Date: December 15th, 2003
Last year I reviewed Acronis True Image 6 (TI6), a drive imaging application that was relatively unknown in the US at the time. It can take an exact snapshot of your hard drive that can be easily restored if disaster strikes, restoring your computer to the exact state it was in when the image was taken. This makes it an excellent recovery tool because the system can be recovered within an hour or less, entirely avoiding the agony of spending days reinstalling Windows, all programs, manually coping any backed up data files, and customizing the system again.
There are other programs out there that do the same thing such as Symantec’s Ghost or PowerQuest’s Drive Image. What impressed me with TI6 though was its ability of making an image of a system partition that is currently in use without having to reboot, its bootable recovery CD with excellent hardware support right out of the box without customization, and its ease of use. After using TI6 for a short while, I threw out my Norton Ghost and Drive Image disks because both gave me nothing but trouble, and I haven’t missed them once.
When I heard that Acronis True Image 7 (TI7) was coming out, I was curious what this new version had to offer. While TI6 is a kick-ass piece of software, it was lacking a few features such as image verification, scheduling, drive cloning, and additional partitioning. Acronis was nice enough to send me a copy of TI7 for review, so I installed it on my test machine and started experimenting with it.
The first thing to notice is the redesigned user-friendly interface. TI6 was entirely wizard driven with only three options, Create, restore or explore image. TI7 has a new main screen that serves as the launch pad for each function. In typical Windows XP fashion, the left column contains related tasks and descriptions that change depending on which function is selected. Double-clicking any of the main menu selection launches a wizard for the desired task.
The Create / Restore / Explore / Unplug Image functions work as in TI6. Create Image guides the user through the process of creating a drive image from within Windows. Restore Image sets up the process of restoring an image. Explore Image mounts an existing image as a virtual read-only drive in Windows Explorer to conveniently restore selected files and folders. Unplug Image unmounts the image when finished.
A new addition to creating an image is the option of performing an incremental backup which means that after an initial full backup image has been created, subsequent backups only contain changed disk sectors instead of a full backup. The advantage to this method is that incremental backups take less time and the image files are smaller. The downside is that a restore requires the initial full backup as well as every incremental backup. If one of them is missing or corrupt, the entire process may fail.
There are several new functions listed. Verify Image allows checking the integrity of an image after creation to ensure the image was created successfully – a very important and welcome addition to the program for additional peace of mind. After all, there is nothing worse than having to revert to a backup and realizing it is corrupt.
TI6 did not allow to directly image (or clone) a partition to another partition. It required the user to create an image first in a temporary location, and then restoring that image in a second step to the new location. The new Clone Disk function makes the process of cloning a partition much easier. A simple wizard guides the user through the process of selecting the source and destination partitions. It even offers different options for sizing the destination partition.
Add Disk is a great way to add a new hard drive to a machine and migrate data from the old to the new drive. This comes in especially handy when replacing an old, smaller or failing drive with a new one. Once again, a wizard guides the user through the process of selecting the source (old) and destination (new) drive, what partitions to migrate and how to resize them, etc. After a reboot, the migration process takes place. When finished, it will give the option to shut the machine down and even remind to change jumpers when swapping drives.
One possibly dangerous option of this process is the ability to remove the data from the old drive after migration including zeroing the drive for added security. While this is a nice option if you have a known good backup, it is safer to first boot with the new drive and verify that the transfer was successful before zeroing the source drive.
Another immensely useful new feature is the ability to schedule backups. Another wizard allows easy configuration of scheduled drive images. The scheduling function is extremely flexible and supports multiple scheduled tasks. Having the ability to perform regular drive backups without interrupting productivity, without having to lift a finger, without rebooting, really leaves no excuse not to do it. Complete system backups have never been easier.
The Acronis Secure Zone is a new feature that enables the user to create a secure partition on a hard drive that is hidden and inaccessible to all other operating systems and applications, and dedicated to storing Acronis drive images. You then select it as the storage area for your next drive image where it is protected. When set up in combination with the Startup Recovery Manager, it makes recovery in case of disaster as easy as possible. Even if Windows is unbootable, restart the computer, press F11, select the Acronis recovery option, restore the image from the Secure Zone and you’re back in business.
My main machine runs on an Asus P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard with an Intel 875P chipset. Unfortunately TI7 still does not support the ICH5R SATA controller in RAID configuration in recovery mode which is somewhat surprising given how long this chipset has been on the market now. Another thing is that instead of taking advantage of the Windows task scheduler, Acronis installs its own Scheduler service. It also runs a TrueMonitor process in the background at all times, no matter whether TI7 is running or has any scheduled tasks or not. According to Acronis, this is necessary to properly control and manage scheduled tasks.
I ran into a small problem on two different Windows XP SP 1 machines. When I upgraded TI6 to TI7 and rebooted, I was not able to run TI7. When double-clicking the icon, the trueimage.exe process showed up in the Task Manager for a fraction of a second, but then disappeared and the app never launched. Repeated additional attempts to launch it had the same results. The only way to remedy this was to completely uninstall the program and clean install version 7.
Acronis has taken an awesome program and made it even better. Looking back at my previous review, they pretty much took my entire list of criticism and turned it into a new feature list for TI7. With these new additions, TI7 is truly a kick-ass drive imaging application that is guaranteed to give Drive Image and Ghost a run for their money. This version should satisfy the drive imaging needs of all but the more advanced enterprise user.
Having used TI7 for a while now, I am very glad I do not have to deal with the bloat of a Drive Image installation, customizing finicky boot disks with drivers for Ghost, relying on ancient technolog such as DOS and floppy disks, compatibililty issues, or strange lockups and other weirdness that have my past experience with Ghost and Drive Image extremely frustrating. In stark contrast, TI7 performs flawlessly, does exactly what it promises, and takes care of all my drive imaging requirements.
I highly recommend TI7 to all PC users, novice and power user alike, for its feature list, ease of use, and reliability. Drive imaging doesn’t get any better than this. Once again, Acronis True Image gets my PC911 kick-ass product of the year award.