Upgrading to Windows 10 and getting the latest bells and whistles is exciting. However, since Windows supports millions of different hardware/software combinations, testing for all of them is simply impossible for Microsoft. Therefore, despite the extraordinary amount of testing that goes into releasing a new version of Windows, there’s always a chance that something will go wrong during an upgrade, leaving you with a non-functional computer.
One way of quickly getting back on your feet is to make a whole system backup in the form of a disk image that will let you go back to a fully functional computer in a snap. In this tutorial, we will show you how to do it with Acronis True Image.
1/ Prepare your Windows PC to be updated
First, you need to get ready to upgrade your PC. For that, you can simply look at the Windows icon near the clock on the corner of the Windows Desktop. Click on it and a simple guide will tell you if you need to “reserve” your Windows 10 installation. These days, there is not much of a line and it’s likely that minutes after reserving it, Windows will start downloading Windows 10 to your machine for installation.
If for some reason the Windows icon does not appear, you may need to install the latest Windows Updates to your PC, or follow Microsoft’s instructions to make it appear.
2/ Install Acronis True Image
To snap a total system backup, you can install Acronis True Image on your PC. I recommend doing this when your PC is ready for an update. This may save a lot of preparation time if you restore and try again later. You can download Acronis True Image with an existing account, or get a 30-day trial version. Acronis will not automatically charge your credit card. The software will simply stop working after that period.
3/ Perform a full-disk backup
In this tutorial, I will assume that you will back up onto a USB drive, but the destination is really up to you. It could be an internal drive, a network drive or even Acronis’ cloud storage. What’s important is that you are 100% sure that it can be accessed by the Acronis Rescue application if you need to.
The backup will save an image of the disk where your Operating System is installed (typically C:), which means that not only the files, but every partition, structure and other system information are saved as well. You can restore it on the original disk, or onto a new disk if you want to.
I’m using all the default configurations, so there’s pretty much nothing to configure out of the box. Here are the steps:
- Launch Acronis True Image.
- Click on the Backup icon at the top left (multiple squares) and if necessary, click on the ‘+’ button lower on the page to add a new backup
- The default option is to backup the “Entire PC”, so leave it as is. That’s what you want
- Select the destination: USB drive, internal drive, or even network storage, that’s up to you
- Click “Back up now” to start the backup, it will take 15-30mn
- The backup is done!
4/ Build a rescue media drive
Next, you will need to create a Rescue Media Drive. This is a bootable USB stick or optical drive with which you can boot into in order to restore a complete disk image. This is very handy if for some reason the Windows upgrade fails, and the computer hangs or crashes during the boot sequence.
- Insert a media ready to be written (USB stick, or optical disc)
- In Acronis True Image, go to the Tools section
- Choose “Rescue Media Builder”
- Choose “Acronis Bootable Rescue Media”
- Chose your media
- Click Proceed. The Media should be ready in a few minutes. You can use this rescue media with other computers too.
Test booting on the Rescue Media drive/disc
Make sure that you can boot on the rescue drive, and that you can browse to your back up file. This is the closest you can get to ensuring that a restore will work, without actually doing it. On Windows 8, pressing F12 during the boot sequence will lead you to a menu from which you select the boot device. If this doesn’t work on your computer, you may want to check the user manual.
I recommend leaving the Rescue Media drive plugged in during the whole process. If you have a single USB drive, this may be a problem – which could be solved by using a USB HUB. Note that I have not tested it, so you may want to try that before proceeding further. Make sure that you can see the backup files from here.
Once you are sure that the Rescue Media drive works, and that you can access the backup from there, let’s go back to upgrading Windows.
You can now reboot into your current version of Windows, and click on the Windows icon near the clock. It will tell you if the download is in progress, or if it is ready to perform the update.
5/ Update to windows 10
Click on the Windows icon near the clock and follow the simple steps to upgrade Windows, and the process can start. Shortly after initializing the update, Windows will reboot, and you will see a screen like the one below. Be patient, it may take 40-60 minutes, but when it’s done, Windows will reboot again, and you should log into Windows 10!
If the upgrade fails, restore your Acronis backup
In my case, the upgrade went without any particular problem, but there are well-documented stories of installation failure, along with very cryptic messages. Normally, you would have to proceed to a “clean install” (from scratch) if all repair attempts fail.
This is majorly inconvenient because you first need to gather all of your data, and move them away to another disk. Then you have to re-install Windows 10 (assuming it works this time), re-install all your apps, then move your data back to the computer. It can take hours, usually you’re never 100% up and running before a couple of days, when you realize little by little that apps, drivers and settings are missing…
Or you can restore from a disk image backup, and be up and running again in 20-30mn. For the sake of this tutorial, let’s assume that my Windows hung, or that it crashed somehow, making my computer unusable. It’s time to go back to our screenshot made just prior to the update.
Restoring the system backup
To go back to the previous system, insert the Rescue Media drive, and boot on it. From the Acronis interface, pick the Restore menu, and browse to your backup location.
- Boot with the Acronis Restore Media
- Go to Disk and Partition Recovery
- Select your latest backup (tip: the timestamp helps)
- Check the “Disk 1” box, to restore the whole drive as it was
- Select the destination disk: here the Toshiba is our laptop’s disk. A warning will pop saying that all data will be erased, and replaced by the backup.
- Click “Proceed”. The restore (recovery) operation will start
- It completed successfully. You can now reboot to the state just prior to the Windows update attempt.
You just saved yourself from a huge hassle. You can try again, knowing that you can fall back easily and safely.
Here are the screenshots and photos, step by step:
Why do upgrades fail?
Before you move on and start again, write down any error number and other failure message.
This is beyond the scope of this article, but the common causes for an update failure are: incompatible device driver, corrupted file, incompatible hardware (too old), incompatible app. Even when the update worked, some people are experiencing Windows Activation issues. Check error codes on the Microsoft site for more info.
Although most Windows updates go without a hitch, it is imperative to have a good backup strategy in case something fails. How much effort you put into that should be a factor of how much time it would save you, and how valuable your data is. In general, I really recommend having data backed up at all time, if possible daily, or in real-time.
I personally use disk images to save myself the hassle of reinstalling Windows from scratch in case anything was to happen. Typically, going from a “clean install” back to a productive state would cripple a day of work, and probably more.
Since you already have Acronis True Image installed, I may suggest that you set up automatic daily backups of your system drive. Finally, it’s a bit outside of the scope of this tutorial, but there is also an option to store backups in the cloud for added protection. Happy upgrading!