Review: Acronis True Image Home 2011
|Platforms:||Windows XP, Vista, 7 (all 32 + 64-bit)|
Finding the right backup tool can be a lengthy process, as there are so many questions to consider. Do you want file, or image-based backups, for instance? Will you just run backup jobs daily, or do you require continuous real-time protection? Should the data be saved locally, or do you need an online backup tool? And the list goes on.
All these features can be useful on occasion, though – so why should you compromise, be forced to choose between one approach or another? Acronis claim it isn’t necessary at all. Install Acronis True Image Home 2011, they say, and you’ll find it provides all the backup features and functionality that you’ll ever need.
Check the program data list and there’s no doubt it looks impressive, with support for file, file category, email, disk and partition-based backups, non-stop backup that’s saving your key files all the time, online backup, drive cloning and more.
Each module has plenty of professional features, including incremental and differential backups, 256-bit AES encryption and VHD support.
Yet Acronis say the program is also very easy to use, and point to several new features in this latest version, like better Windows 7 integration, improved scheduling, an enhanced Backup Explorer, and more.
Sounds great, in theory, but how does Acronis True Image Home 2011 look, feel and behave in practice? Time to take a closer look.
Launch Acronis True Image Home 2011 and you’ll see links for the five main backup types it supports: “Disk and partition backup”, “Nonstop Backup”, “Online Backup”, “File Backup” and “E-mail Backup”. You’re able to mix and match these, creating various backup jobs of each type, as the need arises, and whatever you build will be listed in the “My backups” section.
Sounds a little complicated? PC novices can always launch the Backup Assistant, a simple wizard that drills down through the options and helps you choose the most appropriate module.
Unfortunately this is poorly designed, with for example no “Back” button on the final page of options, so if you choose the “Files and Folders” option, and click Next, there’s no way to change your mind – you must cancel the wizard and start again.
And once you’ve created a single backup, the Backup Assistant link disappears from the opening screen. (It’s still available by clicking Help > Welcome Screen, but that’s hardly novice-friendly.)
It’s best to jump right in and choose one of the main modules yourself, then, and doing that generally produces much better results.
Full image backups
Try a “Disk and partition” backup, for instance, and you might expect some lengthy wizard to complete – but not here.
Acronis True Image Home 2011 will automatically choose to back up your entire system drive, pick a destination drive for you (whatever has the most free space), and give the backup job a sensible name, and if this is all correct then you can simply click “Back up now” to start the backup process. Very easy.
If you need to take more control of your backups, though, there are plenty of options on offer.
You can select and deselect multiple partitions with a click.
You’re able to save your backups to local, external or network drives, CDs, DVDs or Blu-ray discs, even remote FTP servers, enabling you to use a cheap VPS or dedicated server for your backups.
Backups can be full, or incremental. You may optionally encrypt them via AES 128, 192 or 256. Backup files can be split into chunks of whatever size you like, for storing on removable media. You can even have a full copy of Acronis True Image Home 2011 placed on your removable media, so you’re able to restore a backup if your original PC no longer starts.
You get very fine control over your backup performance, with options to configure your backup file compress level and process priority, as well as the ability to set speed limits for hard drive writing and network traffic.
And backup jobs can be scheduled to run daily, weekly, or when you log on, log off, your system starts or shuts down (sensible default means the latter options will run only once a day). The scheduler is now able to wake a sleeping or hibernating computer to perform a backup, too, if your hardware is up to it.
If that sounds too much then don’t worry, you don’t need to explore any of these options unless it’s necessary. Just click Back Up Now and Acronis True Image Home 2011 will go to work, backing up the files you’ve specified at (in our experience) high speeds, and without significantly interfering with other PC operations.
File-based backups in Acronis True Image Home 2011 take a very similar approach to their image-based cousins.
Click the File Backup link, and you’re immediately presented with a default backup job: the My Documents folder is checked, and a destination drive automatically selected. If you’re happy with this then you could click the “Back up now” button immediately, nothing else required. But if you prefer something else, then as with the image backups, there are plenty of settings to be tweaked.
There are two ways to choose what to back up, for instance. You can check boxes next to particular files or folders. Or you’re able to select file types by category (Music, Video, Image, Documents – and other categories can be added), and Acronis True Image Home 2011 will then back up files in those categories, wherever they’re stored on your system.
There’s the same fine control over backup settings that we saw in the image module. You can run full or incremental backups, encrypt the backup files, split them to fit in removable media, define the backup’s process priority, and more.
And it’s possible to exclude particular file types from the backup, to improve performance. Acronis True Image Home 2011 only excludes a few file types by default – *.tmp, *.~ and so on – but it’s easy to add more.
Add decent scheduling and the system works very well: easy to set up for beginners, but also very configurable for more experienced users, with backups running reliably, at speed, and without consuming too many system resources.
The Nonstop Backup option is the Acronis take on continuous data protection: point the program at the folders you’d like to protect, and it’ll carry out an incremental backup every five minutes, so if disaster strikes then you’ll lose the absolute minimum of data.
