I am glad that you exposed the advantages and the flaws of the native XP backup program. Many other alternative programs are out there, which you should have touched upon.
However, I am still frustrated at the difficulty needed to back up a laptop hard drive when compared to a desktop system using a basic tape drive.
I have tried many programs over the last few years, but have not had success with any of them, for the following reasons:
Ntbackup.exe, as mentioned in the article, does not allow direct copying to DVD disc. Another flaw, not mentioned by the article, is the lack of a Disaster Recovery feature that lets me run a full restore on a new drive without having to reinstall windows/updates/settings/utilities/games/programs and take away another two-to-four hours of my time.
I experienced a head crash on my last laptop, and I can tell you, it is no fun, especially when I found out that my trusty ghost image failed, but more on that in a moment.
Even when disaster recovery is available, most software offers the ability to make floppy discs only. The majority of laptops don't have floppy drives any more. Those that come with an external USB floppy allow you to make disaster recovery discs, but then you are faced with the problem of the floppy not booting as an external USB device because the laptop's BIOS does not support it - another stupid problem!
If, on the other hand, the software allows you to create a disaster recovery CD, and you set your laptop to boot from CD, then you have one less problem to worry about.
Going back to Ghost, even with the latest version, the software is still difficult to use. The disaster recovery feature requires that you have a windows install disc available, when in fact HP and most other laptops do not provide a native windows install disc. The recovery software discs HP provides are a backup of the hard drive AFTER windows has been installed on the machine, you cannot extract any individual files from them. That's a real headache when your backup software complains that it cannot find the i386 folder for a file needed to create the disaster recovery disc.
When I experienced the head crash mentioned above, I was using Ghost 9.0. A call to Norton revealed that version of ghost "does not support spanned CD sets with NTFS partitions". How else do you back up a 20GB drive on a laptop running Windows XP?
Even with the latest version 10 Ghost still does not perform properly, crashing every time on my laptop when it tries to verify the data. I did not bother calling them again, as the procedure to back up to DVD and then verify is just too painfully slow.
Another program I tried was Sonic Backup MyPC 6.0. This backed up all my open files, system files, did a nice job compressing the data and would burn to DVD direct. But the disaster recovery feature required the original windows discs, which my laptop does not have.
I tried StompSoft PC BackUp, but this program would "make" the DVD image on the hard drive first, and then move that over to the blank disc. Translation - 2x work = waste of time!
The same problem is apparent with NovaBackup by NovaStor. Backing up data onto DVD at USB2.0 speed should not take more than 20 minutes per disc. Writing it to hard drive and then writing it again to disc is a complete waste of time, especially when it takes over 8 hours to back up an 80GB hard drive.
When you can HEAR that your hard drive is near it's end-of-life, the last thing you want to do is tax it even more by writing DVD image files to it over and over. You can also reach a point where you don't have 4.3GB of free space available on your hard drive for it to work. And of course, working with a fragmented 4200RPM drive will slow things down to a crawl.
My most successful trial yet has been with Retrospect Professional 7.5 by dantz (now EMC). This slick, advanced program burns to DVD in real time, tells you what to label each disc, backs up open files, system files, compresses your backups and creates disaster recovery discs as well. The downside - price: $130.
Using a USB hard drive with the various software above may indeed kill many of the flaws I have mentioned, but I have three problems with using USB hard drives:
1. They too, can fail - backing up a drive that you back up to so that you don't lose your "backups" is yet another waste.
2. They are a tad expensive to replace, a 30 pack of reusable DVD+RW discs cost only $20!!!
3. USB enclosures are not 100% reliable. I found that out when the power/data interface for one such enclosure killed a 300GB drive that I was using to store files offline.
My preference would be to just go with tape, but they are difficult to find when looking for an external model with a compatible interface and expensive. Sony currently has an external USB tape drive, the AIT-e200-UL, with a per-tape capacity of 200GB compressed, but the list price for that is $1500, and it does not include any software.
On my old Windows 95 desktop machine, I had a 2.1GB Quantum drive that I would regularly back up to a 5GB IDE Travan tape drive. Those backups went very fast, were 100% bullet-proof and I never spent a second down because of drive failure or software messing up the registry.
If I were buying a desktop today, my choice would still be a tape drive over anything else.
80GB is not a lot of data considering the latest 200GB drives available for laptops today. But when it takes me a whole day to back it up, and then realise when disaster hits that my backup is worthless, it makes me seriously wonder if owning a laptop is really as good as I thought.