By: Greg Ross
Over the past few weeks, we have reviewed six backup and recovery utilities each with their own capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Some programs worked perfectly while others fell flat on their digital faces. We have a new appreciation for how difficult it is to get backup and recovery software right. Read on to see our recommendations!
Each backup and recovery program was tested and rated in the following categories:
EASE OF USE
Backing up all your files and partitions is troublesome enough already and the more difficult the operation is the less likely you are going to actually backup your data. Does the user interface provide clear and concise information? Do the wizards help the user quickly run all the needed tasks?
Both of these programs did an excellent job in providing quick and easy access to all of the features of the program. While it is true that Casper did not have that many features to outline, the interface itself is very attractive and all the options and wizards are laid out well. Just looking at the Acronis user interface provides enough information for the user to understand what the program is doing and what all the wizards actually do.
Symantec did a great job designing the Norton Ghost v14 user interface; it provides very quick access to all of the major functions of the program. But Ghost v14's calendar was not as informative as Acronis True Image Home 2009's, and some of its features -- like encryption and email notifications -- were somewhat difficult to find and set up. There is nothing outright negative to say about the Norton Ghost v14 interface except that its learning curve is just a bit higher than the winners of this category.
For a moment, let's just ignore the fact that NTI BackupNow 5 does not even work as advertised. The wizards were clunky, the user interface was not laid out well at all, and large portions of this program's interface were downright confusing.
PARTITION/HARD DRIVE BACKUP & RESTORATION
If you need to protect your operating system, or want a shotgun method of protecting all the files that you hold dear, having the ability to backup and reliably restore partitions is crucial. This category is simple: How easy is it to run a backup, verify the backup succeeded, and restore the archive to its rightful place?
Winner: Norton Ghost v14
Norton Ghost v14 wins here, because it worked perfectly when backing up and restoring data. Ghost can automatically verify backup integrity during the backup operation, and even then the backup archive can be mounted into a virtual partition to manually verify the contents of the archive. Backups can be run incrementally or differentially when desired, which allows users to view and restore files from different points in time. Just keep in mind that the bootable CD does not have the ability to run backups (freeware partition copy tools are a quick workaround for this); backups can only be done from within the OS, so it is important to schedule backups regularly. If you need to preserve data on the hard drive during a restoration, you will want to purchase another hard drive and restore the archive to it.
While Casper 5.0 requires a dedicated backup drive for its exclusive use, the program executes perfectly when a user needs to run a backup of a partition or entire hard drive. Verifying the backups is also extremely easy -- just look at the destination drive's contents. This program is the embodiment of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid), and Casper executes perfectly as a result. Recovery is a breeze, just swap the backup hard drive into the computer or copy the backup back to the computer drive when needed. The only problem is that performing backups and recoveries outside of the operating system requires the purchase of an "optional" CD.
Acronis True Image Home 2009 has the potential to be a winner here, as it matches Norton Ghost v14 feature for feature. The only problem is that Acronis suffers from a long-standing bug that causes backup operations to frequently fail when backing up to USB memory keys or USB hard drives.
NTI BackupNow 5 has once again earned its spot at the bottom of the barrel. What more is there to say that after the program lead us in circles, as was incapable of restoring backup files? Did I mention that the data compression did not work either?
FILE/FOLDER BACKUP & RESTORATION
Maybe you are only concerned with protecting select files or folders rather than the ability to protect entire partitions. This category is about a simple as the last: How easy is it to run, verify, and restore file and folder archives?
Winner: Norton Ghost v14
Norton Ghost v14's file and folder backup utility works well, and this backup routine has the same advantages when it comes to verifying backups and allowing multiple revisions of files through incremental and differential backups. The restoration wizard was a little bit clunky, but the process was fairly straightforward.
NTI Shadow 4 is as close to RAID1 as you are going to get without a computer that supports two hard drives and has a RAID capable chipset. Only this utility allows you to backup files in real time to another hard drive on the computer, or another computer on your network, or even network attached storage devices. Just make sure you avoid installing NTI Ninja or you will wish you had used another backup solution to preserve the OS before Ninja killed it.
