I recently had a boot drive failure, from which I was able to recover, not the way I had planned or tested! System is Dell Dimension 8300, XP SP3.
I have Ghost 14.0 and had backups of the C:\drive, as well as tested Symantec Recovery CDs (by tested, I mean that I was able to interrupt the BIOS boot-up and boot from that CD, and enter the Symantec Recovery environment). When the C:\ drive failed, I couldn't boot into the Symantec Recovery Environment from those tested CDs. I had my windows system recovery disk, booted from that, ran chkdsk /r, and frankly, I feel a miracle occurred and the drive booted. There were many iterations of booting from the windows system recovery disk and trying various options, as well as booting from Seagate Utilities disk. I quickly ordered a new drive and used Ghost 14.0 to clone the existing faulty drive to the new drive (had to open the chassis, remove the existing 2nd internal hard drive, etc.), and was able to get up and running. I had to rely extensively on Norton forums to accomplish a good clone. I feel very lucky.
This process seems to have been harder than it should be! Unless I'm mistaken, it seems that in the Mac world, one can clone a boot drive to an external drive, and actually boot and work from that external drive. I'm not referring to a boot disk which just gets the OS up and running, but an actual copy of the entire hard drive (in my case, I only have one partition), so that all the OS, applications, files, are maintained, and one can work completely from that bootable drive.
The question is: can one create such a stand-alone clone of an XP or Vista drive/partition? Would it work with USB, Firewire, eSATA? I have googled this type of question and pulled up some phishy/misleading application sites, rather than real information. I've gone to the MS Vista/XP help pages, and found only information on boot disks or recovery disks.
I've ordered a new computer, Vista, which should arrive in a few weeks, and I'm trying to think ahead about better ways to recover from drive failures. I also have an XP SP3 laptop, which has no backup strategy! There is no data stored on this laptop, so a failure would be OS/application re-install.