Working in IT, I am always stressing to other users how important it is to back up work. As with most things, I don't strictly practice what I preach. On works machines, we use XP Pro as the operating system which comes with an adequate built in backup program so getting people to do quite robust backups is not too taxing. However, due to the huge capacity now on hard disks for home users and the assumption that most people buying new PCs will be using Vista Home Premium, the need for a quality backup solution becomes even more crucial. The built in Vista Home Premium backup is fine for backing up pictures and documents but will be no use whatsoever in a complete system failure. This is where Acronis Tue Home comes in. It is a comprehensive backup and restore solution which we will explore in more detail a little later on.
True Image Home is very easy to install. Simply place the CD in your cd player and follow the wizard. During installation, the software will check for version updates and download these if necessary. If an update is found then you will be asked if you wish to create a new startup disk which will allow you to restore your system without having to install a fresh version of the operating system first. This would save you about an hours time if you were unlucky enough to have to rebuild your system from scratch.
On completion of a successful installation, you will be asked to create a backup job which will be scheduled to run at a convenient time for you. More on this in a moment.
True Image has many functions. We will take these one at a time.
This is the most obvious function. Here you can choose whether you want to back up certain files (such as the My Documents area), your email (assuming you use a client such as Outlook or Outlook express) or the full system including the registry. The last option is the most complete as it backs up everything and would be invaluable, should you experience a full system crash. For each one of these backup methods you can choose whichever backup type best suits your needs. The choices available are :-
Full - the entire contents are backed up each time. (takes about 90 mins for 300gb)
Differential - A full backup is taken the first time and then subsequent backups just back up changes from this initial backup (takes about 30 mins to backup changes)
Incremental - A full backup is taken the first time and then subsequent backups are taken of changes that have happened since the previous backup (takes about 20 mins to backup a weeks changes).
My preferred option is the incremental strategy which is the shortest to run and also gives you the most flexibility. I run a 6 week incremental backup which means that every six weeks, a new full backup is taken. The only downside to this strategy is that if you do need to restore your entire system then you have to restore the full backup, followed by the week 1 incremental, then week 2, etc until you reach week 6.
Whichever option you choose, it can be scheduled to run at a time suitable to you. It is best to select a time where you are not likely to be using the PC as it is processor heavy and any open files are likely to be damaged when being backed up or even not backed up at all.
I would recommend backing up to external media such as an external hard disk or dvd/rw because if your main hard disk does go into meltdown, its not going to be any use if your backups are stored on it.
Once you have taken a backup, there may eventually come a time where you need to restore from it. This could just be a file you deleted by accident or, in more serious cases you may need to restore the entire disk.
Restoring a file is simple, after selecting the backup you wish to restore from (they show the date they were created to give you a chance of picking the right one) you can choose your file from a Windows Explorer / My Computer style screen. To restore a single file, simply navigate the directory structure until you find the file and tick the box next to its name. To select multiple files, simply repeat the task of ticking the box next to the appropriate file name. The same concept applies to restoring full directories/folders.
Once you have selected your items to restore, you have the choice of overwriting the original (should a file/directory of the same name already exist) or to copy your selection to a new location. This is useful if you want to confirm the file is the correct one before copying it to the correct location.
Fortunately, so far I haven't had the need to do a full system restore, this however can be accomplished from the restore wizard or, in the event of total failure, you can boot up with your Acronis CD and restore using this, assuming your backup data is on a separate device to the hard disk you need to restore.
All restores are wizard driven meaning even the most computer illiterate person should be able to restore any valuable data which has gone missing.
Try and Decide
I like this feature a lot. Have you ever installed a piece of software you downloaded off the net and then decided that it wasn't really of use and uninstalled it, leaving behind countless entries in the registry which gradually slowed your PC down? With Try and Decide, you can put your PC into an isolation mode where you can try these things out but they are not actually committed to your PC's main file system until you are happy with the results. Try and Decide uses dedicated disk space to hold all this information. If you decide not to apply the changes, your system is in exactly the same condition as it was prior to the software installation. If you do decide to apply the changes that have happened with the software install, Try and Decide will incorporate these for you seamlessly. One important thing to note he is because Try and Decide puts your PC into a holding state, any email or files you download whilst in this state will be lost, should you decide to abandon the changes. With this in mind, I would recommend only being in this state for a short period of time whilst you evaluate your changes.
True Image Home also comes with its own file shredding utility which guarantees destruction of files and directories. This is particularly useful for ensuring sensitive information is completely irretrievable, especially if you are thinking of scrapping the hard drive. Again, this utility uses the same Windows Explorer style as the backup and restore sections. Simply select the file(s) you want to destroy and True Image will do the rest.
I had heard a lot of good things about Acronis True Image before I purchased for £30 from Amazon in March so I was expecting big things of the software. Although I have not had any real need to restore data, other than to get used to the process in the event I would need to do it for real, I have found this software very easy to use regardless of your computer expertise. If you are happy just backing up word documents and photos from the family holiday I would advise you to stay with the built in backup programs that come with Vista Home Premium or the more comprehensive version in XP Professional. If you want a more manageable solution or are using XP Home which has no built in backup software, then I cannot recommend this highly enough. I always tell users that the best money they will spend on computer software is on virus protection. A good backup solution is right up there too, the amount of times I've heard people say they have lost files and hadn't backed up their system is all too frequent. My advice would be to buy this software now, before its too late!!!