The ghost in the machine: 3 disk imaging apps

Imaging software helps you preserve all your hard drive data. We look at 3 backup apps.

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Acronis True Image Home 2010

While imaging is at the heart of Acronis True Image Home 2010 ($50), it is the way the product functions that helps to set it apart from other backup programs. Usability seems to be the key theme here -- Acronis has done a great job of simplifying everything about backup, from installation to saving data to restoration.

Installation proved to be very easy on my three test systems, taking very little effort. The installation program checks for the latest version of the product and prompts you to download and install the newest version, if available.

One installation issue concerns the product key. To license the product you have to type in a code of 28 digits. Acronis recommends that you cut and paste the code from your registration email -- and I'd second that.

The installer allows you to select where to install the product. For most users, installing everything in the default locations is probably the best bet. Installation takes only a few minutes and may require a reboot.

Launching the product presents users with an attractive, simple tabbed interface with all of the primary functions organized in a logical fashion. The home screen (the first choice) offers an easy path to any of the wizard-based functions, such as backup, recovery, options and so on. Users can drill further down into the products capabilities via tabs, which include backup, recovery, tasks and log, try and decide, and a tab for tools and utilities.

It took about two hours to perform the backup of the 70GB of data. Subsequent backups using an incremental setting only took a couple of minutes, simply because I was only adding a few hundred megabytes to my initial backup each time.

Acronis has introduced some interesting features that users will really appreciate. For adventurous types, Acronis offers "try and decide," which allows you to create a quick backup, install some new software to try out and then restore the system if you don't like the new software.

Imaging software

Acronis True Image Home 2010

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Another feature worth noting is "nonstop backup," which automatically backs up changes to a drive partition every five minutes. Nonstop backup is ideal for users who make changes to their systems frequently, or for small businesses that need to keep their systems up to date -- in case of data loss, only 5 minutes of information will be gone.

The Online Backup Center allows users to back up files and folders to an optional online backup service hosted by Acronis, starting at $4.95 per month for 25GB. That way, you create local backups on a regular basis, and then back up important data files to the Online Backup store -- a best-of-both-worlds approach for protecting a system.

Users can restore data from an image file, which can be located most anywhere - on removable storage, a network share, burned into a DVD, or pretty much any other storage device. The product can also create bootable rescue media -- in other words, a bootable CD that brings up a specialized Acronis operating environment, which can then be used to restore an image file. The special Acronis recovery environment allows users to connect to removable media and network devices, so it is a snap to find an image file and restore it to a hard drive.

Acronis True Image Home 2010 includes a few nice extras, such as the online backup service, the Try and Decide feature, and several tools and utilities that help users with tasks such as safely deleting files and cloning hard drives. The company has pulled all of that off in a clean, easy-to-use package that has very little room for improvement.

All things considered, Acronis True Image Home 2010 is probably the only backup product any Windows user would ever need.

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