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Learning Backup Software

Why do you need to make backup

Backup software is a very good way to keep your computer and data safe whatever happens to the computer. If you know how to correctly use the backup software you will always be able to roll your computer back to the latest workable status even if you completely lost your hard drive, your computer (or hard drive) was stolen, crashed, burned out, etc. If you have a copy of your critical file then you can be sure that one day, when you suddenly realized that this file was lost, you can get a copy from a safe place where it was copied to, instead of recreating, retyping this file if this is a document. But imagine what if it was a family photo archive where each file is unique and can never be taken again? How scary that sounds to you? So it’s much better to spend an additional amount of money for the media to make a complete copy of your archive and sleep well being sure that yoru very important archive will never be lost one day.

Difference between just file copying and reliable backup

Many people think that if they copied the critical files somewhere then this is a backup and they are ok. Well, it's rather no than yes. If you copied the critical files to a safe place it can be considered as a backup but with a number of limitations. But keep in mind that if anything serious happens to your computer it should take a very long time, say, days or even weeks, to continue working with your saved files just because you will need to reinstall the whole operating system, download and install all updates, service packs, antivirus systems, apply all that settings that you have been using for a long period of time, and all from scratch. You will need to customize all programs, install the packages that have been lost, etc. If you were using licensed software then you will probably need to reactivate it through the Internet, but some software accepts the only one activation, and you will need to contact this company to make them reset the license counter explaining that you have to reinstall everything from scratch after a serious disaster. Finally even if everything is fine, the hardware is perfect, you could simply get a virus that started changing your computer and personal files, so you need a quick and reliable way to roll everything back to some day. Imagine also that you had many different email accounts, etc. and all that should be configured, one by one, with the settings, logins, passwords, server names, etc., takes from your head. You got the picture and we believe it doesn't look very attractive. Actually this is what everybody would like to avoid whatever it costs.

Solutions

There are several different solutions available on the market allowing you to sleep well, at least without thinking about your computer. These solutions not only allow you to save your personal files, but the whole operating system so, that you will be able to restore the whole computer in just 20-30 minutes, depending on its power and hard drive size, and keep working right away like nothing happened. You will need to know some basics, of course, to understand how it works, but in most cases all these solutions are having wizards helping you to get the best results with minimum efforts. The advanced users can skip these wizards for sure and do that their own ways.

Acronis True Image Home

Acronis is not a new company on the market. It appeared many years ago and computer professionals know about this company well enough. Acronis True Image Home is a relatively good application for a home user and even for a small business. Also keep in mind that the same company develops and sells the professional packages for corporate users as well. So you are free to decide which one better covers your needs. To get more details about this software you can go to Acronis web site and learn how it works. There are many pages explaining and comparing different versions or different products. Acronis even has a forum to discuss the issues and help you to resolve them. It’s not a good idea to repeat here what’s already written on the Internet. Instead, we’d prefer to tell you about some traps, issues and bugs, that you get working with Acronis products. But don't be so scared. Acronis True Image Home is our choice, so it's not that bad as it seems. We simply wanted you to know about potential problems that you can meet with and the ways to avoid them. By the way, about a year ago we got a very pleasant surprise. A long time ago we subscribed for offers and Ads at www.newegg.com. So every night this site sends us the info about the items that are currently on sale. About a year ago we got a very attractive offer to buy Acronis True Image Home for just $2.99 including shipping. It was true and a few days after we paid for it we got the box with a CD and manual. After receiving the Mail-in-Rebate we got the promised price - $2.99, which was totally incredible!

Acronis past and current issues and bugs

In general Acronis True Image Home works fine. But there were (and some are still not resolved so far) from annoying to critical bugs affecting the whole work with these products. So the customers be aware!

