A drive-image or 'ghost' image is without doubt the king of the backups for Windows based machines. It captures the full windows installation on a disk, making it possible to exactly go back to a previously state. For high availability and continuous use it's the only way to tame and live with the unpredictability of a Windows installation.
The ingredients for a drive-image are, a sufficiently large storage location, a fast interface and a drive-imaging program. Making a drive-image doesn't require any special skills, it just planning the time to create one. In less than 1 hour you're usually done using a USB 2.0 external drive.
One of the hidden secrets of drive-image backups of windows installations is that they are limited to the equivalent machine they were installed on. There is very little chance to restore a drive-image on a different machine with a different chipset / motherboard. Only a very narrow path exists - look here. For high availability and continuous use, the only option would be to have a similar machine/motherboard in standby in case the original one fails to run the restored image.
Restoring drive-images requires a bit more knowledge of disk and disk formatting technology. In fact it comes down on having gone through the drive-image restore process. Having to do a drive-image restore as a rookie in total crisis is not a good idea. Practice counts and how bad would it be to restore a drive-image to a second disk and see if it boots your machine, just to see if it works? Keep that bootable CD with the drive-image restore program in a safe place - and make sure it works - because sometimes thats all what's left after a serious crash.
One of the tricks of drive-imaging is to make sure the boot installation partition stays small enough to create fast drive-mages. Create a second paritition for data - and keep the boot parittion equiped with only the most essential programs and data. A nice portable size is 15-20 Gb, taking 20 miuntes to backup over a USB 2.0 connection.