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Managing Backup: Three Software Solutions Compared

Managing Backup: Three Software Solutions Compared

Backup has always been a topic that most people find tedious and boring. It takes time to consider and set up, then it typically works in the background, sucking up system resources while delivering no tangible benefits—until the day your hard drive suddenly crashes. What then? “Where was the last backup again? When did I run the last backup?” Clearly, you want to avoid these questions and have an emergency plan in place. We recently reviewed a storage product that finally makes total system and file backup a piece of cake. We decided to look for additional options and compared Rebit, True Image by Acronis, and the Windows 7 integrated backup feature using a portable hard drive.

Backup Options

The first item users typically consider is the backup target device. While the term “backup” is still somewhat associated with tape and other complicated devices, backup isn’t married to any given storage product. Tape drives were the primary backup targets in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Such devices are still in use, but mainly in enterprise environments. Consumers typically use optical drives, hard drives, or network targets for backup, with the significant drops in cost per gigabyte putting hard drives in the lead.

Few would argue that tape backup is the worst choice for consumers today. You need proprietary tapes and a compatible drive, as well as suitable backup software. This means that you have to restore a working backup/restore host system before you can access your data. Recordable DVD or Blu-ray media are well-suited for backup, as write speeds are fast enough, media costs run from cheap (DVD) to still acceptable (BD-R), and you get automatic versioning because write-once discs can’t be modified after write completion.

Hard Drives With USB Are the Winners

However, the hard drive is now most peoples' favorite backup choice, as it is easiest to handle and cost has come down to almost ridiculously low levels. In addition, a USB 2.0 external hard drive is probably the most versatile and universal storage/backup device, since every PC and notebook—running Mac OS and Windows alike—speaks USB.

Keep in mind that hard drives will fail eventually, so it’s imperative either to use several drives for backup or to use redundant storage devices to be on the safe side. Having said this, we can move on and look at a few options suitable for today’s consumer backup. We grabbed a portable drive from Hitachi, the SimpleTouch 500GB, and three different backup solutions: Acronis True Image, which has come a long way from imaging to total system management, the Rebit solution, and Windows 7’s integrated backup. Windows Backup has evolved substantially and may represent a viable free alternative for many users.

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  • 2 Hide
    Snipergod87 , December 26, 2009 6:11 AM
    Would have been nice if the time that it took to do the first full backup was recorded for comparison.
  • 7 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 26, 2009 7:10 AM
    I know I'll be hated for this, but I prefer manual backup!
  • 0 Hide
    ytoledano , December 26, 2009 8:14 AM
    The single most important factor for backup software is how easily you access the backup data. I use a folder sync program for daily backups (which can also copy files which are being edited). That means I lose the ability to make incremental backups (and have versions of files) and if I realize I overwrote something important - after the backup is done it's too late to recover.

    But what I gain is that the backup is always viewable on any computer and it's as easy as accessing a remote dir. This is as fool proof as it gets.

    If a fire destroys my computer I don't want to have to install software (or even an OS) in order to view my backed up data. I want it now!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 26, 2009 11:06 AM
    ^^ which folder sync program do u use?
  • -8 Hide
    ferncba , December 26, 2009 11:10 AM
  • 1 Hide
    raw2dogmeat , December 26, 2009 11:13 AM
    I used Windows Backup last night, took about 15 minutes, and got rid of all the issues I was having...HIGHly recommend it...I NEVER got Vista system restore to successfully work, this performed flawlessly on my first try and kept me from doing an operating system reinstall. THANKS Microsoft, 7 ROCKS!!!
  • -3 Hide
    ZakTheEvil , December 26, 2009 11:52 AM
    avatar_raqI know I'll be hated for this, but I prefer manual backup!

    There is no such thing as manual backup.

