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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TeraByte Image for Windows v. 2.51a

Image for Windows is almost elegant in its simplicity.

Installation was a very straightforward process, which I accomplished in a matter of minutes. The company offers no installation disks or other media; you have to download the application from the TeraByte Software Web site. The company offers a fully functioning trial version which operates for 30 days and can be used an unlimited amount of times during the trial period. TeraByte also bundles in support for DOS and Linux in its product.

When you launch Image for Windows, you are presented with a basic screen, where you can choose to back up (full or changes only), restore (automatic or manual), validate or copy. There is also a link to a settings screen where you can make changes to an application -- for example, you can change the level of compression or password-protect the image file.

Most users will need to do a full backup only the first time and then back up changes for each subsequent use. Both procedures are very simple: The program prompts you to tell it what to back up, when to back up, where you want the backup to go and what options you want (password, compression level, etc.).

One interesting option is called Phylock, which stands for "physical lock." Phylock's job is to prevent other applications from writing to the hard drive during a backup -- that way no changes are missed during the backup process. The idea here is to prevent data corruption, but the concept may be a little confusing to a neophyte user.

Imaging software

TeraByte Image for Windows

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Image for Windows does have several advanced features -- the company chose to place those features in supplemental applications, which are included with the product. Those applications are accessed separately from the main application. For example, an application called TBIView can be used to open image files created by Image for Windows and select individual files for copying or accessing. You will also find applications for burning images on to DVDs or CDs, creating rescue disks and others.

Performance proved to be quite good. I was able to back up my 70GB of data from a highly fragmented hard drive to a USB 2.0 external hard drive in about an hour and 40 minutes, versus the two hours it took with Acronis.

Subsequent backups only took a few minutes using the "Backup (changes only)" option.

Compared to other imaging products, Image for Windows is very basic. It seems that TeraByte took the approach of keeping the main application simple for new users, while keeping the advanced capabilities separate. That way, neophytes can use the product, while advanced users can hunt for the features that they want.

Conclusions

All three products work exceptionally well when it comes to backing up and restoring a Windows 7 (or earlier OS) PC. Where they differ is in the bundled features.

Paragon Backup and Recovery 10 Suite offers the most robust feature set and an impressive array of advanced features, while TeraByte Software's Image for Windows proved to be the simplest to use and also offers additional (but separate) capabilities that techies will like. Acronis True Image Home 2010 seems to fit right in between the two for ease of use and advanced features.

The best choice comes down to how you expect to use the product. If you're looking to play around with virtual machines, then Paragon would be the ideal pick. If you want online, "in the cloud" backup capabilities, then Acronis would be the best. And finally, if you're looking for technical flexibility and a simple interface, then TeraByte should be your choice.

Frank J. Ohlhorst is a technology professional specializing in products and services analysis and writes for several technology publications. His Web site can be found at www.ohlhorst.net.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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