Hard drive prices are so low now that it really makes sense to use an imaging program. That way you've got a perfectly cloned backup of your system exactly the way you have it configured in case of a crash, which is much more convenient than reinstalling Windows, activating, and loading all your applications all over again.
Here are four great apps to get the job done - without spending a dime!
DriveImage XML. Runtime Software has never placed too much importance on looks, and it's for a very good reason. Their software works really, really well. DriveImage was the first software I used to create images within Windows. Scheduled backups can be created with the Windows Task Scheduler and command line switches. DriveImage is free for private, home use only. Yes, Macrium Reflect does the same thing and looks nicer, but it's $39.99.
For a straight-up, drive-to-drive clone, you can use Runtime's Shadow Copy. Shadow copy is free for everyone, not just home users.
Like DriveImage, XXClone runs in Windows. It has an extremely simple interface, and gives you the option to copy volume ID to your destination and make it bootable. The interface also provides quick access to the Windows disk manager, in case you need to perform some quick drive tasks prior to cloning. XXClone is free for personal, private use.
Those who, like me, prefer imaging from the command prompt should try EaseUs Disk Copy. It's interface looks a bit like a Ghost/Partition Magic mashup. It's very easy to use, handles all types of internal and external drives, and will even work with dynamic disks. DiskCopy is free for everyone.
Linux buffs will urge you to try PING, which I mention in 5 Apps for a Painless Reformat. Ping can clone drives, create bootable recovery media, back up BIOS data, reset passwords, and clean your cat's litter box. Ok, not really, but it's got more tricks up its sleeve than any other free cloning solution.
Did I miss your imaging app of choice? Comment it!