By: Greg Ross
NTI Backup Now 5 Advanced Edition is NewTech Infosystem's latest system backup utility. It provides users with the ability to backup and restore files, partitions, or entire hard disks. NTI Backup Now 5 also comes with a few extra features like emergency boot disk creation, backup compression, and backup encryption. Does NTI Backup Now 5 play well with the big boys, or does it fall flat on its face? We make the call in this review.
NTI Backup Now 5 may not have some of the advanced differential or incremental backup features found in other programs, but it does have the ability to backup and restore any files, folders, partitions, or hard drives. The emergency boot disk affords the user the ability to restore files from outside the operating system should a hard drive die. It even includes a feature subset that is essentially NTI Shadow 4 built in, so buying Backup Now 5 is almost like getting two products for the price of one.
NTI Backup Now 5 uses the standard Windows installer. The installation wizard starts off asking a few questions of the user and, as usual, you must accept the given EULA before proceeding.
It is a little odd that the installer requires a company name to continue the installation. (Just like we told your with Shadow 4, feel free to make up a kooky company name if you don't have one; the installer won't know the difference.) The user then is asked which kind of installation is desired on the system. To get a handle on all the program options, we chose to use the 'custom' installation.
Up to four components can be installed. The Backup Now component has the core functionality of the product, Label Maker allows the end-user to make CD/DVD labels in the event that optical media is used as a backup destination, Test Drive is an optical drive diagnostic utility, and Open File is a tool that forces the operating system to allow Backup Now to archive a file even if that file is currently in use by another application.
All in all, the installation was fairly painless and took about two minutes. Once the installer is done, the system must reboot to allow the program to work.
After installing NTI Backup Now 5, users can open up the program by double-clicking the desktop icon or finding the program launcher from within the Start Menu. From here, a rather complex (to put it diplomatically) program layout pops up.
The icons at the top of the window are shortcuts to all the major features of the program. Users can monitor all jobs that have been created, backup files or hard drives, restore partitions or hard drives, compare files and directories, clone your operating system or hard drive to a new one, enter the utilities menu, create a new job for the program, and get help when you cannot find out how to perform an action. The same options are also available in the menu bar at the top of the interface, should users find that easier to navigate.
Very little, however, is intuitively easy with the main Backup Now controls. The only simple portion of the interface is the menu that presents a summary of all the program jobs that have been previously created.
The backup window presents the start of any backup job creation. The layout makes some sense, but there is a lot to be desired.
The restoration menu presents the first steps in the restoration wizard as well.
The comparison window provides a way to run a quick comparison between source files and their backups. It can display all the changes that have happened to the system since the last backup.
Migration is also an option.
Throughout the review period, we struggled to work with the interface. The non-standard layout and the clunky wizards gave us the impression that the user interface was the last concern the development team had when designing NTI Backup Now 5.
BACKUP & RESTORATION
From within the backup menu, a few main operation choices are available. Continuous backup jobs can be created, which strongly resembles the program functionality of NTI Shadow 4 that we reviewed previously. File and folder backups can be started here, as can drive-based imaging jobs. As shown above, we started by backing up the main system partition.
Users might scratch their heads on how to proceed after this initial step, at least for a minute or two -- at least until one notices the 'EasySteps' buttons. Clearly, this is not the standard wizard we have come to expect given other products that we have reviewed.
Only after clicking the '2' button can a destination location for the backup be chosen.
After hitting the '3' button, scheduling options are presented. Quite a few schedule options are available, which are in line with the configuration levels available in most competing backup applications.
A few other options are available to tweak most backup operations as needed. In particular, if backups are to be preserved on optical media, a few relevant choices are shown.
Encryption and password protection are also available. It is not clear what type of encryption is used on the backup files, which is somewhat concerning. However, Backup Now 5 supports 128-, 192-, or 256-bit encryption keys, which leads us to believe the program might be using AES encryption.
