By Greg Ross
More often than not, users don't realize the importance of backing up their data until it's too late. A hard drive dies, a folder is deleted, or a virus attacks an operating system and leaves the user trying to recover their data. But the files are gone, often permanently.
Today, we dive into the first of a series of programs designed to protect the user from happenstances like those. Come on in and read the full review of our first product, Acronis True Image Home 2009!
Acronis True Image Home 2009 provides users with pretty much every feature that would be of interest to the home user. It gives the user the ability to backup specific files and folders, or partitions, or operating system states, or entire discs all with a few clicks. Backups can be scheduled to occur at any desired time, and users have the choice to save those backup images to one or two different locations during the backup process. Acronis True Image Home 2009 can restore images from within the operating system or from a bootable CD or USB memory key. Other options like Try&Decide bring interesting but not very useful features to the table as well.
INSTALLATION & ACTIVATION
Acronis True Image Home 2009 uses a standard installer program to setup and configure the program. It rarely requires the user to actually make a choice or fill out information. The installer also asks the user to accept a EULA, but who actually reads those? Just hit "Next." Acronis also prompts the user for a serial key during the installation.
After inputting some required user information, users will then have to choose what kind of installation is desired.
As the "custom" installation shows, there are only two features that can be installed or not installed, so there isn't much of a point to having a "typical," "custom," and "complete" installation, is there?
Here the end-user can configure Acronis True Image Home 2009 to be accessible to all users or just one.
A summary of the installation that will soon take place is presented to the user. Acronis True Image Home 2009 then goes through its installation routine. After the installation is complete, the system needs to restart for Acronis True Image Home 2009 to start working correctly. Aside from the required system reboot, it only takes about three minutes of the user's time to install the program.
The first time the user opens up the program, Acronis True Image Home 2009 immediately asks the user to make a system image.
While it was thoughtful for Acronis to quickly prompt the user into creating a backup image of the main system volume (partition), it was a little disturbing to find that the default option was to constantly refresh that backup image once per week.
But I am nitpicky. Let's move on.
The main menu provides quick access to all the crucial features in the program. When opening the program there is a small splash screen, and a small delay, while the system loads the program.
From within the "Backup and Restore" menu, users can quickly configure the program to backup the entire system, specific folders and files and emails, or entire system states or application settings.
A subpage of the "Backup and Restore" page also provides quick access to all the known backup images created by Acronis True Image Home 2009. It is somewhat useful, but ultimately a gimmick.
The "Tasks and Log" page provides summary information and stats about any scheduled or unscheduled backup tasks that the end-user has created. The color-coded calendar indicates the status of any and all backups that were performed, and allows the user to quickly determine if the system is backing up all your data in just a single place. The log files are also available for reading, should the end-user wish to view them.
The next page in the program details basic statistics, and the system's protection status. Users get a better understanding of what they have and have not done to better protect their system. If a particular protection has not been enabled on the system, Acronis provides quick and easy access to the wizards needed to enable the safeguards.
The Try&Decide menu allows the user to "freeze" their system for a brief time and then install a new program as a kind of "trial," which is an intriguing feature, especially for compulsive early adopters or homebrew coders
There are a few extra utilities available to the end-user as well, as shown in the above screenshots. The user can clone a hard drive, or completely and securely destroy some data, very quickly and very easily.
Backup and Restore
For the backup and restore tests, a basic Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit installation with Microsoft Office and PCMark Vantage was installed and configured into a new system. No other non-essential system background programs were installed or running during any tests.
Default options were chosen for all tests, which configured backup tasks to not use password protection or encryption. A "medium priority" was given to backups, and Acronis was allowed to use as much hard drive bandwidth as needed to complete tasks.
Normally, I prefer to do full partition and/or disc backups, so today we'll start with that. When the user chooses to do a "My Computer" backup, a wizard will popup that asks the user to select partitions or entire discs that should be backed up.
Then a series of pages will present the user with backup options that are available for every type of review, be it a full system backup, partition backup, file backup or email backup.
After selecting the basic backup configuration, additional optional steps can then be done. I recommend that users click through all of the choices to prepare a comprehensive backup scheme best suited to the task at hand.
A backup scheme for the task can also be chosen. The options are self-explanatory.
Users can also exclude files, which I do not recommend doing.
The most powerful configuration options are shown in this window of the above wizard. Archives can be password protected and/or encrypted with very powerful encryption methods.
You'll notice that Acronis True Image Home 2009 also comes with an email notification system, which could have been a really good alert system. However, Acronis True Image Home 2009 failed to properly send emails to either of my two email accounts.
The compression scheme, backup priority, and a few other self-explanatory features can also be found here. While they have a miniscule effect on how much compression is used on the backup, they can all drastically increase backup times.
A few other advanced features can be seen in the final windows of the wizard, which allow users to build in backup file management into the backup tasks as well as leave comments about the backup for future use.
