1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: User Interface & Functionality
  3. Part 3: Conclusion


August 28, 2006

by Miles Cheatham

BJorn3D web site

Acronis True Image 9.1 Workstation

Rating: 9/10

User Interface & Functionality

After installation is completed a system reboot is required to properly set up components in the Windows' registry. After completion of the reboot the software package is available for use. Clicking on the Workstation icon on your desktop will bring up the Acronis True Image Workstation primary screen, which is the user's primary interface to all the functions that this package has to offer.

The main program window contains a menu, toolbar, sidebar, Active Tasks pane and main area. The main area contains operation icons, while the sidebar features Tools and Help panels.

Acronis True Image Workstation User Interface

Most of the operations are represented two or even three times in different window areas, providing several ways to select them for more convenience. For example, you can start the necessary operation or tool by clicking its icon in the main area or by selecting the same item from the Operations or Tools menu.

Acronis True Image Workstation Task Group

The Task group contains the following operations:

  • Backup — create a backup archive
  • Recovery — restore data from a previously created archive
  • Clone Disk — transfer the OS, applications and data from an old disk to a new one
  • Add New Disk — add a new disk for data storage leaving the OS and applications on the old one.

Acronis True Image Workstation Tools Group

The Tools group contains the following items:

  • Mount Image — connect a disk/partition image as a virtual drive
  • Unmount Image — disconnect the connected virtual drive
  • Validate Backup Archive — run an archive integrity checking procedure
  • Show Log — open Log Viewer window
  • Manage Acronis Secure Zone — create, delete and resize a special hidden partition for storing archives (Acronis Secure Zone)
  • Activate Acronis Startup Recovery Manager — activate the boot restoration manager (F11 key).
  • Manage System Restore — turn on/off the Microsoft Windows System Restore tool and set its options directly from Acronis True Image Workstation

User Interface & Functionality

Acronis True Image Workstation Active Tasks

The Active Tasks pane displays scheduled and currently-being-executed tasks. It features its own toolbar. You can customize this toolbar view by right-clicking on it and selecting the desired options.

Acronis True Image Workstation Tool Bar

Acronis True Image Workstation Tools Side Panel

The "Tool Bar" located below the "Program Menu" and the "Tools Side Panel" are nothing more than redundant locations to implement the functions already discussed. The side bar can be hidden or left visible at the user's discretion. Acronis gives the user a variety of different mechanisms to implement the same tasks, with the only differences being the visual appeal to the user for how that task should be started or ended.

Local Installation Features

As previously stated we are limiting this review to a local installation of the latest build (3718) of Acronis True Image Workstation 9.1. Let's take a look at the functions at our disposal:

  • Backup and restore data, including system disks/partitions: Click Backup or Recovery, then follow the Wizard's instructions.
  • Schedule backup operations: Click the very left button on a tasks pane toolbar, then follow the Wizard's instructions.
  • Set up backup/restore options, such as system/network resources usage, before/after backup commands etc.: Select Tools -> Options -> Default backup options or Default restoration options and choose settings.
  • Validate backup archives wherever they reside, be it local, network or removable media: Click Validate Backup Archive, then follow the Wizard's instructions.
  • Set up sending notifications about Acronis True Image Workstation operation and tracing this operation in Windows Application Event Log: Select Tools -> Options -> Notifications or Event tracing and choose settings.
  • Browse logs of Acronis True Image Workstation operation: Click the very right button on a tasks pane toolbar at the bottom of the window.
  • Manage Acronis Secure Zone: Click Manage Acronis Secure Zone, then follow the Wizard's instructions.
  • Activate Acronis Startup Recovery Manager: Click Activate Acronis Startup Recovery Manager, then follow the Wizard's instructions.
  • Mount partitions' images to explore and modify their contents, or to restore individual files: Click Mount image, then follow the Wizard's instructions.
  • Unmount previously mounted partition images: Click Unmount image, then follow the Wizard's instructions.
  • Transfer the system to a new hard disk
  • Format partitions on a new hard disk
  • Add a new hard disk
  • Turn on/off Windows System Restore tool
  • Create bootable rescue media, its ISO or RIS package

Some of the above operations can be executed in the command-line as well. Acronis True Image Workstation (local version) supports the command-line mode, as well as the GUI mode, and can be used to execute XML scripts.

