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Drive Imaging Software Reviewed  

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rcranfield
(@rcranfield)
Leveling Up

This review is based on the theory of ’my loss is your gain’.
Due to 2 separate and recent hard drive failures I have been able to evaluate 2 backup imaging programs and want to report my experiences here. One of them was far easier to use and actually worked.
The two products reviewed are:

Acronis True Image Home $49.99 http://www.acronis.com/
ShadowProtect Desktop $79.95 http://www.storagecraft.com/

This software is designed not just to back up files and folders, but to create a true image of your hard drive that contains all the partitions and software you have installed. This is very helpful in the event of a failure since the typical way most of us handle this is to reinstall the OS, the drivers, then the software we use, and finally do the restore of files and folders from out backup location. With drive imaging, it is just a matter of replacing the image of the drive back on the new or reformatted old hard drive, and everything you had is back to the way it was.
Both of these have free trial versions that will allow you to do backup and restore, but to get the full functionality you will need to buy the software. You cannot do a bare metal restore with either one without the purchased version.

ShadowProtect Desktop.

The user interface is pretty intuitive for basic functions, but not so much for anything past basic backup.. Generating a backup image is easy and on my 100 GB of used space only took about 20 minutes. If need be you can ‘mount’ the image to gain access to the files and folders it contains. Scheduling backups is a part of the initial backup process. I found it more functional to do a complete backup on a weekly basis and erase the previous full backup than to do a full backup and then do incremental ones. This is because the backup interval for a full backup is so short, you can schedule it for a time you know the computer will not be in use. If you do select the incremental backup option you will find that your backup space fills very quickly. I had put my backups on a 250 GB partition. The size of the backup was about 100 GB. But the 250 GB was completely consumed by the first full backup and the first incremental backup. I emailed tech support and asked if this was correct. It seems as if a single full plus one incremental backup should not take that much space. They never answered if that was correct, but did suggest I do the full backup and erase the older versions. That has worked fine.
When my primary drive was failing, I made a good backup image, and replaced the drive. I restored the image from its backup location, including the MBR, to the new disk. And tried to boot to the new disk, but got NTLDR missing errors. I tried repairing the startup (XP) with ‘fixboot’ and, and doing a repair to the MBR but so far I have been unable to access that image from boot. I can access the image from my Vista boot and retrieve files and folders, but the restored image will not boot.

Acronis True Image Home

I don’t have as much to say about Acronis, and in this situation, less is best. I was having ‘RAID access failure’ on my RAID 0 array with the message that the drive on SATA 1.1 was failing. His machine has a triple boot XP/VISTA/WIN7, but only Vista is important. With my experience with ShadowProtect, I thought I would try another option, so I downloaded the trial version of Acronis True Image Home.
Creating a backup image to my external drive was pretty easy and intuitive. I verified the image was in place and removed both hard drives. I wanted to get away from RAID so I installed a single Seagate 1TB HDD. I used the rescue CD I had made from the free trial version to try and restore the image I had made to a partition on the hard drive. The recovery has a formatting and partitioning tool. Unfortunately the trial version lacks the functionality to format or partition the drive. I wish they had said that somewhere when I downloaded the program.
So my first step was to reinstall XP so I could gain access to the backup image of Vista through an operating system. I created a 100GB partition and put XP there. Then installed all the drivers I needed. My external hard drive was not accessible until I installed all updates. I then created a new 500GB NTFS partition in the remaining space on the hard drive. Redownloaded the trial version of Acronis, and restored the image to the new partition. The restore includes the MBR for the drive.
The first try to restore failed. My screen looked like something had crashed in the video drivers with strange colored lines and magnified images. I was able to fix that by adjusting the screen resolution. But I never got a message that the restore had been successful. When I looked at my drives to see if Vista was there, the partition I had made had been erased, and there was one large unallocated area. So I rebuilt the partition, and tried it again. The second time, I did get the message that the restore had been successful. I rebooted expecting to boot into Vista, but XP came up again. SO I got out my Vista installation CD, and did a startup restore. The first time through, no Windows installations were visible, but there was a startup error found and fixed. I rebooted, and again went into XP. So I did the startup repair a second time. This time through, a Vista installation was found and repaired. I did this a third time just to make sure, and on the third time through, no errors were found. So I was able to reboot, and get into my Vista install just like it had been hen I created the backup. Total time taken was about 9 hours, but would have been quicker if we didn’t have a power outage while I was installing XP, and I had to stop at one point to cook dinner, then put up the horses, and I had to watch ‘Heroes’.

There was nothing easy about either program. Both seem to have weaknesses, But the bottom line is it has to work, and it has to be useable for the average person. Since I am still having issues with ShadowProtect, and never have been able to successfully restore my original drive, but I could with Acronis, my vote has to be for Acronis True Image Home. Plus its price is about half that of ShadowProtect.

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Posted : 14/04/2009 6:35 am
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