Bought some DVD+R discs yesterday and created the HP Recovery Discs for T's new Vista PC. This means the course of system recovery is:
1) Perform factory-setting rebuild using recovery partition
2) If hard drive has died completely, use the Recovery Discs
There is also a bootable Hardware Diagnostics boot disc which could help identify problems. Of course, this won't recover any user data, so for that, Vista has a built-in backup program.
The Backup and Restore Center is different depending on the version of Vista being used. The Home Premium version (T's machine) supports backing up user data files, but not the entire machine. The Business version has the ability to do user data files, but can also backup the entire computer in the form of an image (a la Ghost).
On the Home version, backing up was a breeze. I had attached a 160GB LaCie D2 drive over Firewire (400) which Vista automatically picked up. I pointed the program to the external driveand it prompted me to select a backup schedule. The default was to create a weekly backup every Sunday night which I accepted. The backup kicked off and went and did its stuff and that was that.
Very easy and impressive. Given the amount and type of data people store on a PC these days, the ability to do a backup is essential and for it to be used, the process must be painless. Vista appears to have got this right (of course, the ability to restore is also critical, but that's for another day).
On an unrelated note, my RAM upgrade has arrived for my second Shuttle, so this should see the start of the big virtualisation project soon.