Snap & Universal Restore

Two of the main selling points to me of the Workstation Edition vs. the Home Edition are a standard feature called Active Restore and an optional feature called Universal Restore. With Active Restore you can boot the OS on a crashed computer before the system is completely restored from an image, and start work seconds after restoration is launched. Universal Restore is a $30 option but fulfills one of my dreams for imaging software, it allows you to restore an image not only to the computer hardware the initial image came from but to virtually any system. Yes! I didn't make a typo, I said virtually any system! Let's explore how each of these two features works in a little more detail.

Active Restore

This feature is currently available for images being restored from Acronis Secure Zone. Acronis Secure Zone is a special hidden partition for storing archives on the computer system itself. Naturally, Acronis Active Restore cannot be used if the image contains no operating system (a logical partition or disk image) or when restoring file archives. Also, Active Restore of Windows 98/Me systems is not supported.

When the restoration procedure is started, Acronis True Image Workstation:

  • Finds the sectors in the image which contain system files, and restores these sectors first. Thus, the OS is restored and can be started in a very short timeframe. Having started the OS, the user sees the folder tree with files, though file contents still are not recovered. Nevertheless, the user can start working.
  • Writes on the hard disk its own drivers, which intercept system queries to the files. When the user opens files or launches applications, the drivers receive the system queries and restore the sectors that are necessary for the current operation.
  • At the same time, Acronis True Image Workstation proceeds with the complete sector-by-sector image restoration in the background. However, requested sectors of the system have the highest priority.
  • Finally, the image will be fully restored even if the user performs no actions at all. But if you choose to start working as soon as possible after the system failure, you will gain at least several minutes, considering that restoration of a 10-20 GB image (most common image size) takes about 10 minutes. The larger the image size, the more time you save.

To be able to use Acronis Active Restore in case of system crash, prepare as follows (you can do it either locally, using Acronis True Image Workstation local version, or remotely, using Acronis True Image Management Console):

Install Acronis True Image Workstation local version or Acronis True Image Agent on the local computer. Create Acronis Secure Zone on the local computer hard disk. Activate Acronis Startup Recovery manager and create bootable media or RIS package with Acronis True Image Workstation. Back up (image) the local computer's system disk to Acronis Secure Zone. You can back up other disks/partitions as well, but the system image is mandatory. When performing Active Restore, the current Acronis True Image Workstation version always restores the entire system disk. Therefore, if your system disk consists of several partitions, all of them must be included into the image. Any partitions which are missing from the image will be lost.

If failure occurs, boot the local computer from the bootable media, or RIS server, or using F11. Start the recovery procedure, select the system disk image from Acronis Secure Zone, choose Use Active Restore and in the next window click Proceed. In a few seconds the computer will reboot to the restored system. Log in and start work — no more reboots or other actions are required. You can perform Active Restore running Acronis True Image Workstation in Windows operating systems as well. However, it is mandatory to have bootable media in case Windows cannot boot.

Universal Restore

A system disk image can be deployed easily on the hardware where it was created. However, if you change, for example, a motherboard or use another processor version, which is likely in case of hardware failure, the restored system could be unbootable. An attempt to transfer the system to a new, much more powerful computer will usually produce the same unbootable result because the new hardware is incompatible with the most critical drivers included in the image.

Using Microsoft System Preparation Tool (Sysprep) does not solve this problem, because Sysprep permits replacing drivers only for Plug-and-Play devices (sound cards, network adapters, video cards etc.). As for system Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) and mass storage device drivers, they must be identical on the source and the target computers.

