I consider backing up to be one of the fundamental necessities for anyone who uses a computer.
As anyone with even a little experience will tell you, you will lose something important someday without a backup; it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. And someone with more than a little experience will also be able to share horror stories of how and when they learned this important lesson.
In my opinion, that’s why it’s critical that you backup your computer and data regularly. As I’ve said repeatedly, if your data is in only one place, it’s not backed up.
Over the years, I’ve developed a set of criteria – a set of features and characteristics – that I want out of a backup program before I recommend it.
Macrium Reflect makes the cut.
In my opinion, a good backup program needs to be able to:
… if your data is in only one place, it’s not backed up.
And, of course, like any good software, it needs to be relatively straightforward to use and give you reasonable support options.
Additional features beyond those basics are nice, but certainly not required.
System image backups in Reflect are almost a one-click operation. Click the “Create an image of the partition(s) required to backup and restore Windows” and Macrium configures a backup for you to do just that. All that you need to do is specify where the backup image should be stored.
Naturally, there are options to increase the compression of the image, protect it with a password, encrypt the backup, and more.
But for a basic image backup, you can pretty much bypass all of that.
Restoring an image is similarly straightforward, with one exception.
For example, if you’ve replaced a damaged hard drive and you want to restore your most recent backup image to it, you’ll need something to boot from.
That’s the Macrium Rescue media:
Before you need it, use Reflect itself to create a bootable rescue disc and save it somewhere. That disk contains enough of an operating system to boot and run a copy of Reflect also included on that disk. That copy can then restore the backup image to the hard disk.
Browsing for files
Reflect stores disk images in .mrimg (for Macrium Reflect IMaGe) files. Because that contains everything, that’s all that you’ll need to restore an entire machine.
But, because it contains everything, it’s also possible to browse that image file looking for individual files contained in the backup.
Reflect solves that very elegantly:
In Macrium Reflect, you can mount a backup image as a virtual drive on your machine.
What that means is that you could mount last week’s backup image of your machine as the F; drive and then use Windows Explorer – or any other Windows application – to browse the backup and view the files as they were at the time of that backup. Restoring a file that was originally backed up from your system drive would be as simple as copying that file from its location in the image mounted on F: to your hard disk C:.
Incremental and scheduling backups
When you create your initial image backup, Reflect offers to save an XML definition file in addition to the backup itself; this definition file contains all of the options specified for that backup, including what was backed up and where it was placed:
That file can then be used later in two important ways:
- To make an incremental backup
- To schedule automated backups
An incremental backup is nothing more than backing up only those files that have changed since the previous backup. Because the XML definition file contains all of the information about what was backed up and where it was placed when it comes time to make an incremental backup, Reflect need only look at that, locate the previous backup, note what files have changed on your system since then, and backup only those files.
Come time to restore that image, you can select the most recent incremental image, which will then restore that and all of the backups up to and including the first.
Scheduling a backup, then, becomes nothing more than telling Reflect “do the backup that’s described in this definition file on this schedule”. Reflect then automatically sets things up so that the backup happens automatically, without your needing to do a thing.
Image versus File
I’ve focused on image backups, but Reflect also allows you to configure file backups.
While image backups backup an “image” of your hard disk and everything on it (including all the files), file backups focus on backing up only files or, more commonly, a subset of all of the files on your system.
An image backup is required if you want to restore your system to an empty replacement hard drive, since in addition to all of the files, it contains, all of the system overhead, and the boot information used to create a bootable machine.
On the other hand, an image backup contains all of the files – there’s no way to exclude certain files from an image.
A file-based backup is useful if you’re not concerned about backing up something that might later need to be bootable and you’re confident that you can specify everything that you might possibly want to restore in the future. For example, it might be enough for some folks to create a file backup of only “My Documents” and everything in it.
I focus on image backups as being the most comprehensive. At the cost of some storage space, you know that everything is in there.
Macrium has several forms of support:
- Comprehensive online documentation and help.
- A knowledge base of articles that address common questions or expand on various backup scenarios and issue.
- An online support forum for purchased product owners that is regularly monitored by employees who respond (from my examination at this writing).
Free versus Standard
A free version of Macrium Reflect is available. Compared to the purchased product, it has the following limitations:
- Only image and differential backups can be made.
- Incremental backups are not available.
- Forum and email support is not available.
The page for the free version includes a full comparison checklist.
Personally, I find all of those to be deal breakers as they do not meet my original criteria. However, the free version is one way to safely take full system images if that’s all that you need to do.
The Standard version includes all of those missing features and more. In my opinion it’s the version to get for home use.
I recommend it.