Last May, when I asked TechRepublic members to help me find ways to migrate Windows to a new hard drive, I received a steady stream of raves about two programs: Symantec’s Ghost and PowerQuest’s Drive Image. Recently, both companies sent me upgraded versions. From Symantec, I got Norton Ghost 2001, while PowerQuest sent along a copy of Drive Image 4.0. This week, I’ve decided to take a fresh look at these two programs and share my impressions with TechRepublic members.

Both products are $70 utilities that help you create perfect clones of disk partitions. You can save an image file on a hard disk or CD-R or directly copy a partition from one disk to another in the same computer. (Drive Image Pro 4.0, which I didn’t evaluate, adds the capability to save and restore images over a network—a feature that’s essential for administrators in large organizations.) Creating and restoring a disk image is much easier than messing with backup software when you need to recover from a complete system crash or quickly deploy a standard configuration on a new computer. Both programs provide robust data compression and a range of media-spanning options, allowing you to store an image file on multiple CDs, for example.

After putting Ghost and Drive Image through their paces for nearly a month, I’m ready to nominate Drive Image to the Windows Hall of Fame. Ghost is good, but Drive Image does everything that program does, and it’s much easier to use.

The new versions of Drive Image are completely compatible with every version of Windows, including Windows 2000 and Windows Millennium Edition. Norton Ghost will only run from bootable floppy disks, as was the case in previous versions of Drive Image. Drive Image 4.0, on the other hand, installs under Windows. When you want to create or restore an image file, you double-click the program shortcut. Drive Image will then temporarily replace the boot sector with its own code, allowing you to reboot in DOS, perform your imaging tasks, and restart Windows without ever touching a floppy disk.

On my test systems, Drive Image had no problems with FAT32 and NTFS partitions of varying sizes. It allowed me to read and write from any partition on any disk, whether it had a drive letter or not, and it recognized an IDE CD-ROM drive (accessing a SCSI CD drive requires a boot floppy with the proper ASPI drivers). Creating and restoring disk images was blindingly fast. After installing a clean copy of Windows 2000, updating it with Service Pack 1, tweaking drivers, and installing my favorite utilities, I was able to save an image of the 1.5-GB partition in less than 10 minutes, and restoring it took roughly the same amount of time. Extracting individual files from a saved disk image is also easy with the Image File Editor utility, which runs from within Windows.

If you plan to try Drive Image, I have two cautions for you. First, if your PC’s BIOS includes boot sector virus detection, it will go off when you run Drive Image. That’s not surprising because the utility patches the boot sector temporarily to do its magic. Ignore the warnings (or disable boot virus protection) to continue. Second, watch out for a known bug when restoring image files larger than 700 MB on a system with an ATA-66 disk controller.

If you’re comfortable with Norton Ghost, should you switch? Not necessarily. Ghost 2001 does everything you need. But if you’re investing in disk imaging software for the first time, I strongly recommend Drive Image 4.0 for its ease of use. I welcome your feedback, too—click the link below to add your comments about either of these programs.

Here’s Ed’s new Challenge
In this week’s Microsoft Challenge TechMail, I included a link to an impressive new security document from CERT, which provides important information and advice about ActiveX controls. Have you read the Security in ActiveX report? Are you planning to change your security policy toward ActiveX based on the information in this report? If you already have an ActiveX security policy, share it with your fellow TechRepublic members and earn up to 2,000 TechPoints. Click here to tackle this week’s Microsoft Challenge.