Acronis Universal Restore technology provides an efficient solution for hardware-independent system restoration by replacing the crucial Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) and mass storage device drivers. Acronis Universal Restore allows automatic or manual selection of the HAL and mass storage device drivers to fit the target hardware. It is important to note, that the primary goal of Acronis Universal Restore is to boot the restored system. The current version of this product handles only HAL and mass storage device drivers and does not install drivers for other devices (sound cards, network adapters, video cards etc.).

Once the restored system starts, Windows takes control and initiates the usual first-start process. At this point, you will be able to specify drivers for other devices if Windows cannot find them automatically. Acronis Universal Restore does not conflict with Microsoft System Preparation Tool (Sysprep). If you got accustomed to using Sysprep, you can use both tools on the same system. Acronis Universal Restore is an add-on to Acronis True Image Workstation. It is purchased separately and installed from a separate setup file.

How to Use Universal Restore:

  • You can perform the following procedures either locally or remotely, using Acronis True Image Management Console:
  • Boot the target computer into Acronis recovery environment from the bootable media, or RIS server, or using F11.
  • Start the recovery procedure (see 7.3 Restoring disks/partitions or files from images) and select the image of the source computer for restoration.
  • You can specify Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) and mass storage device drivers to be used by the restored system and/or provide a path to a driver repository on the network. Hence, Acronis Universal Restore uses three sources for drivers search: the list of user-specified (enforced) drivers, driver repository, and the Windows default driver storage folders (in the image being restored). The program will find the most suitable drivers of all available and install them into the restored system. However, the user-defined drivers will have the priority. They will be installed, with an appropriate warning, even if the program finds a better driver. The Windows default driver storage folders are determined in the registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\Current version\DevicePath. Generally, it is WINDOWS/inf folder.
  • When the restore process runs, Acronis True Image Workstation will:
    • detect the machine type and install appropriate drivers for HAL
    • detect IDE and SCSI controllers and install appropriate drivers.
  • If no appropriate drivers are found in any of the three sources above, the user will be prompted to browse the following locations for the drivers:
    • Network share drive
    • Floppy disk
    • CD drive
  • The machine reboots.
  • Windows takes control and initiates the usual first-start process. The recovery procedure can run under Windows as well (for example, if the operating system is loaded from the C: drive, the system partition of the other computer can be restored from an image to the D: drive). In this case, the user prompt for driver search on Network-Floppy-CD will not be issued. If a compatible driver cannot be found, Windows will suggest to ignore it or cancel restoration.

I tested both of these functions and found each of them to work as stipulated. Universal Restore can get a bit complicated when moving from say an Intel based computer to an NVIDIA based computer. When I say complicated, I mean this from the standpoint having to mentally be aware of the necessary drivers to remove and install. Other than this little caveat, I was highly impressed to say the least.

Other Functions

Acronis Startup Recovery Manager

Acronis Startup Recovery Manager enables starting Acronis True Image Workstation on a local computer without loading the operating system. With this feature, if operating system won't load for some reason, you can run Acronis True Image Workstation by itself to restore damaged partitions. As opposed to booting from Acronis removable media or RIS server, you will not need separate media or network connection to start Acronis True Image Workstation. It is especially handy for traveling users.

How to Use Acronis Startup Recovery Manager

To be able to use Acronis Startup Recovery Manager at boot time, prepare as follows (you can do it either locally, using Acronis True Image Workstation local version, or remotely, using Acronis True Image Management Console):

  • Install Acronis True Image Workstation local version or Acronis True Image Agent on a local computer.
  • Create Acronis Secure Zone on the hard disk of the local computer
  • Activate Acronis Startup Recovery Manager. To do so, click Activate Acronis Startup Recovery Manager and follow the Wizard's instructions.

If you try to activate Acronis Startup Recovery Manager while Acronis Secure Zone is missing from the system, you will be prompted to create the zone, then Acronis Startup Recovery Manager will be activated. Otherwise, Acronis Startup Recovery Manager will be activated immediately.

