Can I use the free backup software that came with my external drive?

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On your recommendation I recently purchased an external drive to use as a place to put my backups. I was surprised to find that it came with free backup software included. Why wouldn’t I just use that instead of downloading or even purchasing something else?

I get this question a lot, so you’re most certainly not alone in wondering.

Here’s my take on the situation: I don’t know what free backup software came with your drive.

And chances are, neither do you.

And that should tell you something.

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Free backup software with external drives

Many external drives come pre-loaded with software.

Let’s face it, when you purchase a drive, the vendor has a lot of room to put whatever they want to on that drive. It’s an opportunity for them.

But an opportunity for what?

In my experience, the backup software that comes with external drives falls into one or more of several categories.

  • It’s backup software from a company you’ve never heard of. You have no idea how good or reliable it is. But it’s free!
  • It’s a pared-down version of software from a company you have heard of. The good news here is that you can research that software’s reputation, and make a semi-informed decision as to whether or not it really meets your needs.
  • It’s a trial version. Much like the trial version of software programs that come preinstalled on many PCs1, what you have isn’t really free backup software at all; it’s a trial version that will work for some amount of time, after which you’ll need to purchase something if you want it to continue working.
  • It’s exactly what you want. And it’s free!

External Disk DriveOK, that last one is facetious; I’ve never seen it happen, though I suppose it could.

In all the other cases, though, you either don’t know exactly how good the backup software is, or you know that it’s not really everything you need.

As you might imagine, my advice is not to bother.

You want free backup software?

If what has you interested is the fact that it’s free, there are probably better, and definitely better-known, solutions I’d suggest you look into instead.

Macrium Reflect has a free edition that is quite powerful, and can absolutely be used as the cornerstone of a good backup regimen. Similarly, EaseUS Todo also has a free edition that meets the need.

Beginning with Windows 7, all versions of Windows include a basic backup program. While I’m not thrilled by it – its user interface confuses and annoys me – it does at least meet the “bare minimum” requirement to set up a backup of your system, as well as your files.

There are other backup utilities I’m less familiar with, but appear to have a generally positive reputation, that are also free.

Proactively locating free software you can learn about is much better than just accepting whatever you were given.

Backups are important

My take, however, is actually even more stringent.

Backups are important. Really important.

To me, they’re worth spending some time and perhaps even some money to make sure that both the software and the setup are working, and working well.

Thus, as you might expect, what I recommend is investing in quality backup software like Macrium Reflect2 or EaseUS Todo. Take the time to set it up properly (I do have a book on Macrium Reflect and another on EaseUS Todo), and know that you’re taken care of. The software can quickly pay for itself when disaster strikes.

What I do

When I get a new external drive, I do this:

  • I look to see what software, if any, came with it. This is more out of curiosity, to be honest, because I rarely if ever do anything with it.
  • I zip up the software that came with the drive, and archive it. This is just me being paranoid, but if, for some reason, there was something important that came with the drive, I’d want to be able to recover it.
  • I erase the drive completely. Typically I’ll do a quick format to accomplish this.
  • If it’s to be a backup drive for a PC, I put it into service, using my backup software of choice, Macrium Reflect.

And yes, as a side effect of all that, I do believe the archive of the backup software that came with the drive gets backed up … by Reflect.

Ultimately, I recommend you do something similar. While you certainly can use the free backup software that comes with the drive, backups are just too important to use a program you’re not completely certain of.

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Footnotes & references

1: AKA “crapware”.

2: I get nothing for recommending them – they still have no affiliate program. I just recommend Reflect because it’s good, and it’s served me well over the years.

20 comments on “Can I use the free backup software that came with my external drive?”

    • I would want an image, not just a “backup”.

      Some allow differentials. I prefer just doing a complete image.

      In about 45 minutes, I can be back in business.

  1. The trouble I found with most backup software is that it doesn’t seem to delete files from the backup that are no longer on your data drive? So I prefer to mirror all my data to 2 external drives, setting SyncBack to delete files on the destination that are no longer on the source. This way I do not collect and store copies of files that I have moved or deleted from my data drive. And I perform regular checks to make sure folder sizes and numbers of files on the external drives remain the same as those on my data drive.

    • I find that one advantage of incremental backups is that you can go back and recover a damaged or deleted file from the backups. I use Macrium Reflect and have it scheduled to delete the backup set from 2 months before when performing a monthly full image backup. In my case, my backup files have never exceeded 1 GB, although this can be very different if you add and delete lots of large files. Macrium Reflect can be scheduled to do something like this at any interval you choose. weekly, bi-weekly etc. I’m not telling you that what you are doing is not right for you. I just want to show a different option for other readers to help them decide which method might be best for them.

