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Acronis True Image Home 2011 w/Plus Pack

February 6th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

4 Stars- techdad

Acronis True Image Home 2011

Backups are a joy! It’s something everyone loves doing. Family & friends often gather ’round after dinner, discussing backup strategies with each other. Rigggghhht. Unfortunately, computer backup and disaster recovery is a growing necessity of everyday life. Computers are no longer a luxury good for the geeky, educated, or the wealthy. Computers are important tools for the masses, yet backups are often the most neglected of maintenance tasks. It’s not difficult to understand why. Backups are often very tedious and complicated. Some people might not even see the need. I read an Amazon review once in which the author said that they didn’t feel that they should be required to backup their data because they felt that hard disks should never fail. A pipe dream if there ever was one. A myriad of occurrences could easily result in losing valuable data. Natural disasters, electrical power surges, malware, theft, and user error are just some of the mishaps that come to mind. Software and hardware companies for years have been trying to come up with a simple and effective solution for the home user with mixed success. True Image Home 2011, once a disk and partition imaging-only application similar to Norton Ghost, is Acronis’ attempt to simplify this historically arduous task.

PROS

  • Fantastic disk & partition imaging
  • Great backup performance
  • Flexible backup options
  • Try&Decide sandbox included
  • SecureZone
  • Fair price

CONS

  • Layout not very intuitive
  • Universal restore is too complex for non-expert users
  • Lacks printed manual
  • Free tech support limited to just 30 days

I used Ghost as my imaging application for decades. I used it professionally to deploy hundreds, maybe thousands of computers to end users. Several years ago, True Image was getting a lot of press for finally giving Ghost some serious competition and doing some things Ghost couldn’t do. I finally decided to give it a try about 6 years ago and haven’t looked back. I wasn’t compelled to upgrade from my last version, True Image 11, but since True Image Home 2011 was offered to me from the Amazon Vine Program, I was happy to give my 4th version of True Image a try.

INSTALLATION
When I received the boxed software, I went straight to the Acronis website and registered the exorbitantly long serial number to my account. I was then able to download the latest version of TIH 2011 from the website and run the installer. I never even bothered to take the CD out of the sleeve. Installation took me less than 10 minutes and I had to reboot just once to complete the install.

My basic system details are:

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Intel Core2 Duo 2.2GHz
4GB RAM
320GB System Drive (C:)
1TB Data Drive (D:)

DISK & PARTITION IMAGING
Casual computer users may not understand or see the advantages of imaging their disks or partitions. I tend to create a new system image whenever I get a new version of Windows, or when I get a new computer. On brand new computers, I image the entire hard disk before I do anything on it so that I have a factory build as a backup, without having to go through the process of creating a set of the manufacturer’s restore discs. When I upgrade operating systems, I like to create a fresh install of Windows with just the latest drivers and Windows updates. I then create an image of that install and keep it on an external drive or if small enough, burn it to a DVD. I do this because for years, I have reloaded my computer on an annual basis. The time it takes to reinstall Windows has varied from version to version but it could easily take an hour or longer. Using an image can reduce that time down to 15 minutes. Would you call that an advantage?

There are two ways you can create or restore an image using True Image Home 2011. You can perform all imaging functions directly from within Windows, or you can use bootable media. Bootable media can be a CD/DVD or even a USB flash drive and True Image walks you through creating it. The space required to create bootable media is about 75MB. I used an old 128MB USB flash drive AND I also created a bootable CD in case I needed to use it on older systems that can’t boot USB flash drives. I used the bootable USB media to create a backup image of my current system drive, which had 46GB of used space. It only took True Image 14 minutes to create the image onto my external USB 3.0 drive, though the estimated time initially said it would take 7 minutes. Creating and restoring images is easy once you understand what you’re doing. Unfortunately, I found that there isn’t enough on-screen help to walk a new user through all the options. I’ve been doing this for 15 years so it’s simple to me, but I can’t imagine giving this to my father to use on his own. It also doesn’t help that Acronis doesn’t include a printed user guide. To my dismay, the lack of a printed manual with software is standard practice these days. For imaging, I found the menu in the bootable media to be much easier to figure out. Still, once you understand the concept of imaging (think of it as taking a snapshot of your computer), it’s a fairly quick and easy process from within Windows too. You’re basically telling True Image which partition or disk you want to image(backup) and where to put the image file.

Restoring the image is the same process, but in reverse. Pick the image file you want to restore and to which drive or partition you want to restore it to. Remember, this is restoring the entire partition or disk. However, a neat thing about using True Image from within Windows is that you can actually look and restore specific files inside a True Image image file. I recommend storing backup image files on an external hard disk for safe keeping.

FILE/DATA BACKUPS
Creating an image of the Windows system partition only protects the operating system, but not your data. For data files like photos, music, videos, documents, etc., you need file level backups. My own backup procedure involves creating an image of my system drive (C:) then using a file level backup solution for my data drive (D:). My personal preference is to use a synchronization application to basically mirror my data from my data drive to an external hard drive. This has the advantage of being able to simply drag and drop files when I need to restore them. Most backup programs, including Microsoft’s built-in backup program and True Image, back up to archive files. This means that you will need to use True Image to look inside the archive in order to restore files. I set up a file level backup job and found it really easy to configure. The default backup scheme performed a Full backup then Incrementals afterward. I still prefer file synchronization for my data backups, but archiving and restoring files using True Image Home 2011 wasn’t too difficult.

Another file level backup option available on True Image is called Nonstop Backup. This feature backs up files you choose, in near real-time (every 5 minutes). This too was simple to set up and was practically identical to setting up regular file backups. This feature requires True Image to be running in the background all the time. It didn’t seem to bog my system down at all and it only used up 8MB of RAM while in a monitoring state. I found this backup feature to be useful for folders and files that changed more frequently than others. If you’re a writer or student who maintains a folder of material that you are constantly editing, Nonstop Backup might become your best friend. It even keeps different versions of those files so you can recover the exact version you need.

