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A brief overview of Macrium Reflect Backup

Backups are an often-discussed topic on Ask Leo!, but options for how best to perform backups and what tools to use can be both confusing and difficult to find.

In this video excerpt from an Ask Leo! webinar, I’ll provide a brief overview (not an in-depth review) of one of the options: Macrium Reflect.

Macrium has a fairly good feel to it, and it’s now a backup program that I recommend .

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OK, a quick overview of Macrium – I hope I’m pronouncing that right – I really don’t know – Reflect – free version. Once again, backup tools typically do end up wanting administrative access to your machine so you will probably see a UAC prompt as you go ahead.

So Macrium basically lets you take a look at the various drives you have. As you can see, I have a C: drive that will have my data on it; it has no label and I have D: which I have labeled as a backup drive. D: will be my simulation of an external drive or the drive to which you want to do your backups. What we’re going to do is create a backup image of an entire disk or selected partitions. Macrium fires off a wizard. It allows me to select now which drives I want to backup. I’m going to backup the drive that contains C: and the system reserved area in front of it which is the system drive that I’m actually running Windows from.

I’m going to back that up to D:. Again, you have other alternatives here; you can back up to another location on your network if you have a local area network set up; you can back up to CD/DVD if you have a burner (as you can see, Macrium is smart enough to realize that I don’t and not even offer that as an option). You can set the name of your backup filename.

We have some Advanced options that I want to go through quickly. I typically prefer to have it go ahead and spend several extra seconds compressing my data. This is one of those things that depends a little bit upon the strength and the power of your machine. Compression is a CPU intensive operation. If you have a fast enough CPU, I recommend doing this; it just makes for smaller backups.

Intelligent sector copy basically says only copy those sectors that are in use. An exact copy is a clone where even the empty sectors, the parts of your  hard disk that don’t have data, are copied. Normally, you really only want an Intelligent sector copy, you really only care about the data that’s on your hard drive.

File size. Macrium will actually do the right thing automatically for the different types of media that you have. NTFS will let the files go as big as you like; FAT32 has a limit of 4 GB per file so if you are backing up more than 4 GB it will chop it up for you; and DVDs obviously only contain 4.7 or 8 point whatever it is GB; CDs 640 MB; it will automatically do the splitting for you or you can set it up yourself. And, of course, you can add a comment to the backup.

And we are done. In this particular case, Macrium is going to go ahead and start backing up immediately so I’m not going to hit Finish but normally you would.

Now, one of the options that was missing and is something that I’ve spoken about before is incremental backups. This is the free version of Macrium Reflect. As a result, it too only allows for full system image type backups. Now the good news is that even with that, we can, we’re going to take the restore path here and take a look at (these are the backups that I happen to have there). This is one I did previously and I can now restore it to that location or…which…again, this would probably fail at this point because I’m restoring it to my active C: drive and a full restore is going to take booting from restoration media which I’m going to talk about here in just a second.

The other approach, the thing that I actually like about Macrium in this particular case is that you can browse the contents of a backed up system using Windows Explorer. So what I’ve done here is I’ve clicked on browse an image and it’s popped up this dialog that’s allowing me to select which of the backups it knows of that I want to browse. Now, I want to browse the backed up copy of my C: drive. And what it does is it temporarily assigns you a new drive letter. In this particular case, it’s defaulting to E: which is fine. I also want to enable access to restricted folders so that I can see all of the files on that particular backup.

And now, this is Windows Explorer but what we’re actually exploring is the contents of the backup I took a few days ago. So I’ve got some files here; I can go in and restore the things that I might need to restore. I’m not restoring the entire system but I can go off and I can locate those files that I deleted by accident or the old version of a file that I somehow modified and lost my changes to. It’s a wonderful way to take a system backup, a full system backup, and make sure that you’ve backed up absolutely everything and then be able to come back to it later and know for sure you can go back and get that file that you deleted or whatever.

I like their use of Windows Explorer as the browsing mechanism that they use too…it’s obviously something that they hope you will already be very familiar with. When you finally find the file that you want to restore, it’s as simple as copying it or placing it back on your C: drive.

I mentioned earlier that one of the things that we can’t do right now is do a full restore to the C: drive because we’re running from the C: drive. You can’t change the drive that you’re actually running from. That’s when you need a system restored disk or as they call it, a bootable rescue disk.

They have two options. I strongly suggest that you use the Linux option. Their BartPE is really for advanced users. It creates a plugin that you can then put into a BartPE bootable disk that you are creating. Now, if you don’t know what a BartPE disk is or if that sounds very intimidating then it’s pretty clear that you don’t want to do that.

The Linux version is great; it’s fine; it will do what you need it to do. In this particular case, we are once again going to create an ISO image file the virtual machine here that I have here does not support writing to DVDs or CDs, so instead it creates an ISO file which you can then later take to another machine and burn to CD.

Once you have that CD in hand, then you are ready for what I’ve referred to as the true disaster scenario. You’ve backed up your machine to an external drive. Your primary hard disk dies somehow or you have a massive malware infection so that the only thing to do is to restore the entire hard drive from a backup. If you replace a hard drive; you replace your system drive, what you end up doing then is booting from this CD that we create here which will bring up a version of Macrium and allow you to then browse for the backup image that you want to restore and restore it to the replaced or damaged, software damaged hard drive in your machine. You finish that restoration using their rescue CD; you pop the CD out and you reboot from your networking system that’s back to where it was before.

