USB Flash Drives — aka UFDs — represent one Windows install medium of choice nowadays, particularly on newer PCs with USB 3 ports when matched up with USB 3 rated flash drives. These speedy little storage devices can deliver a complete Windows 7 install in under 20 minutes, and I’ve been able to install various versions of Windows 8 even faster than that on occasion.
In fact, I’ve started to maintain bootable UFDs with install images for various Windows operating systems to make installation or VM creation as fast and easy as possible. I now have 32- and 64-bit bootable UFD images for Windows 7, Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 all squirreled away on one of my big 3.5″ SATA drives ready for use on relatively short notice. I used to use the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool to create such bootable UFDs using Windows OS .iso files, but have lately switched to the even better Rufus utility instead.
But with 8 images in all, and only 4 small-capacity USB 3.0 UFDs, I needed some way to rotate images to and from those UFDs on an as-needed basis. (FYI, I’ve got 2 Mushkin 8 GB, and 2 Corsair 16 GB UFDs for this purpose, because it’s a waste of space to dedicate anything bigger to such use, given that a complete install image for these OSes runs somewhere between 3 and 5 GB, before you start adding drivers or slip-streaming applications into that mix. My production Win8.1 image is about 9.57 GB as you’ll see in the following examples.)
Pick the UFD you want to back up or restore, then specify a source or destination, and you’re in business.
I discovered that Acronis True Image would make image backups from UFDs a couple of years ago and at first, took this approach to backing up and restoring UFD bootable images for Windows install work. Just recently, however, I discovered Alex Beug’s excellent USB Image Tool (Version 1.64 is the most recent implementation of this nice little “donationware” program). It’s extremely easy to use and works quite nicely. For a USB 2 scenario the program is significantly slower than USB 3: over 18 minutes versus under 6 minutes to back up 9.57 GB of data from my production Windows 8.1 UFD; and over 33 minutes to restore that same backup on USB 2 versus around 11 minutes on USB 3 (that’s because it takes longer to write to a UFD than it does to read from one).
For those Windows sysadmins who sometimes (or often) turn to fast UFDs for Windows installation, UB Image Tool is a very nice additions to one’s toolbox. If you do take advantage of this nice little utility, please do what I just did and send Alex a $2-5 donation (the price of a cup of good coffee, which I arbitrarily decided was 2 Euro in my case) to say “Thanks!” for his good work.