When Acronis Startup Recovery Manager is activated, it overwrites the master boot record (MBR) with its own boot code. If you have any third-party boot managers installed, you will have to reactivate them after activating the Startup Recovery Manager. For Linux loaders (e.g. LiLo and GRUB), you might consider installing them to the boot record of a Linux root (of boot) partition instead of MBR before activating Acronis Startup Recovery Manager.

If failure occurs on a local computer, turn on the computer and press F11 when you see the "Press F11 for Acronis Startup Recovery Manager" message. This will run a standalone version of Acronis True Image Workstation that only slightly differs from the complete version.

Be careful! Disk letters in the standalone Acronis True Image Workstation might sometimes differ from the way Windows identifies drives. For example, the D: drive identified in the standalone Acronis True Image might correspond to the E: drive in Windows.

Acronis Secure Zone

The Acronis Secure Zone is a special hidden partition for storing archives on the computer system itself. For archive security purposes, ordinary applications cannot access it. In the Acronis True Image Workstation Wizards' windows the zone is listed along with all partitions available for storing archives. Acronis Secure Zone is necessary for using Acronis Startup Recovery Manager and Acronis Active Restore features.

Acronis Secure Zone is always available for archive creation as long as there is space for backup file. If there is not enough space, older archives will be deleted to create space.

Acronis True Image Workstation uses the following scheme to clean up Acronis Secure Zone:

  • If there is not enough free space in the zone to create a backup, the program deletes the oldest full backup with all subsequent incremental/differential backups.
  • If there is only one full backup (with subsequent incremental/differential backups) left and a full backup is in progress, then the old full backup and incremental/differential backups are deleted.
  • Otherwise, (only one full backup is left, and an incremental/differential backup is in progress) you will get a message about space error. In that case you will have to either re-create the full backup or increase Acronis Secure Zone.

Thus, you can back up data automatically on a schedule without worrying about issues of zone overflow. However, if you keep long chains of incremental backups, it will be a good practice to periodically check zone free space, indicated on the second page of the Manage Acronis Secure Zone wizard.

Acronis Rescue Media

You can run Acronis True Image Workstation on bare metal or on a crashed computer that cannot boot. You can also back up disks on a non-Windows computer, copying all its data sector-by-sector into the backup archive. To do so, you will need bootable media with the standalone version of Acronis True Image Workstation.

If you purchased a boxed product, you already have such a bootable CD, because the installation CD contains, besides the program installation files, the bootable standalone version of AcronisTrue Image Workstation. If you purchased Acronis True Image Workstation on the Web, you can create bootable media using the Bootable Media Builder. For this, you will need a CD-R/RW blank, DVD-R/RW blank, several formatted diskettes (the wizard will tell you the exact number), or any other media your workstation can boot from, such as a Zip drive.

Acronis True Image Workstation also provides the ability to create an ISO image of a bootable disk on the hard disk. If there is a Microsoft RIS server in your local network, an IT administrator can save the bootable data on this server as well. Then any networked computer will be able to boot Acronis True Image Workstation from the RIS package.

If you have other Acronis products, such as Acronis Disk Director Suite, installed on your computer, you can include standalone versions of these programs on the same bootable disk as well.

This feature is available both in Acronis True Image Workstation local version and Acronis True Image Management Console. However, Acronis True Image Management Console does not contain Rescue Media Builder in its own installation. Therefore, to be able to create bootable media/RIS package from Acronis True Image Management Console, you must have Acronis True Image Workstation or another Acronis product including Rescue Media Builder installed on the same computer.

If you have chosen not to install the Bootable Media Builder during installation of Acronis True Image Workstation, you will not be able to use this feature.

  • Click Create Bootable Rescue Media on the toolbar or the sidebar, or select Create Bootable Rescue Media from the Tools menu. You can also run the Bootable Rescue Media Builder without loading Acronis True Image Workstation by selecting Programs -> Acronis -> True Image -> Bootable Rescue Media Builder from the Start menu.
  • Select which components of Acronis programs you want to place on the bootable media.

Acronis Media Builder Option Screen

<< Part 1: IntroductionPart 3: Conclusion >>