me it has failed since last Friday. That’s because on the weekends I’m not usually at my desk at 9AM when the scheduled job runs. Upon further investigation, the N: drive where I target my backups had gone missing (it came back after a  restart, though). Nevertheless, this tells me it’s time to start acquiring parts to build a replacement PC. That’s why I aver that a failing backup signals regime change. My 2016 vintage i7 Skylake needs to go.

Why Failing Backup Signals Regime Change

It’s just not right that a drive attached to one of the SATA ports on my Asrock Z170 motherboard should drop off the map over the weekend. And now, dear readers, you know why I schedule my backups to occur while I’m working at the PC: it’s the best way to get timely notification that “something aint’ right.” That’s what happened this morning, and that’s what tells me:

  • I’ll need to keep a close eye on this daily until I transition to a new PC, to make sure scheduled backups run to completion
  • It really, really is time for me to transition over to a new primary production PC

For sure, 7 years isn’t a bad lifetime for a heavily used, major storage PC. Indeed, I’ve got a nominal 17.1 GiB, or approximately 15GB of storage on this beast. Of that total, about 40% (6GB) is occupied, so I’ll throw a couple of new 8 GB SATA drives into my new BOM for the build, along with 2 2TB NVMe PCI-e x4 or x5 SSDs.

It’s Now Official: I’m Transitioning

I’ll wait until August 1 or thereabouts to start pulling parts together for the new build. I’ve already got an Nvidia 3070 Ti GPU and a Seasonic Focus PX-750 PSU I can use. I’ll need a new case, a CPU, 64 GB RAM, the aforementioned SSDs and HDDs, and a motherboard. That will give me something to think about — and report on here in my blog — as the month winds down.

I think I’ll call my old buddy Tom Soderstrom, who still reviews motherboards and CPUs for Tom’s Hardware, to ask for his recommendation on a new build. I need to decide on AMD vs. Intel, after which the rest will follow pretty naturally. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.