After you've selected all four backup parameters, you're presented with a job summary, and the job can either be submitted to the scheduler or cancelled.
Vista x64 SP2, Office 2007 Enterprise, and NTI Backup Now 5 were installed on our test computer. This system installation uses about 40GB of space. Roughly 12GB of that figure is the virtual memory file leaving about 28GB of useful data that NTI needs to backup.
The backup job, as configured with data compression and no encryption, took a speedy 24 minutes to execute. However, the backup file was 28GB in size -- exactly the same size as the original. Despite the fact that data compression was enabled on this backup job, it is clear that the compression routine is either too weak or simply does not work.
We also encountered problems when trying to restore the backup to the hard drive. It was not entirely obvious at first how to even select the backup file once we entered the restoration menu, but we figured it out eventually.
Once the backup file was selected, the destination could be chosen. For this test, the original hard drive partition was selected.
Here, the program fails to execute the desired command. No amount of troubleshooting or work could get around this error. NTI Backup Now 5 is not able to restore the main system partition (with or without a reboot) as many of its competitors are capable of doing. Testing indicates that backing up and restoring other partitions (other than the main system one the computer boots to) does work.
Fortunately, NTI Backup Now 5 also has the capability of creating an emergency boot disk that could restore our backup image.
SYSTEM UTILITIES & EMERGENCY BOOT DISK
The system utilities menu contains a wide variety of tools, but most of them are useless. Fortunately, the critical process of creating an emergency boot disk is fairly easy. Simply select the optical drive on the computer that contains a writable optical disc, and burn it.
If the CD/DVD is not empty, the program is nice enough to warn the user. After about two minutes, the wizard was done creating the boot CD.
The computer was then rebooted, and the system instructed to boot to the emergency disk. The boot loader interface looks suspiciously similar to the XP installer's boot sequence.
Unfortunately, before the emergency disc would continue on to any program interface, the computer threw a fatal error, complete with a Blue Screen of Death. Upon further investigation, it appears the emergency disc does not have drivers for SATA hard drives!
SATA drives have been mainstream technology for years, and NTI made a major omission when they failed to keep their restoration technology up to date. Backup Now 5's wizards did not include any options to slipstream SATA drivers into the CD (much like advanced users can do when customizing XP discs). A few other options were presented, like configuring the computer to emulate IDE hard drives, but a lot of computers may not have this option.
Once again, NTI Backup Now 5 fails to restore a hard drive backup image. At this point, there is no way to restore the main system partition to our test system should a hard drive fail or the operating system become unstable.
It should be noted that, in addition to restoring entire drives or partitions, NTI Backup Now 5 users can also backup and restore individual files and folders. While exploring this feature, it became apparent that these components of Backup Now 5 functionally identical to NTI Shadow 4. As to whether that's a good sign or a bad omen, we encourage you to read our review of Shadow 4.
NTI does include a program that is capable of reading its (supposedly compressed and/or encrypted) backup files, but the interface is a little clunky and misleading. This is not a wizard for restoring files.
As shown, the program does successfully navigate through the backup archive. Unfortunately we were unable to open individual files, so verifying the archive's contents was a bit problematic.
Just out of curiosity, we attempted to perform a restoration operation from the file explorer.
A few options are then presented, leading us to believe this would actually work. But in the end, the file exploration utility does not allow us to restore anything.
Ultimately, NTI Backup Now 5 failed to execute. The user interface is clunky, core features of the program failed to work well (if they worked at all), and operating system restoration is practically impossible on computers with modern SATA hard drives. File backups and restorations were effective enough, but during the review we discovered that this portion of the program basically recycles NTI Shadow 4's program code. Browsing archives does not work nearly as well as similar functionality found on competing products, and archive compression failed to impress.
Our experience with NTI Backup Now 5 Advanced Edition makes it impossible to recommend this product.
Even through the NTI Backup Now 5 is priced similarly to the premier competition, the software fails to even come close to matching their performance.
Use at your own risk.
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