As for True Image Home 2009, there is no delicate way to put this -- Acronis has fallen a long way from where it once stood. This program, once again, meets Norton Ghost v14 feature-for-feature except that Acronis suffers from a major "file selection bug" that in some circumstances causes the program to not backup your files at all.
SECURITY AND NOTIFICATIONS
Does the backup utility make it easy to view the history of backup jobs and if they succeeded or failed? Can the program attempt to notify the user by email or similar about any problems? Can the archives be password protected, or better yet encrypted, to protect your data from prying eyes?
Winner: Norton Ghost v14
Symantec did a good job with security here, as the most powerful encryption methods are available during the archive process. At least one of those encryption methods is considered unbreakable by today's standards, and password protection is available as well! The calendaring application within Norton Ghost v14 also provides a good history of how well the program has (or has not) been running, and the application is capable of sending out emails to select service providers.
Acronis True Image Home 2009 gave Norton Ghost v14 a serious run for its money. The same password protections and the same encryption methods are available in both applications, and Acronis's calendaring features are actually better. But this version of True Image Home, as well as every other consumer version of the program released in the last two or three years, is incapable of sending emails even though it is an advertised feature.
Does the program provide a good scheduler that is capable of meeting even the most demanding user's needs?
Both programs are equally good at scheduling backups. They can be run on demand, or scheduled for specific days of the week or month, and can be programmed to run at specific times. Backup jobs can even be scheduled to form new archives every so often to minimize the amount of archiving necessary. In our mind, there is no way these schedulers could not meet your demands. If anything, Acronis might slightly beat Norton here because it offers better archive consolidation.
Bottom line: How many more goodies come bundled with the package?
Winner: Acronis True Image Home 2009
This is probably the one place where Acronis truly shines. The program has the ability to lock away archives into a secret partition you can set up, which is great for protecting the archives from destructive viruses or prying eyes. It also has the ability to lock your operating system into a known state in order to let you try software and later decide to keep or discard the software. That is a great way to test applications, because discarding the changes is a lot cleaner than uninstalling the software. However, we get the feeling that all of these extra features have caused Acronis developers to lose their focus and let quality slip.
Norton Ghost v14 is a close runner up. It does not have the ability to lock the operating system like Acronis, nor can it create secret partitions. However, there are a few diagnostic and testing utilities available from within Ghost or on the bootable CD that might help you fix a computer fast.
NOTEBOOK REVIEW EDITORS CHOICE FOR BACKUP & RECOVERY SOFTWARE: NORTON GHOST v14
While several of these programs certainly worked well, Norton Ghost v14 by far includes the most features, the most versatility, and (most importantly) proved to be extremely reliable. It has the ability to do any kind of backup you want, and can even mirror the backups to another hard drive or computer via your local network or the Internet. Each and every feature actually worked, and worked well. Sometimes the interface lacked a certain touch that other competitors had, but it was never confusing. Ghost might be a bit more expensive than the competitors but it is an all-in-one package that provides a piece of mind I just did not have with some of the other products.
At the beginning of the series, I honestly expected Acronis True Image Home 2009 to have at least tied with Norton Ghost v14. But the bittersweet truth is that Acronis suffers from major show-stopping bugs that need to be fixed, and even once these flaws are addressed it will take time for Acronis True Image to regain the trust of the consumer. True Image Home 2009 should never have been released as-is, and it is almost insulting considering that consumers have been complaining to Acronis for months to fix the USB bug and file selection/backup bug. Once those bugs are fixed and the software subjected to the test of time, it very well might displace our Editor's Choice.
In the end, Norton Ghost v14, Casper v5.0, and NTI Shadow 4 are fine products. NTI Shadow 4 provides great but slow file/folder backup utility at a really low price, Casper v5.0 provides a barebones hard drive backup utility at a competitive price, and the very reliable Norton Ghost v14 provides the one-fits-all suite for just a little more money.
Ultimately, Norton Ghost v14 has earned its rightful place as king.
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