  • The different versions of Acronis True Image Home are using different protocols/formats so probably you will be unable to restore your files from the old archives if you already switched switched to the newer incompatible version of Acronis True Image Home. It's not a big issue although if you really don't want to find some antient files from your very old archive. We know just a very few people keeping old files "in case of...".
  • Acronis Disk Director Suite up to version 2010 is totally incompatible with Acronis True Image Home and simply kills it making any work of True Image Home impossible. Even if you uninstall the Disk Director Suite from your computer you will keep getting an exception, coming from MSVCR80.DLL with exception code 40000015 and offset 000046b4. You can Google for it and find that it's probably not only about Acronis. Many applications are having a similar issue with the same library. We tried to dig deeper and found that Windows 7/64 Professional in our configuration has 55 different files on the system drive called MSVCR80.DLL. We tried to reorder the files and found at least 7 different generations, all published by Microsoft, with different build dates and numbers. So each application prefers to keep its own local copy of this file, and maybe it's done for purpose since sometimes Microsoft makes so many changes in different builds of the same libraries, that they are absolutely incompatible. Anyway, this issue is still not resolved and Acronis developers so far keep silence. So since you know about this issue don't combine different products if you are not absolutely sure that it will not kill your machine or one of critical applications. *There is an update added to the bottom of this page. The current issue is fixed by Acronis and we can confirm that.
  • The earliest versions of Acronis True Image Home started from bootable CD were unable to efficiently use the disk/file cache. As a result the whole backup even from a small hard drive could be done in several long hours. Instead, the Windows based version of Acronis True Image Home was using the Windows system cache and was working in several times faster. This issue was fixed couple years ago and both versions started working much better.
  • The last year version of Acronis True Image Home had a very interesting, actually unique, bug making restoring from the backup very tricky if possible at all. When the user wanted to restore the system drive from the external USB drive he could get into a serious problem when the backup drive with his archive could simply disappear. We tried to dig deeper into this issue and found that actually the drive doesn't disappear. Instead, as soon as Acronis True Image Home starts from the CD it starts initializing all the drives it can work with. As soon as this process is done you can browse for the archive file, select it and start restoring the drive or files. The real problem started when Acronis True Image Home suddenly decided to change the drive letter of the backup drive on the fly. After the user selected the drive and started the process the drive letter could change to something else and the backup file could become unavailable because the partition letter changed. It was really scary first time, because we thought that the whole backup file was corrupted or deleted and we lost everything that we backed up. Finally when we realized what the real reason was, we started playing with the external enclosures to insert an additional drive at the critical moment to keep the same backup drive letter. It was hard to believe in that if we didn't see and play with this bug ourselves. It looked like the Plug-n-Play feature, usually so nice, was changing the partition order. So the report was sent to Acronis Developers and the issue was fixed. But we got a few white hairs after this experience anyway.
  • There are some problems if you have Linux loader installed on your hard drive. In this case it's much easier to leave it alone and use Acronis Emergency CD instead of Acronis F11 feature to start from Acronis partition. Although the trouble can be easily avoided and it's possible to combine Linux Boot Loader and Acronis Loader on the same machine/disk we would not recommend you to do that until you are absolutely positive in what you're doing.
  • Sometimes the Acronis Support is not as reliable as you'd expect it to be. You can easily get the answers to the questions that you never asked because they don't bother to read and completely understand your questions. They just call some kind of drop-down list of ready solutions and copy these answers to you. But anyway Acronis support is much better than Symantec support. If we had a chance to evaluate both, we'd say that Symantec gets 1 of 5 and it's just because there are no 0 or negative grades, and Acronis gets maximum 2 of 5, and it's only comparing to Symantec. So if you want to get some questions, you'd better use Acronis Forums, than Acronis Support. **The situation is improving. We got a very good detailed support from Terence (Acronis) and we were able to very efficiently resolve the last driver related issue. So the number of stars should be changed to 5/5 now.
  • The assumption that Acronis True Image Home 2009 and 2010 cannot work with Windows 7, made by Acronis support, was wrong. It requires some skills, but basically it works and we were able to restore the system hard drive and make it bootable using Acronis bootable CD and Windows System Disk with Recovery Panel. There is no mystery. It's same NTFS, so once you restored the system drive you should start the system from the Windows installation disk, select Recovery, then type a simple command at the command prompt:
    bootrec.exe/fixmbrand
    And it will make this magic for you.
  • Warning. We tried Acronis Disk Director Home 2011. It was installed right after we installed Acronis True Image Home 2011 and it was looking good until we tried to resize a 1.8 TB partition to cut some space off and add it to the system drive. The whole partition was complete destroyed! We had a backup, so it was not a big deal, just one more test, but right after that we requested a promised 30-day refund for Disk Director Home 2011 and got it. So the customer be aware! Never play games without making a complete backup first! Btw, Windows 7 has the same feature to shrink the partition. We suspect that it works much better, but honestly didn't try it yet, and it has some limitations.
  • For some reason Acronis Disk Director 2010 and some earlier versions could change the partition cluster size. The version of Acronis Disk Director Home 2011 doesn't have this feature anymore. The reasons are unknown.

It's not a complete list of bugs and issues we were facing working with different versions of Acronis, but these are the items we wanted you to be aware of.

Advices to get more from backups

We'd like to give you a few advices how to make your backups more efficient, safe and fast.

