Alex Byron / PC911
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Acronis True Image 6.0
I remember way back when I was still living in Germany, my little sister was crazy about David Hasselhoff. She had several of his albums (shudder), and Knight Rider was mandatory TV viewing. Back then, Hasselhoff was big in Europe, yet here in the US nobody had ever heard of him. Acronis' (who originated in Russia) True Image drive imaging software has been in a similar situation well-known in Europe but virtually unknown in the US but with one major difference: its performance does not induce violent retching.
What does it do?
In a nutshell, Acronis True Image 6.0 (TI6) is drive imaging software, plain and simple. It enables you to create an image of partitions on your hard drive as a backup in case of disaster, and allows you to restore the image when disaster has struck, e.g. you accidentally wiped out a partition, your hard drive crashed, or your little sister deleted all your data to make room for David Hasselhoff MP3s.
Acronis True Image 6.0 runs on Windows 95/98, ME, NT4, 2000, and XP. It supports FAT16/32 and NTFS, as well as the Linux Ext2, Ext3, and ReiserFS file systems.
OK, that sounds good, but there are already two other programs out there, namely Symantec's Norton Ghost and PowerQuest's Drive Image that do the same thing, so what makes Acronis True Image 6.0 even worth your attention? Let's take a look at some of its features.
The most amazing feature of TI6 can create an image of a system partition that is currently in use. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard correctly, no more booting into DOS in order to image your Windows system partition. This feature alone puts it ahead of DI and Ghost because it makes TI6 great for everyday backups while you are in Windows. Now there are no more excuses not to image your hard drive because you can do all your drive imaging from within Windows. The only time you have to reboot into DOS is when you need to restore an active system partition. Non-sytem partitions can be restored in Windows.
The great part about restoring a system partition is that if you start the process in Windows, the program will inform you that you have to boot into DOS, but it offers to do it for you. Clicking that option reboots your PC into DOS and starts TI6 without the need for a TI6 boot disk! The way this is accomplished is by replacing the Master Boot Record (MBR) with one that loads a Linux RAM-disk and Linux kernel with the Acronis True Image 6.0 application. When the program is finished, the original MBR is restored and the computer is rebooted back into its usual mode.
The only time you need a TI6 boot disk is when your system partition is funked up beyond all recognition. For that situation, TI6 prompts you to create a bootable rescue disk during the initial program installation. The nice thing here is that you get the choice to create either a set of three floppies, or a bootable CD if you have a burner. The CD is great for laptops without floppy drive, also because it boots much much quicker than three floppies. But that's not all: to put the cherry on the pie, the rescue disk already has built-in support for SCSI, CD burners, DVD burners, and network adapters! You do not have to supply or choose drivers to include on the disk, or mess with the boot files on the disk, just to find out that something doesn't work like it can easily happen with Ghost or Drive Image.
Again, Linux is the secret behind the magic. The bootable CD contains a Linux kernel with network and SCSI drivers and the Acronis True Image 6.0 application. Using Linux allows Acronis to offer much better hardware support than ever possible in DOS. It also supports the majority of USB 1.0/2.0 and PCMCIA devices. While FireWire is not yet supported since the FireWire support in Linux is still experimental, it is expected to follow with the new Linux kernel release.
Another outstanding feature of TI6 is its ease of use. I call it hands-down the easiest drive imaging software due to its great wizard interface with detailed instructions and explanations in each window. Drive Image and especially Norton Ghost can be very intimidating to beginner to intermediate users, but not TI6. Every operation is wizard driven utilizing a comfortable XP-style interface both in Windows as well as in non-Windows mode, asking the user simple questions while supplying detailed explanantions on the possible choices. This makes the well-written and nicely laid out manual almost superfluous...
What's the catch?
There are a few drawbacks to the program that need to be mentioned as well.
First of all, I find it a bit unsettling that there is no option to verify the integrity of the image file. You create the image and hope for the best, but you won't know whether the image is bad until you try to restore it. However, it is possible to mount the finished image as a drive to verify that it works, and the software does verify the partition before the imaging process.
Also disappointing is that there are no scheduling options. As the software is so well suited for everyday backups, it should offer a way to schedule nightly images for complete hands-off backups.
Another nice touch would have been to include the capability to clone a drive directly to another drive, e.g. when replacing hard drives. TI6 requires you to make an image first.
While the software includes the ability to resize and move partitions, it does not offer the option to create a new partition when creating a new image file.
It is also obvious that this software is aimed at the beginner to intermediate home or small office user. The software does not offer advanced enterprise-style functionality such as network management, SID changing, etc. which can be found in Norton Ghost Enterprise Edition or PowerQuest DeployCenter.
Lastly, the only form of support currently available in the US is via e-mail. Acronis guarantees a 48 hour turnaround for registered users, but there is no other more direct contact form such as a message board or phone support. In Europe, phone support is offered on a pay-per-minute basis.
My PC runs 24/7 and always has dozens of applications open. Therefore it is always a hassle to boot into DOS to do a drive image, resulting in less frequent images than necessary. Having the option to run images while in Windows is awesome and will certainly cause me to make images much more often.
Norton Ghost and Drive Image have irritated me in the past with the ornery process of creating a proper boot disk. Trying to configure it with the proper SCSI and network adapter drivers can eat up hours and lead to frustration. Having the bootable TI6 CD that comes with everything makes it so much more pleasant.
I have also run into problems in the past with Norton Ghost and Drive Image where one would not read the contents of a hard drive, would lock up when selecting the SCSI CD burner, restored images acted funky, etc. I never reached a satisfying comfort level with either program. TI6 however has been working like a charm. For this review I spent several days creating and restoring countless images on and between 4 different PCs using multiple OSs and file systems. The program worked perfectly no lockups, no drive read problems, no corrupt images just complete drive image bliss.
This program has really impressed me. It's been a while since a computer-related product has gotten me this excited. Great features, ease of use, and flawless performance make this quality program an awesome absolute must-have utility. On top of that it is cheaper than Ghost or Drive Image. What else can you ask for? Being a new contender in the US market you'd think it will be hard to compete with the established leaders Symantec and PowerQuest in this category, but TI6 is guaranteed to give them a serious run for their money. I seriously think that a few releases later TI6 will kick Ghost and Drive Image's ass up and down the aisles at Fry's. It is very refreshing to see a great new program like TI6 appear. I strongly recommend Acronis True Image 6.0 to our readers, especially beginning users that are new to drive imaging software. I give Acronis True Image 6.0 the PC911 kick-ass product of the year award for being such an outstanding piece of software.