SECURE ZONE/TRY&DECIDE
Two other useful features of True Image Home 2011 are using Secure Zone and Try & Decide. Secure Zone is essentially a hidden partition on your hard disk that stores your backup image files. This helps to keep your image files from being accidentally deleted or impacted by malware since it’s only viewable by True Image itself. When used in combination with the Acronis Startup Recovery Manager, you can restore backup images without booting into Windows or using other removable media. When your computer boots, you can hit the F11 key to start Recover Manager and select a backup image to restore from the Secure Zone. This can be useful for public computers like at libraries, schools, or Internet cafes. At the start of a new business or school day, you can boot those computers back to their original state, relieving any stress you may have had about possible problems introduced by users. I personally use it on computers I’ve set up for my friends and family so that if they start to have system problems, I can tell them to just hit F11 and restore the computer back to the way I had set up for them.

Try&Decide is basically what is called a “sandbox” environment. It creates a virtual environment for you to work in and is useful for times when you don’t feel completely confident in the activity you are about to perform. For example, maybe you want to apply a software patch on your computer but aren’t sure if it’ll break it. Or, maybe you got an email with an attachment you’re suspicious of. Well, you can activate Try&Decide and open that attachment or apply that patch and see what it does to your system. If it causes problems, then you have no worries because it only happened in the sandbox. If you feel safe and want to commit those changes, you can do so to your real world environment.

DRIVE CLEANSER
There are a few other useful tools included with True Image but the one I find the most useful is DriveCleanser. When you are ready to dispose of, donate, or sell a used hard disk, it’s always wise to sanitize it before doing so. Deleting files or formatting the drive is not enough to keep the files you used to have on your disk from being recovered. I used to use a free program called DBAN to sanitize old disks, but it required me to boot to it to use it. The problem was that in order to perform a very secure sanitation, it could take up to 24 hours or more depending on the size of the disk. This meant that my computer was tied up performing the sanitation for the duration. With TrueImage, you can do the same thing, but within Windows. It supports most of the popular algorithms, like USDOD method, Peter Gutmann’s method, and Bruce Schneier’s method.

PLUS PACK
The Plus Pack that is offered as an add-on True Image Home 2011 is a separate product requiring a separate purchase and license key. It adds 3 additional functions that some may find the need for. The first feature is full support for dynamic disks. Dynamic disks are supported in more current Windows operating systems and are more flexible than the older basic disks that have been around since the DOS days. With the added flexibility, dynamic disks also become more complex. Chances are, most users, myself included, are still using basic disks. It’s just simpler. However, if you do happen to have a system using dynamic disks, you won’t be able to use TIH2011 without the Plus Pack.

The second feature is support for Microsoft Preinstallation Environment. WinPE is way beyond the scope of this review, but essentially it is a deployment tool that is useful for large deployments. It is useful for large IT departments that have to manage a large number of nodes. For the home user though, it is not necessary.

The last feature that the Plus Pack adds is support for what Acronis refers to as Universal Restore. Universal Restore refers to the ability to restore your system images to a dissimilar system. Simply put, if you created an image for your computer but then decided to upgrade the motherboard or even the entire computer, you can still use TIH2011 w/Plus Pack to restore that image to the new hardware. Unfortunately, I found it a bit too complex and time-consuming to be useful for the average home user. Don’t get me wrong; it is useful. I just don’t think it’s a good fit for most home users. Below is a blurb from the help file about Universal Restore:

A system disk image can be restored easily on the hardware where it was created or to identical hardware. However, if you change the motherboard or use another processor version, a likely possibility in case of hardware failure, the recovered system could fail to boot.

Trying to move the system to a new more powerful computer will usually produce the same result. This is because the new hardware is incompatible with critical drivers included in the image.

Microsoft System Preparation Tool (Sysprep) will not resolve this problem. Sysprep allows you to replace only Plug-and-Play device drivers (sound cards, network adapters, video cards etc.).

However, System Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) and mass storage device drivers must be identical on both the source and the target computers (see Microsoft Knowledge Base, articles 302577 and 216915).

Acronis Universal Restore technology provides an efficient solution for hardware-independent system restoration by replacing the crucial Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) and mass storage device drivers.

Acronis Universal Restore is applicable for:

  1. Instant recovery of a failed system on different hardware
  2. Hardware-independent cloning of operating systems

MISCELLANEOUS
During installation, Online Backup was initially selected to install, but I unchecked it and elected not to install it. I dislike the idea of putting my data on servers that are not my own, permanently attached to the Internet. I don’t trust it. There’s also the monthly costs and performance limitations from slow upload bandwidths that don’t make it as convenient as it sounds. I would rather perform my own scheduled local backups and keep my media off-site or in a physical safe. But that’s just me. If you’re comfortable with it, Acronis’ service is competitive with similar services, like Mozy.

CONCLUSION
True Image Home 2011 is definitely the most feature-rich version of TI that Acronis has ever released. It certainly added a lot more features since version 11. It’s not quite user-friendly enough for me to recommend to complete newbies, especially since no printed documentation is included. For newbies, I would probably recommend using Norton 360 as an all-purpose security solution. Norton 360 has simple file backups too and the interface will probably be much easier to understand. I have my own parents using Norton 360. But for those with a little more experience or patience, TIH 2011 is a stud application. It’s very flexible, has great performance, and offers a collection of tools that any hardcore user can appreciate. Should Acronis decide to add a full-featured file synchronization option to True Image, it will become the only backup application I use.

Available from Amazon.com.

* Review license courtesy of Acronis Inc.

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