Drive imaging is in some ways an answer to a question that needn't exist any more. As a few others have said, you need to distinguish between recovery and backup, that is, between system and data. Putting them both on the same volume/partition is not something a sophisticated user wants to do.
Separated, they present different problems.
Your options are limited on a factory built laptop, but you can create a new partition after shrinking the existing one. Under Windows, you may need to delete the swap file and System Restore data first.
Now back up your data. Robocopy and rsync are quite cheap, but it's 2014 so I'd add something like Carbonite. After nearly ten years I still don't know of anything offering better value for a single workstation. For hundreds of thousands of files, it's a bit of a hog. There's a small business version; never tried it.
As for the OS, consider concentrating on being able to rebuild it, not necessarily restore it. Highly customized OS instances make less and less sense the more of them you regularly use. Instead they should be generic and dispensable. To that end, where feasible, I install only VirtualBox on the metal and use VMs day to day. The underlying OS is less likely to get mangled, and if a VM gets mangled, roll back or restore.
On the metal: bare OS, backup solutions, hypervisor. System recovery, plus install disks (and licences where applicable).
On a fast partition: VMs. Tweaks possible depending on architecture.
In your VMs: user customizations and apps. Local disk to disk backup.
On a slow partition: user data. Disk to disk plus cloud backup.