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PC backup software review

We test and compare 10 popular PC backup programs.
 
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01 .Back it up

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If you've ever faced computer problems and lost important files, the first question you'll usually hear is "Didn't you make a backup?" Usually the answer is no, followed by a mental note to build a proper backup disk in the near future. But for one reason or another, these plans often fall by the wayside for many of us.

Without a complete system backup, you're putting your PC at serious risk of losing important files such as personal documents or irreplaceable family photos. Fortunately, with the right system you can start building a backup in a matter of minutes.

With our lives so heavily invested in the digital world, a good backup program is an absolute must. But what software is best? Will the built-in Windows tools suffice or should you pay extra? And what strategy will give you peace of mind? We tested 10 popular PC programs, including the built-in Windows tools, to help you can find the right backup software for your needs.

Programs tested

  • Acronis True Image 2014
  • AOMEI Backupper standard for Windows 7
  • EaseUS Todo Backup Workstation 6.5
  • Genie Backup Home 9.0
  • Macrium Reflect Standard v5
  • Microsoft Windows 7 backup and restore
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Update and recovery
  • Novastor NovaBACKUP Professional 16
  • NTI Backup Now EZ 3
  • Paragon Backup & Recovery 14

Why back up?

Most people think of a backup as a way to protect your files against hardware failure, or a broken or stolen PC. But this is just one of the many reasons to duplicate your data. Typically you would use a backup to:

  1. Restore files/folders following accidental deletion or corruption.
  2. Restore to a previous state, a working system that's infected by a virus causing data loss.
  3. Repair problems caused by operating system (OS) failure.
  4. Restore a PC's entire hard drive contents to a new hard drive when the old one, or part of the hardware, has failed, or when the system will not boot to the desktop (disaster recovery).

In these cases, you are attempting to restore data to the same computer. Scenarios one and two will usually allow you to access the desktop and either recover files or roll back to an earlier state, before the data was lost. Three and four often result in a PC that cannot start normally, meaning you'll need to rebuild your operating system, programs and files on the same computer. This is often referred to as disaster recovery.

But did you know you can also use backup software to more easily upgrade your PC? A full backup lets you restore everything to a new hard drive in the same computer, even if the original is still working. Say you're using a 500GB drive, for example, and you want to upgrade to a 2TB drive. Most backup programs will let you create an exact duplicate or "clone" your system, so you can copy it onto the larger drive.

Things get a bit trickier however, when you want to restore your data to an entirely different computer, because you're working with different components (eg CPU, motherboard) and system drivers. This is something you will need to consider if your computer is stolen or damaged beyond repair – if it's destroyed by a fire or flood, for example.

In this case, most backup programs will require you to reinstall the operating system, all programs and then all individual files and folders. Some programs, such as Acronis Premium (see All about Acronis) can restore an entire system with settings and many of its applications onto a new computer, as long as the new PC is running the same operating system. You can't, however, restore a much older OS such as Windows XP to a new PC that requires Windows 8.

How we test

The overall score is based on three criteria: 1) Disk image backup and restore, 2) Files and folders backup and restore, 3) Disaster recovery ease of use. The final score for criteria one and two is based on ease of use and functionality.

Ease of use - imaging/backup: Attempt to create a full image and file/folder backup followed by scheduled incremental backups. 

Ease of use - restore image/backup: Attempt to restore incremental images if available or original system image if incremental could not be activated. File/folders were backed up, versions on computer were altered, and then we attempt to roll back to the original versions, to undo the alterations.

Disaster recovery: Disaster tools and image created on optical media (CD/DVD) if option available, otherwise created on external hard drive or flash media. We then boot into the PC system recovery menu (default F9) and follow the restore wizard.

What about the Mac?

Although our test was PC-based, there's plenty of great options for Mac users who are looking to backup their data. Apart from OS X's standard Time Machine utility, Acronis has released Acronis True Image for Mac at $69.99 (single user) and $99.99 (three user). Other popular options include Carbon Copy Cloner ($44.95), SuperDuper (free for basic, $27.95 for full), SmartBackup ($18.99) and Cronosync ($42.94). Most of these include a free trial period. 

 
 

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