I am purchasing a portable external hard drive to make an exact copy/clone of everything exactly the way it is on my laptops internal hard drive. I have downloaded numerous software and applications which I do not wish to spend hours downloading and installing again should the hard drive fail. Can someone recommend to me some tried and tested software that works and is straightforward for a beginner like myself to use? Does Windows OS have this feature built-in? Is there a good, free download available off the net? Or will I have to purchase 3rd party software, Norton Ghost for example? As I mentioned, in case of hard drive failure I want to be able to have a complete back-up so I can simply restore all the information, preferences and layout etc as I have it now onto a new replacement hard disk. I am running Windows XP, SP3.
I've used Acronis for a year or so now without problems for doing full disk backups only. A lot of people seem run into problems when using all the bells a whistles the program offers. For system backup I can't fault it, I've restored my system from within Windows and through the Linux based boot disk on several occasions without problem.
I believe Windows 7 has a full system disk backup program built in, I've never tried using it myself so I can't confirm this but it might be worth looking into if you're using this OS.