Anyone making their living with their computer should follow a couple simple steps.
1) keep the OS/programs on a separate drive from any Data
This allows wiping the OS/Program drive without wiping the data and facilitates the following:
2) Always make an image of the system immediately after loading the system, updating it, loading any main programs used, and any basic customization. *Do this before using the system or going out on the internet any more then necessary to update/activate software. Acronis is relatively straightforward. I recommend making a secure zone on the hd and doing an optical image. The secure zone on the system makes it easy to recover the system, the optical image is your failsafe in case the secure zone becomes damaged or infected. This image should not include any data. Never update the image unless you first restore from the image and then update the system. This prevents infecting the image inadvertently. Use the built in MS Restore Points to do quick and dirty saves of the system state inbetween Imaging.
2b) Test all images to a blank hd if possible. It sx to find out that they don’t work or that you don’t know how to recover from them after a crash. We are not our best in bad situations so we want to be as capable of recovering without too much thinking and we want to know it will work.
3) Only store data on the data drive and back it up as often as one doesn’t want to lose stuff. For some of us that could be multiple times a day.
* The industry is blurring the line between images and backups, using the terms interchangeably. This is unfortunate as they are *not* the same, and doing so encourages bad practices and misunderstanding. Images are the system, backups are the data. Keep them separate for your own sanity.
** I say separate drives but actually the point is separate partitions, it can be on the same physical drive. Separate physical drives do offer minor advantages.
*** Don’t think fancy mirroring systems will help you. These only protect against hardware failure which is much more rare then software corruption or infection. Unless one is a production facility with multiple employees, mirroring is not the answer, imaging and backups are. Mirroring doesn’t negate images and backups, it simply adds another layer of protection for production houses that isn’t cost effective for most small shops.
And sorry to hear of your loss RawArt. I know this doesn’t help after the fact, but I figured since you just rebuilt your system it might come in handy.