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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Paragon Backup and Recovery 10 Suite

Paragon Software has been offering backup and disk management tools since 1994 and the company's expertise is evident in the its newest product: Paragon Backup and Recovery 10 Suite. The software comes in both 64 bit and 32 bit versions; I downloaded both for testing.

I found installation to be straightforward. I was prompted for a product key and serial number; just as with Acronis, your best bet is to copy and paste the key code and serial number from the registration e-mail or your account on the Paragon Web site. (When you purchase a Paragon product, you create an account on Paragon's site, which then becomes the portal to download products and get license codes and product keys.)

Launching the application brings up an attractive interface that is clearly aimed at making the product easy to use. First-time users can quickly identify how to perform backups, restore files or do any other basic task, all without having to refer to a manual.

Large descriptive menu buttons make it easy to launch wizards that make backup, restoration, file selection, creating rescue media and building schedules relatively straightforward. A tabbed interface located on the left side allows users to drill down into some of the more advanced features, such as converting images to virtual hard drives or browsing existing images to copy individual files.

Most users will find using the Smart Backup option the way to go. It is very easy to use and offers a good level of customization during the definition process. Options let you target e-mails, media files, or documents, or manually select specific files. The product offers multiple options for the location of a backup files, including network drives, burn to DVD and store to any FTP site.

Imaging software

Paragon Backup and Recovery 10 Suite

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On the other hand, some users may be confused by the product's virtual mode. Basically, all operations are "stored" and do not occur until you hit an "apply" button to activate the task -- in other words, it actually looks like a backup is occurring, sort of a full dress rehearsal. Advanced users can forgo the virtual mode by changing the program's preferences.

One very nifty feature is the product's ability to convert an image into a virtual hard drive. That way, if you system fails altogether, you can run that image as a virtual hard drive on a system running desktop virtualization. That could prove to be a fast way to retrieve important data or run applications during a system disaster.

The product also offers a backup component that is loaded in the system tray, which handles automating the backup process using a snapshot process. This creates a static version of the current data on the hard drive. When the application detects changes in the data on the hard drive by comparing snapshots, an incremental backup is executed.

Performance was adequate. I was able to back up the 70GB of data in about two hours and 15 minutes. Subsequent backups using the incremental setting only took a few minutes, depending upon how much information was changed on the hard drive.

Where Paragon Backup and Recovery 10 Suite really shines is with features such as the ability to back up, restore and convert virtual hard drives, as well as create WinPE bootable rescue media.

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