Bit by Bit struggle

Create disk image

  1. Boot from a live media.
  2. Make sure no partitions are mounted from the source hard drive.
  3. Mount the external HDD
  4. Backup the drive.

# dd if=/dev/sdX conv=sync,noerror bs=64K | gzip -c > /path/to/backup.img.gz

If necessary (e.g. when the format of the external HD is FAT32) split the disk image in volumes (see also the split man pages).

# dd if=/dev/sdX conv=sync,noerror bs=64K | gzip -c | split -a3 -b2G - /path/to/backup.img.gz

If there is not enough disk space locally, you may send the image through ssh:

# dd if=/dev/sdX conv=sync,noerror bs=64K | gzip -c | ssh user@local dd of=backup.img.gz

5. Save extra information about the drive geometry necessary in order to interpret the partition table stored within the image. The most important of which is the cylinder size.

# fdisk -l /dev/sdX > /path/to/

Note: You may wish to use a block size (bs=) that is equal to the amount of cache on the HD you are backing up. For example, bs=8192K works for an 8 MiB cache. The 64 KiB mentioned in this article is better than the default bs=512 bytes, but it will run faster with a larger bs=.
Restore system

To restore your system:

# gunzip -c /path/to/backup.img.gz | dd of=/dev/sdX

When the image has been split, use the following instead:

# cat /path/to/backup.img.gz* | gunzip -c | dd of=/dev/sdX