What is the best way to create a reusable image of a clean Windows installation?

I've had many unsolved problems on my machine lately and have finally decided to re-install Windows.  I'm running Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) and will install the same OS.  I'd like to save an image of the installation to skip over the tedious installation process.  So my big question is, what tool would be the best for doing this and, as a follow-on, at what point in the re-installation should I create the image?  My options seem to be 1) Immediately after installation and having downloaded all the updates and activated.  2) When I have modified the OS for my environment like re-assigning special folders, removing arrows from short cuts, setting up my wallpaper, etc. or 3) After I've installed and configured my applications, for example Outlook.  I use a lot of email addresses and being able to restore a working and configured Outlook instance would be great.

Thanks,

Peter
Peter023Asked:
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awawadaCommented:
I choose the option 1 for me. We use Acronis True Image 2015 to create images for us.
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Peter023Author Commented:
Thank you.  Does this package cost money?
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btdownloads7Commented:
Acronis products are definitely very easy to use and very versatile. You do have to pay something like $50 for the cheapest version, but it's definitely worth it. Just make sure that you set it to do a full backup (not incremental), and it'll basically create a cloned image of your system.

If you want to use something for free, you can use the Win 7 built-in backup mechanism. Make sure that you make it do a system image, and it'll do exactly what you want. The problem is that you can't really customize the backup options here like you could with Acronis (for example, you can't store multiple images, unless you store them on different backup drives -- the latest image will overwrite the older one).
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David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
Windows Backup create a system image
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Peter023Author Commented:
I'll go and have a look at Acronis.  I was looking for something free, but $50 is not bad if there's a noticeable improvement in functionality.
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nobusCommented:
i suggest to use the FREE Paragon image software : http://www.paragon-software.com/home/br-free/download.html

in case you have startup troubles - they have also a free rescue kit : http://www.paragon-software.com/home/rk-express/
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EirmanChief Operations ManagerCommented:
Storage is cheap - very cheap.
I would definitely go for option 1
And Perhaps option 2
And definitely option 3 (if something goes wrong during customisation, you can always take a step back).

If you are happy with everything you could (after a week or two) delete your option 1&2 images.

For mirroring/imaging consider macrium reflect. Here is a link to the free edition ...
http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx

The only significant thing missing in the free edition that the windows boot option is not installed.
Other than that, the free edition is a really great imaging tool.
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jcimarronCommented:
Peter023 --
And put the backup (system) image on an external drive--not on a drive on the same PC as your operating system.
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nobusCommented:
i often put my images on a 2nd drive - connected to the system
never had problems with it.
but i also have a normal backup - on still another drive
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Peter023Author Commented:
I've never gone back to a closed question before, but my experience with Acronis was so bad that I want to warn everyone else:

I downloaded their trial software. I backed up my entire PC (single drive).  I then tried to restore.  The first thing it did was delete my partition and THEN told me that the backup was corrupt and couldn't be used.  There was ZERO elapsed time between backup and intended restore and the software said the backup was successful.

There is no phone support for home and home office users and their web site is useless.
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nobusCommented:
i do NOT believe that happened  - they would be out of business in no time
what file did you download ? and from what site?
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Peter023Author Commented:
I agree.  But that's what happened.  I downloaded the trial version from here:  http://www.acronis.com/en-us/main_page/

I did a backup, which took 14 hours, and then lost everything.  No phone support, Chat was closed.  Email has 3 day turnaround.

I wrote them a scathing email and have moved on to Paragon.
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nobusCommented:
>>  and then lost everything  << that's very bad; but it can be caused by other things than acronis : hardware, malware, other software...

i can understand you don't trust their product anymore, so i say : try the paragon soft i linked above, and test it out!
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Peter023Author Commented:
Thanks.  I'm doing that today.   I get that other things can go wrong and that this could be some massive fluke, but at the end of the day, they destroyed a partition before verifying the backed up one.  Why the backup was corrupted is up for debate, but they should never, never, ever allow what happened to happen.

Additionally, you probably have a business deal with them.  Their attitude to home and home office customers is substantially less professional.  Just the support alone was enough for me to go elsewhere.

Thanks for staying on this though.
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nobusCommented:
>>   they destroyed a partition before verifying the backed up one  <<  it's been asome time i used TI, but if my memory is right, i believe there is a setting for verifying the back - that you need to check
>>  you probably have a business deal with them.  <<   you are insulting me; i have no deals with any product

>>  Their attitude to home and home office customers is substantially less professional.   <<  i don't have any experience with the support, so i can't take sides here
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Peter023Author Commented:
Sorry, I didn't mean to insult you.  I meant your experience with them is probably through a business and their support is very different.  I appreciate your help on this and have nothing but respect for you.  They don't seem to care at all about home users.
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nobusCommented:
no , my experience with TI is purely personal
>>  They don't seem to care at all about home users.   <<  that won't do much good for their business
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Peter023Author Commented:
NP.  Thanks again for the assist.  All the best.
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