This is one of those things that people tend to overlook. It’s an important step when setting up backups for the first time. You want to make sure that either you have this rescue CD burned and ready to go; you’ve got it squirreled away somewhere or you have another machine available that you can use to create this rescue CD.

In some cases, the manufacturers – in this particular case, Macrium may, I say, ‘may’ have an ISO image that you might be able to download. But it’s much safer and typically much faster to be prepared.

Let’s see, so I’ve talked about the fact that we cannot do an incremental backup with this; the full edition of Macrium Reflect will do that. In fact, you can see here in their product literature that they are showing you that you can do incremental and differential images and they have a support forum and so forth.

I will spill the beans right now that I have actually taken a look at Macrium Pro, the full version of Macrium Reflect and it is likely that this is the tool that I will be doing a series of videos on much like I did on Acronis 2009. I believe that this might be the tool that I end up recommending in general for people to do their backups and be able to recover from them reliably. I did go out to the Macrium form and take a look at some of the responses. This is a relatively new version. Some of the kinds of things that were going on out there and was actually what one might expect. People were having some problems; people were asking questions and they were getting answers and they were getting support.

So that all looks very promising. I’m not saying it’s a recommendation yet but this is probably the direction I’m heading.

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10 comments on “A brief overview of Macrium Reflect Backup”

  1. Leo……..thanks for the great video about Macrium. I’ve been wanting to do a system backup with it, and the video makes me a lot less nervous about jumping into it. Jim

  2. Macrium sounds exactly like my Acronis 2010. Acronis does a differential backup every day and can mount an image as a drive. In addition to a rescue disk it has a pre-boot option which brings up Acronis and lets me restore image from the 2nd hard drive where I store them.

    Why would I (or anyone) want Macrium rather than the tried and true Acronis? This is a serious question. I am genuinely puzzled. It doesn’t sound as though Macrium offers anything at all that is new. Indeed it sounds like a clone. Is it just that it is free and my Acronis is a paid for version?

    Always good to read your intelligent and articulate articles.

    Many people are reporting technical problems with Acronis, and having difficulty getting help from Acronis support. If it’s working for you (as it has for me) then great, but I’m in the process of trying to identify another program I can recommend.

  3. Coly, Why use Macrium instead of Acronis? Well, apart from the fact that everything is transparent in Macrium whereas Acronis tends to hide some of the details from the user (presumably to make it easier), have you ever tried to get support from Acronis via emails? Well, if you want to wait a week or so then go ahead and use Acronis. If you want a response in a few jours or less, then go for Macrium Reflect.

  4. Hi Coly,
    I think you answered your own question. A lot of people will go for the free version as long as it does what they need. Often the paid versions will have extra features but not everyone needs or indeed wants these.
    I have used Macrium fairly extensively and it did what I needed and I didn’t feel I was missing anything.
    Recently I have changed to Paragon Free but only because it restores my system in half the time of Macrium and although I have created the recovery CD I normally restore the “C” Drive without it which is something that Macrium will not allow.
    Does Acronis allow this ? I ask because I am totally unfamiliar with Acronis.
    Regards Alex

  5. After a couple of instances of suffering the ordeal of restoring my hard drive from scratch, I was excited to hear about system imaging about a year ago. Macrium Reflect was recommended highly by another site, so I tried it out and found it really simple to use after viewing an online tutorial. If like me, you are just interested in creating a fallback point in case of catastrophe, you can’t go wrong with this program. As Leo pointed out, the ability to browse the created image and see that it’s all there is very reassuring. My image was created in less than 15 minutes for approximately 15GB used HD space, so I guess you can use that as a benchmark. One note: the Linux boot disk did not initially work in my old XP machine. But as instructed, I was able to do a 2nd burn using their advanced settings to create a compatible disk. No problems with a disk burned for Win7.

  6. I have been using Macrium for a couple of years, now, and am very happy with it. I bought the paid for version as I wanted incrementals/differentials.

    The free version I use on client’s machines and schedule backups to a USB drive.

    I have upgraded to the latest version that has several new features and a nicer interface.


  7. The link at the bottom of the video is wrong. It says that it is a link to Download Macronis but actually it takes us to a replay of the video.

    I’ve updated the site to be clearer about that link – it’s specifically to allow you to download the video.

  8. Leo, your answer to me is interesting.
    My experience with Acronis:
    2008 – flawless
    2009 – disaster – couldn’t restore or mount from its own backups. Removed it, reinstalled 2008
    2010 – flawless. I’ll be keeping this one forever. :)

  9. Make sure you get the right version…if your Hard Drive is set up for Dynamic, which allows it to logically append new hardware to the existing Hard Drives, you will need the professional version. The good news is I found their support to be outstanding….helped figure out what my problem was, and the upgrade to the correct version was pretty much painless. Based on the responsive tech support, Highly Recommended!

  10. Is there any program that creates a disk image on the fly? IE I would like to have a usb connected disk that continually gets updated. When my system disk crashes I would like to just be able to remove the remote drive, install it in the system and continue. Is this possible?


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