I've researched this without getting a clear answer to the question: "Are there any differences in the backup image created through Windows 7 when compared to an image created with third party software, i.e. Acronis?"
I have successfully used images I created with Acronis software to restore machines at work after hard drive failures and other catastrophic incidents. The restored system included program files, data, and the system configuration; the new machine was an exact snapshot of the previous machine as it was when the image was created.
Will Windows 7 also accomplish this, or does it limit the backup (i.e. only operating system, or OS & program files without data)? web research indicates that it will have everything, but short of spending the time to test this I thought it would be best to verify that here. Thanks in advance!