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Should You Use the Free Backup Software that Comes with Some External Drives?

There are better options.

COnneceted Exter

Many external drives include free backup software that I never use. I'll explain why, and what I do instead.
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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?

A common question.

I don’t know what free software came with your drive. Chances are, neither do you.

That tells us something.

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TL;DR:

Many external drives come with free backup software that is either unknown or constrained in some way. Macrium Reflect and EaseUS Todo are two free alternatives available online. Backups are important enough that I prefer to invest in the paid versions.

Free external drive backup software

Many external drives come pre-loaded with software.

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

  • It’s from a company you’ve never heard of.
  • It’s a pared-down version with limited functionality.
  • It’s a trial version, and at some point you’ll have to pay to keep using it.
  • It’s exactly what you want.

OK, the last one is facetious; I’ve never seen it happen.

In the other cases, you either don’t know how good the software is, or find out it doesn’t do everything you need.

My advice: don’t bother.

Free backup software

There are better free solutions.

Macrium Reflect has a powerful free edition. It’s good enough be the cornerstone of a backup regimen. Similarly, EaseUS Todo also has a free edition meeting the need.

Windows includes its own backup program. As of Windows 7, it contains the “bare minimum” to back up your system and files. It’s slated for removal from Windows 10 and Microsoft recommends you find a different solution.

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

Backups are important

I have a high standard.

Backups are important. Really important.

To me, they’re worth spending time, and perhaps even money, to make sure the software and setup work well.

I recommend investing in quality backup software like Macrium Reflect’s or EaseUS Todo’s paid versions. Take the time to set it up properly. The software and your effort will quickly pay for itself when disaster strikes.

My approach

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

  • Out of curiosity, I look to see what software came with it.
  • If there is software, I make a copy and archive it. If I overlooked something important that came with the drive, I can recover it.
  • I erase the drive completely with a quick format.
  • I put it into service. If it’s a backup drive, I use Macrium Reflect.

I recommend you do something similar.

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You certainly can use the free backup software that came with the drive, but in my opinion, backups are just too important to use a program you’re not completely certain of.Tweet this!

28 comments on “Should You Use the Free Backup Software that Comes with Some External Drives?”

    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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…..

    Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  10. Hi Leo,
    First, let me thank you. I read one of your news letters a few years ago and I noticed you constantly harp (in a good way) on doing backups. I finally listened and started using the backup software (Acronis True Image for Western Digital) that came with my Western Digital HDD’s (I will only use Western Digital). I started backing my system up once every 2 weeks and it did a good job. I’ve been very lucky, touch wood (me touching my head), that I’ve never needed it. However, you always talk about Macrium so I just downloaded it and am about to set it up. I do prefer a disk image vs a clone but that’s just personal preference. I also use a separate drive that is only connected to the computer when I’m doing backups. Also learned from you. (lol) There’s always something in your news letters that catches my attention.
    So, again, I want to thank you for the news letters. They’re always informative, as this one was. As a result, I’m switching to Macrium.
    Take care and stay safe out there

    Reply
  11. I purchased Macrium Reflect 7 a while ago but could never get the Rescue Boot disk to actually boot. I made both a CD and USB Flash Drive and set the boot first option correctly on my Windows 8.0 PC but it would always progress past the boot disk and load Windows from the C: drive. And yes, I tried different Windows PE etc., but no go. There forum was no help either.

    Then I tried a free giveaway version of AOMEI Backupper Pro. Created the Rescue boot CD and also one on USB Flash drive. Both tested perfectly.

    Since then I’ve had to restore system images a couple of times from external hard drives and the Rescue Boot disk/flash drive have worked perfectly and I’ve managed to get my system restored.

    I can say that AOMEI Backupper has a graphical user interface that’s simple and straightforward so much so that I feel a novice could use it quite easily. However I do have a concern about its country of origin and therefore I’ve blocked it from “phoning home” just in case.

    As for Macrium Reflect, I use it to auto create a nightly profile backup of my browser. Seems a waste of such a powerful and fully feature Backup program. Maybe it’ll work properly when I get a new PC, but that won’t be until they come with Windows 11 installed, which I’m guessing will be sometime in 2022.