Won’t this use too many resources? There’s a lot of work to do initially, and the Acronis service that runs Nonstop Backup isn’t exactly lightweight. In our tests it regularly consumed 150-250MB of RAM and 5-10% CPU time, and our test PC was noticeably slowed down.
Once the baseline backup is complete, though, the service will save only the portions of files that have changed, and that cuts its workload considerably. We still noticed delays occasionally, though, when other large apps ran more slowly as the Nonstop Backup service did its work. And unfortunately, unlike the other tools, there are no “performance” settings to customise this. You can’t change the frequency of the nonstop backups, the process priority, the hard drive write speeds or anything else (although you can pause the backups, if necessary, and resume them later).
If you can live with the resource use, though, Nonstop Backup seems effective. Restoration is straightforward, with the new Backup Explorer: choose a backup time, browse to the file or folder you’d like to restore, select a version if you like, and recover it at a click. The Explorer now works with other backup types, too.
And if you’d tried the beta preview version and had problems with Nonstop Backup, then so did we, but the bugs appear to have been ironed out. Don’t let the bad memories put you off: the beta was a nightmare, but now it’s worth another look.
Other backup types
Acronis True Image Home 2011 supports online backups, which work something like a cut-down version of their regular file backup module. So you can define specific files and folders, or particular file categories that you’d like to protect, then set up a simple backup schedule, and leave the program to do its work.
You will have to pay extra for this, however – disappointingly there’s no free online backup space bundled with the program (beyond a trial 2GB for a month only). Subscriptions are at least reasonably priced, though. As we write 250GB of online backup space can be yours for £3.95 a month, or £39.95 if you pay annually.
The E-mail Backup type will perhaps be more interesting for most people, then. It’s essentially another variation on the file backup module with a customised list of backup sources, being able to protect your messages, accounts and settings for Outlook 2002/ 2003/ 2007/ 2010, Outlook Express, Windows Mail and Windows Live.
The program would benefit from Thunderbird support, then, but Outlook users should at least find E-mail Backups to be useful. Especially as they include the details of your email accounts (something that Outlook no longer backs up), and IMAP mail folders, which means you can back up folders stored on a mail server – very useful.
We found the core Acronis True Image Home 2011 backup modules had generally impressive interfaces, easy to use for beginners yet providing speedy access to more advanced settings, if you required them.
This section takes up a great deal of space, for instance, visually overwhelming everything else on the screen (it even uses larger fonts).
Yet it doesn’t provide much in the way of information. If you have a file backup running, say, it’ll show you a progress bar and estimate how much time is remaining, but there’s no option to see exactly what it’s doing, remind yourself what the backup job contains, see the files that have been backed up so far or what is left to do.
Some of the information you do get here is confusing. Cancel a backup and a yellow “The last backup has been canceled” alert will be displayed. Fair enough, but (unless you remove it manually) this message then remains on the screen, even when the next backup is running: glance at the screen and it looks like someone may have cancelled the current backup, too.
The operations you can perform on a backup job aren’t always clear. Sometimes you’ll want to delete a job, right? To do this you must click Operations > More > Remove From This List, not the most obvious of selections.
And we’d expect the “Open Backup Location” option to open the backup folder where our backups to be stored. Not how it works here, though. Instead Acronis True Image Home 2011 tries to open a backup file, so if you’ve not run the job yet then you’ll just get an error message.
None of these are critical problems, and you’ll quickly learn how everything works. They’re irritating, though, and out of step with the ease of use of the rest of the program: hopefully Acronis can improve on this in future updates.
Tools, utilities and more
Look beyond the core backup options, and you’ll find Acronis True Image Home 2011 offers a host of useful extras.
Enable the Startup Recovery Manager, for instance, and you’ll be able to optionally launch a True Image component at boot time, allowing you to restore a backup and recover your PC if Windows won’t boot.
The Rescue Media Builder can alternatively create bootable CDs, DVDs or USB flash drives for portable disaster recovery.
And there are useful options to, for instance, mount a backup image so you can browse it in Explorer for the files you’d like to restore, or convert Acronis True Image Home 2011 tib images to Windows vhd format, and back again.
Interesting bonus extras include Try&Decide, which creates a temporary workspace on your computer. Once enabled it tracks any changes – system tweaks, program installations, whatever they might be – and is then able to commit or remove them, whichever you like.
This is perfect if, say, you want to try a Windows tweaking tool, a new Registry cleaner or something, but aren’t quite sure how safe it will be. With Try&Decide you can install these, experiment, see how they work. If they’re a disaster, no problem, discard the changes and the programs and everything they did disappears – your PC is back the way it was. And if they’re a success, apply the changes, you get to keep the tweaks and you can carry on as normal.
There’s also a Security and Privacy section, with tools to delete your Windows activity traces, securely wipe individual files or an entire drive, and (for some reason) edit your drives at the sector level.
And the Disk Management section includes tools to clone an existing drive, or set up a new one (partition it, format it and so on).
These tools do have some issues: in particular, like the rest of Acronis True Image Home 2011, sluggish launch performance means they take a while to fire up. They’re otherwise well designed and easy to use, though, and we found them welcome additions to an already powerful package.