  2. Amen, Leo! I recall one horror story years ago where the backup software that came on a new client’s drive ran resident and was syncing everything. Not knowing how it worked, she would delete files from her computer thinking she had copies on the external drive, and guess what happened? Poof! I cannot recall the name of that software, but it was a nightmare to resolve the disappearing file problem.

  3. Do you know what program I have always used to do file backups? ROBOCOPY. I can control exactly how it works. There is no confusing GUI with options scattered helter-skelter throughout a confusing hierarchy of tabbed screens and dialogs. I can fork the feedback to both the screen and a log file. I can specify retries and wait times, etc. It is well documented. And it’s free.

    For image backups I can use either Macrium Reflect or Acronis. Both are excellent but only one is free.

    • Yup, RoboCopy is it! And it’s very fast. It takes me about 25 seconds to do my daily back up each evening. I run RoboCopy from a little batch file that cycles through 5 back up copies so I always have a history of back ups just in case.

      But remember, it’s only a file back up and won’t produce an image of your hard drive which you’ll need for disaster recovery.

  4. Before I started to remove unwanted programs and files from a Dell Win7 Home Premium laptop I wanted to image it to a separate partition on its 1000GB hard drive. Win7’s Shrink seemed to not to do what I wanted. I found at http://www.partitionwizard.com/download.html “MiniTool Partition Wizard Bootable CD” a program that would create an appropriate partition, and it did. Then using the Macrium Reflect 6.0.753 Rescue Media created after installing Macrium Reflect on my WinXP system, I was able to create that backup image.

  5. ”… all versions of Windows include a basic backup program … I’m not thrilled by it – its user interface confuses and annoys me” Leo, I’m delighted to hear that I’m not the only who finds the Windows backup interface to be the shitz. The Windows backup has saved my bacon more than once but I’ve always felt like I’ve fumbled my way through it and just been lucky. I’m downloading the Macrium free trial as I write this but will keep the old ”WindowsImageBackup” folders just in case. I wonder if there is a way to have Macrium take advantage of Windows backkups. That would be quite handy.

    • Not to mention that if you change ANYTHING, like a bigger HD, the windows image will tell you there is a configuration error and NOT restore the image! And you can forget changing from or to RAID. Macrum Reflect Pro solved this problem for me years ago, thanks Leo, now even if I upgrade the MB it will restore image and when I tell it there is new hardware…IT WORKS!

  6. I have been using the free edition from Macrium for some time now. It has saved my bacon on several occasions. This last one when I upgraded to Windows 10, which crashed…blue screen and died. I am ever so glad that I trusted Macrium which worked like a charm. I am currently waiting perhaps 3 months in order for more bugs to be fixed in Windows 10, before I attempt to upgrade again. I will just have to put up with that annoying screen telling me that Windows 10 is ready to install.

  7. I know I’m late to the game, but I just came across this article. I’ve been using a software called GoodSync that’s worked really well for me. I have a few different jobs that I do with it. One is a straightforward backup onto a backup hard drive like you describe. The other is to sync my two computers. The syncing ability is cool becuase my files are now on both computers.

    • There are any amount of file backup free programs out there, of which I use Free File Sync. I made two batch files… one to backup my internal data drive to MyCloud over the network… and the other to a local ext drive. This happens weekly (or daily if I have important stuff) and on top of this once a month I backup MyCloud to another another attached usb ext drive. So in fact, I have 4 copies of all my data.

      But I think (could be wrong) Leo is more about image files here. I use Macriun also, but for added security I use the win7 backupimage function that I have no problem with at all. I have backed up and restored from it in a breeze. I would love to know what issues others including Leo, are having with it. The only thing I dont like about it is you cat seem to give it its own folder… it likes to place the image directly on the drive.

      Conclusion for me is… Macrium is best and has many happy users to prove it.

  8. Have you heard of a backup program called “EaseUS”? It seems to doing what I’ve setup but never had to use it to recover anything.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks,

    Mike…..

  9. Like many readers I also face similar problem. I have been backing up my computer using the free Windows backup utility AND the free backup utility that came with the WD (western Digital) drive which I purchased recently. I even created the System rescue DVD from the windows software.
    Recently I started using the free version of MacriumReflect backup software and found that it is excellent amongst the 3 backup software I have been using.

    My question is this:

    If my computer has a problem, disk crash, etc. can I still use the System Rescue DVD I created from the windows backup software OR do I have to use the Rescue Disk created with the MR software in order to revive the machine?

    Then if I revive the computer with the DVD created with the windows software, can I still recover the files – the ones with the MRimg extension OR is it better to use ONLY the files from Macrium Reflect?

    Thanks

    • If you want to restore from the Macrium Reflect backup, you’ll need the Macrium Reflect rescue disk. It contains the Macrium program which is necessary to restore from the Macrium backup. The Windows rescue disk would only restore from the Windows backup.

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