  • Make all backups in one file without splitting it unless you really want to burn these files to DVD disks. To do, that simply select the Archive Size to Auto in Acronis True Image Home backup options.
  • Always give your backup files readable names like yyyy-mm-dd-computername-drive, for example: 2010-02-24-HomeServer-C. It will let you keep these files perfectly ordered even if you copy them to a huge media archive. If you started a new batch of backups simply change the date in the name.
  • Always make Incremental backups to save more space on your backup media. Acronis will not modify your old backup file. It will create a new one and will add modified and new files as well as make a notice about deleted files so that you will be able to restore your file to any generation saved in the backup archive. Using the latest backup you can restore your system drive and working documents to the day when this backup was made.
  • Always use maximum compression and encryption for your backup archives. It's much better to wait for a few more minutes than think that anybody can grab your backup files and read/use any of your personal files. As for compressions... Uncompressed files will be bigger, much bigger. Just to make it clear - a single 100 GByte system drive can be backed up to ~50 GByte archive file using maximum compression. It will be much bigger with no compression. So if your computer is powerful enough to use the maximum compression just do it. It's lossless anyway, and all your files will be restored to the original condition.
  • Always add comments to your backup files. You think that it's easy to recall what exactly was done and when, don't you? No, no and no! It's much better to be able to read a short comment like: "2010-04-16 15:23 Installed additional update from Microsoft, Installed a new video driver, configured Outlook, Installed Games, Deleted extra versions of ... applications and optimized the registry." If something fails in your new configuration it will be a starting point to restore your PC and exclude these changes. You will be able to quickly recall and understand the reason of the failure and restore your computer to a working condition.
  • If you have at least two different partitions - one for the system, and another one for your personal files, it makes sense to make two independent backup archives. Why? The size of the archive will be huge if you keep everything in one file. The convenience of this huge file is a big question. And there are often different schedules for making backups of your personal files and system drives. But it's up to you how to organize everything.
  • Acronis True Image Home provides three different ways of making backups. You can make a complete backup every time. Disadvantages are the archive size and the speed of the backup process. Incremental backup - that's what we are doing on your machines. Advantages - every new backup keeps only changes, as a result the incremental backup is usually much smaller and faster, than you'd make a complete backup. Disadvantage - you will have to keep all the files from the backup - from the very beginning, the very first one, and all the files after that. So to avoid that it makes sense to start a completely new backup after some point, say, once in 2-3 months, or after reaching some storage critical limit. Differential backup - you will store the difference between the very first backup and current status of your computer. As a result - the intermediate files can be deleted if you really don't need them. Maybe some people will find it more convenient.
  • You can make your backups while running Windows with no problems. Even more, the version of Acronis True Image Home 2011 lets you include your files or directories in Nonstop Backup. That's a very good feature and helps you to get a file versioning. But it's a very good idea to backup only closed files. In other words, in order to make a good reliable backup of your disk or directory you have to save and close all files you're currently working with if you want them to be correctly added to the backup. We tried to make a backup of the system drive on the fly, and it worked. But honestly, in order to get the best backup of the system drive, we'd recommend you to restart your computer from the Acronis partition using F11 if it's installed, or from Acronis Resque disk, and then make a backup of your system drive. Only in this case you can be sure that all the files are closed and will be correctly read and saved to the backup.

If you have any questions you can easily contact us directly or ask your questions in our PC You Trust Web Forum.

How to store the backup files

The best way to keep your data safe is to keep the backup media with your files, either CD/DVD, flash drives, network storage system, external disk or RAID enclosure, etc., whatever it is, in a safe place to be sure that it's not lost when you really need it. It’s not a very good idea to keep a backup media by your computer on the same table hoping that nobody will take it, or some disaster that can destroy your computer should leave this media alone. If you can keep this media to some remote location, then it’s the best and safest way. If not, then at least make sure that this media is stored in some safe locked box where nobody can take it from. And don't keep anything having very strong magnetic fields near your backup media if this is a hard drive, external enclosure, RAID, etc. You can lose everything in a moment before you realized that the media is dead. You can find an article on our web site about hard drives and possible issues in our Learning Center.

Links

  1. Wikipedia about backup
  2. Wikipedia about Incremental Backup
  3. Differential Backup
  4. Acronis True Image Home
  5. How to use Acronis True Image Home 2010 with online backup storage.
  6. Backup with Symantec Norton 360.

Update 09-19-2010

Acronis really came to the solution to resolve the True Image Home crashes. The Acronis support sent us a new version of Snap API setup drivers and that completely resolved the issue. Acronis True Image Home works again like new. A couple recommendations were sent to Acronis team. So we really know now what caused these crashes and how to fix them.

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