Our basic system configuration required Acronis True Image Home 2009 to backup 31.45GB of data. With the standard compression and configuration, Acronis True Image Home 2009 took only 8 minutes to create the final 13.9GB archive. Users may or may not enjoy similar compression ratios.
There are a few additional backup modes, with their initial wizard screens shown below.
Individual types of files, or any file or folder, can be backed up. If needed, users can edit or create categories to provide maximum flexibility to suit any need. All system files can also be backed up.
Emails can also be backed up, and Acronis True Image Home 2009 supports the more common email programs.
During backups, the system remained responsive and did not use a large percentage of system resources.
The recovery wizard looks quite similar to the backup wizard. Users can choose to restore the entire data set, or only specific files, and the destination can either be the original location of the file or a new location entirely.
The recovery operation is very reliable; I have not had any failures during the review period, but the time-estimator is a bit off. Restoring our test operating system image took about 10 minutes in total. The wizard claimed it should have taken only a second.
Acronis also supports browsing archives and integrates the experience into the user interface of Windows Vista itself. Additionally, Acronis True Image Home 2009 also allows the user to mount the archives as separate "virtual" partitions should it be needed.
During my time with Acronis True Image 2009, there was a major bug in the category-based backup routines. Below are the steps needed to recreate the problem.
When selecting a data backup, try choosing a specific category...but then deselect a folder or two, as shown above. For this example, I chose to backup some website files. I continue on and create the backup archive as previously detailed. Then when I browse the archive in Windows Explorer...
The files are not there!
This is a major bug in the system, one that causes me to rate the category-based backup feature of Acronis True Image Home 2009 dead on arrival.
Acronis True Image Home 2009 also has issues with removable USB drives/keys. A few times, when I was testing the backup feature using my USB stick, I would get some kind of error about sector 63 and the backup would occasionally fail. A quick search about that message revealed that it is a known bug in the latest versions of Acronis True Image.
Acronis promises that a patch is on the way for the USB bug.
Acronis Secure Zone
Acronis Secure Zone has been around for a while. It is a hidden partition that can be quickly installed into the system, and backups can be stored there safe from both prying eyes and clumsy operating system utilities.
Creating the Secure Zone is easy, and only requires three steps in a wizard to complete. Users can select to "activate" the Zone by installing a copy of Acronis True Image Home 2009 as its own little operating system.
When activated, the Zone replaces the standard system bootloader with a custom loader. Hit F11, and you can boot into the Secure Zone rather than Windows Vista.
The Zone can also be password-protected, which is excellent from a security standpoint.
The wizard does, unfortunately, move all the partitions up to the "front" of the hard drive to make room for the Secure Zone. As a consequence it may take some time to create the Zone.
Just keep in mind that if you install the Zone onto the same hard disk as the main system partition, the Zone is not going to be a useful resource should be hard disk fail.
Try&Decide is one of the newest features in Acronis True Image, one that I consider to be more fluff than anything. But it works.
When starting Try&Decide, there is a very important message that the user needs to read, as shown above. Pay attention.
While Try&Decide was running, Microsoft Office 2007 SharePoint Designer was installed on the system. The installation seemed to run just as fast as it would without Try&Decide running, which is awesome.
When you're done with your virtual software trial, click "stop" and Acronis will ask what it should do with the system changes.
Applying the changes took a little bit of time as it has to copy all of the data from the Zone back to the main system partition. Thus, program installation times will effectively double in length with Try&Decide.
If the changes were discarded, the system has to immediately reboot to rollback the operating system.
Last but not least, Acronis True Image Home 2009 has a few options for recovering archives. Restoring files can easily be done from within Windows Vista, and recovering system partitions can be done outside of Windows Vista by rebooting the machine.
However, the recovery manager is an external bootloader that affords the user the same system volume and archive backup/restoration options outside of any other operating system. This is an excellent tool to have when upgrading hard drives or replacing a failed drive.
The wizard itself flashes through three pages of information, and then asks the user to select where to install the bootable recovery tool. Creating the bootable manager only takes a few minutes at most.
The recovery manager itself takes a few minutes to boot up but, once it's fully loaded, the familiar user interface shows up and affords the user basic functionality to backup and restore data as well as manage the Secure Zone. The bootloader had no problem recognizing both of my SATA/eSATA hard drive controllers, so most hardware should be supported as of this writing.
Acronis True Image Home 2009 offers all of the necessary backup and restoration features as well as an awesome scheduler fit to meet any user's demand. It also provides a really great way to monitor the status of all of the system's backups via an easy to understand user interface, and it comes with a wide variety of methods and programs to help users recover their data and operating systems should the worst possible scenarios occur.
However, there are a few quirks in the new features of the program. Some timers do not function properly, and USB device support is buggy. But the biggest failure of Acronis True Image Home 2009 is the category-based backup tasks; it just fails to properly backup specific files when requested.
Acronis has once again provided a solid partition-level and disk-level backup and restoration tool in a very easy to understand and convenient to use package. But if you want to perform USB drive backups or file-category backups, Acronis True Image Home 2009 is probably not the application for you.
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