    Reply
  12. Re my last comment (just above), thought I’d check if there are currently any giveaways of AOMEI Backupper Pro and I found one. It’s at {potentially rogue website removed} which is probably where I acquired my version long ago. The website has been around for years and is legit as far as I know.

    My apologies to Leo if I seem to be promoting that software a bit zealously.

    Reply
    • We evaluated Aomei Backupper, and found it to be a very close second to EaseUS ToDo in receiving the Ask Leo! recommendation.
      I am, however, skeptical about a website that distributes free versions of paid software. That sounds fishy.

      Update: I checked out the link you posted, and Malwarebytes warns that it’s potentially dangerous

      “Website blocked due to riskware
      Website blocked: {removed}

      Malwarebytes Browser Guard blocked this website because it may contain malware activity.

      Reply
  13. I’m trying to get unconfused here, so I know what is best to do. I put great stock in Leo’s repeated suggestions to backup, backup, backup. I want to do another “complete system image backup” but since I have about 160Gb used on my SSD (250Gb capacity), I need a bit more than a USB to backup onto.
    I run a WD My Passport as an external HDD (1Tb capacity). It is set to do daily incremental backups — but I kind of realized that it is not really doing a “system image” backup (duh). So I was thinking about putting the IMAGE backup onto that drive externally — but then, it seems it would erase/reformat the backups on there to date. Plus, if it creates an IMAGE backup there, would future incremental backups write over that IMAGE area? (It’s why I thought about partitioning that external drive). WD has a backup program to do incremental, etc. but it no longer has support and they suggest using Acronis for that; I’d rather use Macrium Reflect 8.

    However, WD today responded to my query about doing partitioning of the external with the following:
    —————————-
    “I understand that you want to create the backup on your My Passport, My apologies for any inconvenience caused to you.

    Based on your concern, I would like to inform you that WD My Passport is fully supported by WD, however, supports for WD backup software is the end of support for Backing up, hence I suggest you use Acronis True Image for Western Digital for backing up.

    Please refer to KBA mentioned below for installing and backing up

    How to Backup a Windows Computer using Acronis True Image for Western Digital
    https://support-en.wd.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/15564/track/AvPNawo5Dv8S~ZUkGiMe~yJjP48qoi75Mv~G~zj~PP8P

    Please refer to KBA mentioned below for partitioning.
    https://support-en.wd.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/23035/track/AvPNawo5Dv8S~ZUkGiMe~yJjP48qoi75Mv~G~zj~PP8P

    Note: Western Digital does not recommend multiple partitions due to potential corruption of the Partition table.”
    ————————
    The last comment is the one that is concerning to me. If you were to use Acronis as they suggest, wouldn’t that mean you’re going to be overwriting what you already have with a “new” backup program from what was their WD Backup? And if so, why couldn’t you then just use Macrium Reflect?

    Maybe I should just use the existing external drive to create the IMAGE and then keep that in case it’s ever needed (maybe do a periodic overwrite/repeat from time to time); and then buy a new external HDD and attach that for “incremental” file backups of the C: drive, if it can’t be partitioned (per WD’s reply).
    Could use the opinion of you experts, thanks.

    Reply
    • If you have incremental backups, you have a system image backup as the first file in the backup set. An incremental backup will fail if the system image is missing. If you specify incremental backups when you run it the first time, the first backup of the set will be a full system image and the subsequent backups will be incrementals.

      Backups are just files, and a new backup won’t overwrite an older one unless you instruct your backup program to automatically delete older backups, and that will be specified by you in the retention policy.

      Leo used to recommend Acronis, but now we recommend Macrium Reflect or EaseUS Todo backups.

      Reply
      • Thanks Mark (& Leo).

        So if a new WD external drive comes with “WD Discovery Software” for backup, etc. in order to use Macrium, should the drive first be formatted (thus removing the WD software, since there apparently is no longer any support for it in that WD is recommending use of Acronis for WD), and then Macrium (as example) used instead?

        Reply
        • Formatting is up to you, but not required. Even though I advise not using the pre-installed software I actually do save a copy of it somewhere, just in case, before I delete it from the hard drive and begin using the tools of my choice.

          Reply

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