November 17, 2006

Acronis True Image 9 Home

So good that it almost makes backing up fun

You know, it's almost unfair. Here are all these other programs bravely listing a few features that make them all worthy in their own right, then the outgoing version of Acronis True Image comes along with everything in it. So. File and folder backups? Check. Scheduled backups? Check. Disc and partition cloning? Check. Bootable rescue discs that doesn't need a working Windows install or an accursed floppy drive to recover from? Check. In other words, basically everything that the other apps on test offer, with the exception of Genie's online storage and Second Copy's straight duplication upon a file change trick.

There's more in there still: a back-up archive can be mounted as a virtual drive. So, if you want to recover a missing or damaged file, tell True Image to Plug image and the archive will appear in My Computer as if it was an additional hard drive. Just browse to what you want, copy it to wherever it's supposed to be, then 'unplug' and you're done.

Restricted area

The second killer trick is the Secure Zone®. The program creates a section on your hard drive that it backs up essential data to, which no other app has access to. So if Windows goes down, it won't take the contents of the Secure Zone® with it. Of course, this won't help in the event of mechanical failure, so occasional cloning to a second drive is still recommended. The tool to add a new hard disk and copy your current drive's content and layout to it is also useful if you want to move Windows to a better HDD.

Notably, Acronis manages all this without the bloat and intrusiveness of Norton, and keeps it all within a remarkably simple interface (though manual reading is strongly advised for the disc cloning tool). It's a heck of an achievement and the undisputed winner here.

Archiving awards

The jack of all trades is also the master of most

We went into this test prepared to be lenient. History had us convinced that file backups and drive imaging remained very much apart, two separate disciplines only ever approached on an either/or basis. So, we thought we'd be less critical of applications that could manage only one. The Acronis and Norton entrants proved that you can have your cake and eat it, however, which left a number of their rivals out in the cold.

We feel justified in singling out these two as the best on show. There's very much a need for every PC user to be both saving copies of their most important files off somewhere safe in case of deletion or virus-based accident, and to have a pristine duplicate of their entire system ready to tag-team in and get your PC back on its feet in no time, should something go wrong. You shouldn't have to buy two separate applications to do it.

Cheap as chips

Acronis True Image 9 was a clear winner, offering more features and less desire to stick fingers into every nook and cranny of your PC

True Image 9 Home was a clear winner anyway, offering more features and less desire to stick gnarled fingers into every nook and cranny of your system. Then we checked out how much it can be bought for-and £16 from www.amazon.co.uk or £18 from www.scan.co.uk is just too good to pass up, compared to Norton Save & Restore's ridiculous £50 price tag. We can only hope those prices are still the same by the time you read these words, especially as Acronis flogs a download of the app for around £30 on its own site. Version 10 is due out in a few weeks and it'll be interesting to see what it can offer over its formidable predecessor.

Second Copy 7 presented an interesting challenge. Although more limited than most of the other programs here, its simplicity and efficiency means we'd recommend it if all you want to do is make sure you never lose a document or digital photo. To contradict ourselves very slightly, there's a small case to be made for running both that and Acronis True Image: the latter handling system-wide backups in case of emergency, the former just a handy fallback in case you empty the Recycle bin a little too hastily.

Then there's Drive Image XML, proving that free software is catching up with its retail competition at an alarming rate. If you're reasonably au fait with PCs, then this totally gratis program will be all you need. A lot of the price tag of the other applications is because of their ease of use rather than core functionality.

It comes back to that (hopefully) still available £16 price tag on Acronis True Image, though. It's not quite free, but it's near as dammit for such a mighty fine application.