Before I start, let me congratulate you! I read far too many posts here and at other places from people who haven't learned a simple truth: Data that is created and not backed up really doesn't exist - and will not exist after the inevitable disaster. That said, let me reply.
1. You may image to DVD, and then do it a second time so you have the second set to take to off-site storage (a good idea, BTW). I prefer imaging to DVD or a second internal hard drive so that the image isn't on the drive with Windows, where it'll be useless in the event of that drive's failure. I do not use an external hard drive, as I just don't trust that the data will be available to me when I will need it.
2. To image a hard drive, you will need a third party program that does this. Plug the phrase "disk imaging software" into any search engine to find available programs. Which program you use is your business; that you can use it without problems, and find it easy to use is what matters. Make sure, however, that the software you choose allows you to verify the integrity of the image after it's created. An unverified backup is no backup!
3&4. A disk image is just that - a 100% byte by byte reproduction of the entire hard drive or partition that you image. A good time to image is right after you reinstall Windows and all applications, and you have everything just so. A proper disk image will have on it your operating system, all installed software, your documents and settings, etc. It will not have on it all changes you make to the computer after you make the image. To secure those changes, your imaging software must have the ability to let you make incremental (records changes made since the last backup of any kind) or differential (records changes made since the last 100% disk image) backups. Make sure that whatever disk imaging software you use allows that, and save those backups to the same place you keep your image (you may use CD's for those subsequent backups, as they will be smaller). For example, when I look on my second internal hard drive for backups, I see a complete disk image and 7 incremental backups. Should a disaster occur, all I need do is restore the original image and all 7 of the incremental backups, and I'm back in business; or you can use a second internal hard drive to store them and also a DVD/CD copy to take to off-site storage. In the case of CD/DVD, the software will tell you how many disks you'll need.
The disk imaging software you choose should have the ability to make a disaster recovery CD/DVD so you can run the software from it in the event that you can't access your system drive or need to restore the image to a new hard drive. Let that be your first task after installing the imaging software.
5. Should you stay with you present backup strategy, Then I'd continue copying "My Documents and Settings" and "Favorites." But is that all you'll need? How about audio/video files? If they're in those folders, good; if not, then you'll need to go further.
For example, I use iTunes as my music player. My iTunes library has songs downloaded from iTunes, which are in the Windows/Users folder (I'm running Vista Home Premium) and mP3 files that reside on my second hard drive in a folder named My Music. I use the backup application in iTunes to copy all these to DVD.
I hope that I've not totally confused you with all this information, but I'm a backup fanatic who became one through one really painful experience. If you have any other questions, please post back, and I or someone else will surely have the answers.
Dell Dimension 4600i/Windows XP Professional/512 RAM/74.4GB HD/48GB in use
My backup strategy has been to burn two copies of 'My Documents' and 'My Favorites? to CD-R (with one copy stored in a secure, yet undisclosed location). I plan to switch to DVD+RW (more disk capacity), but scouring the boards for advice has raised questions. Although I'm not exactly a novice, I do struggle with the lingo, so bear with me.
It appears that, in general, there are two styles of backup: a copy of data files alone (documents, music, pictures, etc.); and, 'imaging' (a copy of the entire hard drive).
1. Can one ?image? to DVD or is this only appropriate for an external hard drive, due to capacity?
2. If DVD?s will work, how many do I need? Is it as simple as knowing my hard drive has 48GB in use, so a half-dozen 8GB DVD?s will do it?
3. Does ?imaging? actually copy everything, including programs? Office XP Pro w/Front Page was factory installed, and Dell did not include the program CD with my computer. If I ever need to reformat my HD, I'd lose Office, and have to re-purchase something for which I've already paid. (They did include an OS recovery disk).
4. What does a backup software program (such as Macrium Reflect and Synchback) do that my current method of drag/drop/burn doesn?t?
5. If I stay with just data backup, should I actually be copying ?My Documents & Settings?? What?s in there (besides ?Favorites?) that would help in case of a system crash?
Thanks for your advice?I?d be lost without these forums!