  • -1 Hide
    ocsid80 , December 26, 2009 12:01 PM
    I am using the latest version of SyncBreeze Pro configured to sync all my data every 30 minutes.
  • -2 Hide
    ocsid80 , December 26, 2009 12:02 PM
    I am using the latest version of SyncBreeze Pro configured to sync all my data to a NAS every 30 minutes.
  • 0 Hide
    ibnsina , December 26, 2009 12:38 PM
    Windows 7 Backup ; ”If you want to restore your entire system, you will have to boot from the Windows 7 install disc or create a system restore disc, which you can use to boot if you don’t have an installation disc”.

    If Windows is already installed, you can also restore the system without recovery disk, by hitting F8 before Windows loads up and then selecting Repair your Computer, System Image Recovery.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 26, 2009 2:16 PM
    I love how Windows 7 STILL comes with a default setup of one giant partition for everything. Creating a ~40gb(give or take) Windows partition, and a separate partition and mapping the user shell folders to the new partition in regedit alleviates 99.9% of recovery problems(leaving only theft, catastrophe and hard-drive failure), and the remaining can be handled by using an external hard-drive(provided, you take it with you everywhere).

    Linux gives you far better install options, you can map /home to it's own partition automatically during the install, it's too easy.
  • -2 Hide
    the last resort , December 26, 2009 2:49 PM
    so who is the idiot that marked everything down one?
  • 0 Hide
    daniellwu , December 26, 2009 3:13 PM
    Can't believe no one mentioned Cobian. It's free, and has all the functinalities the paid software has. It's small/light-weight too.
  • 1 Hide
    hojni , December 26, 2009 3:48 PM
    If you want bullet-proof, lightening fast backup and recovery, use StorageCraft's ShadowProtect. It beats everything else; even when you are trying to do a complete disaster recovery rebuild from scratch.
  • 0 Hide
    kickworm , December 26, 2009 4:33 PM
    I love SyncToy, even more so now that it runs on Windows 7.
  • 2 Hide
    arth1 , December 26, 2009 8:05 PM
    Any backup is worthless without a restore, and any backup review is worthless without a restore review.

    At a minimum, test that you can restore:
    8+3 filenames (and that they remain the same after restore)
    Files in use (shadow copy)
    EFS encrypted files
    Advanced permissions
    NTFS junctions and streams
    sparse files (as sparse files, not filled with zeroes)
    restore to different hardware
    restore to a different OS license
  • 1 Hide
    rippleyhakd , December 26, 2009 9:19 PM
    Acronis FTW.. From cloning disks, to preforming complete bare metal restore. ONLY software that i have ever used, that has worked 100% of the time, and this has been with 100's of servers, 100's of workstations. XP/Vista/WIN7.. it just works. Different hardware, no problem..
  • -1 Hide
    rmse17 , December 27, 2009 12:24 AM
    I think 1TB-2TB RAID1 is the best backup solution... no need for software or setup, and no problems with restore either.
  • 4 Hide
    arth1 , December 27, 2009 2:15 AM
    RAID != backup. If you accidentally delete a file, it's gone from a RAID too. If an install leaves your system in a nonworking state, RAID does nothing to help. If you need to look at what a document said 3 months ago before it was overwritten, RAID won't do it. And if your PC gets stolen or burns up, a RAID won't get your data back.

    A backup is neither copies of files, nor is it a failsafe against failed drives. It's snapshots in time, where you can go back to that exact point, for the entire system or for files, folders or metadata.
  • 1 Hide
    radguy , December 27, 2009 2:30 AM
    I personally think raid 1 is the worst backup idea I have ever heard of. I think this mostly has to do with the fact that I have only had os coruptions issues and never ture hard drive failure on a primary drives some older 8gb 10gb 40gb drives have died on me but long after I replaced them. I currently keep 2 WD caviar blacks with an external drive 1 black as my primary drive the other as a image backup restore drive. Usually do and image backup to the external and restore to the other drive every 2 weeks or so. Also keep a bk of my data on the external and on my laptop. Keep another copy of my files every few months at my parents incase of fire.
    So if my data goes if my hd if windows goes, heck even if one of my programs does something stupid I can be up and running with my pc two weeks ago in about 2 min. Try the last two with raid 1.
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