We’ve been reviewing drive imaging software on IT Reviews since this site was launched. In fact the first ever software review was of this type of product.
Imaging tools are handy because you don’t have to worry about individual data and application files. With a few clicks the entire contents of your hard drive – or a particular partition – can be backed up to a single archive file for convenient storage. Recovery from such a backup is usually fast and painless.
We’ve reviewed earlier versions of this Acronis product and, as you’d expect from such a mature software category, the changes to this year’s release are relatively minor improvements.
First, a few words on the interface for the 2009 edition. As well as the main area listing the types of tasks you can carry out, there are tab-like bars for the individual sections, such as ‘Backup and Restore’, ‘Protection State’ and so on.
The fundamental image creation, verificaton and backup tool works well. We particularly like the ability to back up the active Windows partition to itself. In other words, there’s no need to reboot or use a separate partition to store the data. Simply run the task and the backup file will be created on your C: drive. Obviously you should then burn it to DVD or put it on a removable or network drive. Encryption, compression and file-splitting options are available should you need them.
Such ease of use is reflected throughout the interface, from the option of one-click backups where the software decides what to do, through the simple and straightforward activation of the boot recovery tool (which lets you restore your data even if Windows won’t boot) and the Acronis Secure Zone, a hidden area of your hard drive accessible only through the program, which can be used to keep your backups safe (though again, you should really keep them on a separate medium in case of hard drive failure).
The Secure Zone is also used by the ‘Try & Decide’ section of Acronis True Image Home 2009. This lets you install new software or do ‘risky’ things without messing up your existing Windows installation. Launch it, do whatever it is that you want to do, then press the Stop button. At that point you can either discard all the changes that have occurred or merge them into your main Windows setup. Again, it’s simple to use.
Other utilities include a task scheduler to handle backups, disk management to clone a disk or add a new drive, and security tools including a file shredder, system clean-up (for privacy) and secure data destruction.
There are some other handy features in this release. You can extract individual files from backup archives, so there’s no need to restore an entire backup if you only need part of its contents. Incremental or full backups can be carried out, plus you can exclude particular filetypes from the backup and run scripts before and after the backup operation.
You can also mount a backup with a drive letter and access its contents that way (either read-only or by specifying read/write access which appends any changes to a separate backup file). And you can select whether to backup e-mails, the entire system, one or more partitions or a collection of data files that you select yourself.
Problems? In our tests the estimated time for backup completion was wildly pessimistic (wrong by a factor of 50) and on one occasion the backup manager ‘lost’ our archive, though it appeared again a few minutes later. The file itself hadn’t disappeared, just the software’s awareness of it.
Our system also appeared to take longer to boot after Acronis True Image Home 2009 was installed, and was faster again when we uninstalled it. Separately, we’d like to see the validation process – which checks for corruption in backup archives – include the option to perform a file-level comparison with the original data.
All in all, though, this is a powerful and easy to use tool for protecting your system.