What backup program should I use?

Backing up your computer's data is critical. What program should you use? There are many, but the best is whichever one that you'll actually use.

What backup program should I use?

Doing backups is kind of like eating healthier; everyone agrees that we should and yet very few of us actually do. Much like the heart attack victim who no longer visits McDonald’s, the most religious users of backup procedures are those who’ve been bitten hard by a failure in their past.

Asking what backup program to use is very much like asking, “What’s the best exercise program?” The best program for exercise or backup is whatever one that you’ll actually do.

So, let me ask you this: do you know how you’d recover your data should everything on your computer suddenly disappear?

In order to choose what’s going to work best for you, there are several questions that you need to ask yourself.

Do I want to put a lot of thought into this? If not – and most don’t – then prepare to spend a little more money for some additional disk space and get one of the stock backup programs. I’m currently quite pleased with my external USB/Firewire Maxtor drive.

In addition to a drive, you’ll need backup software. Many external drives will actually come with backup software of some sort so that’s often a good place to start. If you elect to purchase backup software, there are many good choices – I personally use and recommend Macrium Reflect for most home users. Starting with Windows 7, the backup program included with the operating system appears also worthy of consideration.

Am I comfortable re-installing my system if something goes wrong or do I want the backup to take care of that? This is one of those comfort versus space tradeoffs. If you’re okay with re-installing your system – which means your operating system as well as applications and customizations and you can clearly identify what does and doesn’t need to be saved – then you can save a lot of disk space by backing up only your data. This requires a great deal of diligence on your part because anything that you don’t specify that needs to be backed up will be lost in the case of a catastrophic failure.

External Backup DriveIs there another machine nearby? Quite often, you don’t even have to go out of your way to get additional hardware for backup purposes. Hard disks are so large these days that quite often simply having another machine on your local network with sufficient free space can be a quick and easy solution. Many backup packages will allow you to backup across a network. Having two machines each back up to the other is a quick way to ensure that if either has a problem, your data is safe on the other.

How valuable is what you’re doing? As much as we hate to think of it, we should: what if your building, including your machines and all of their backups, were lost in a fire? If the potential data loss just sent a shiver down your spine, then you should be considering off-site data storage for your backups. That could mean burning a CD or DVD periodically and leaving it at some other location or if the sizes are small enough, backing up across the network to some server not in your home.

Might online backup be an option? If the amount of data that you’re backing up is manageable and your internet connection is relatively fast, then an online backup system, such as Carbonite, Mozy, JungleDisk, or others may well be worth considering. These systems install software on your machine that backs up your critical files to secure servers “somewhere” on the internet, thus getting you both data backup as well as off-site backup at the same time. In addition, some services then allow you to access your backed-up files from any machine connected to the internet. For large backups, such as full image or system backups, this approach is typically impractical due to upload speed and storage size limitations.

How important is incremental access? By incremental access I mean how important is it that you be able to recover a file from a specific day and not a day before or after? If you simply back up all your files on top of previous versions, you’ll only have the most recent version. In many, many cases, that’s enough. In some cases, it’s not; one example might be needing to recover an older version of a file that became corrupt at some point.

What resources should I backup? Have you thought of all of your computers? All the drives therein? How about external hard drives that you’re not using for backup? Do you have a website? Do you have a backup of it? What would happen if your ISP “lost” it? (It’s happened.) If you’re a small business, do you have databases that need backing up? Office machines that belong to everyone but no one?

Let’s use myself as an example for those questions:

  • I’ve put a lot of thought into this. And I should; it’s my profession to do so and my business relies on it. In my case, I use my own scripts written in Perl and a tool I wrote many years ago called SyncFile, in addition to using Macrium Reflect.
  • I’m very comfortable re-installing everything, so with the exception of only one machine (my primary desktop), I backup only my data. My desktop machine gets a monthly, full backup and a daily incremental using Macrium.
  • I have several machines on my LAN and in the middle of the night, there’s a flurry of activity as data gets copied from one machine to another and another, each using at least one other as a backup. What I do for my business is definitely valuable and worthy of offsite backup. Because I have servers at a data center half-way across the country, once a week, I upload snapshots of my data as encrypted packages. In the past, I’ve had computers at two different physical locations and used two external drives: each location backed up to an external drive and roughly once a week, the drives would be swapped.
  • As I mentioned, I do have external servers and websites as well. I’ve been careful to ensure that the servers as well as the files that comprise the web sites are all backed up in some appropriate way.

The bottom line for backup is simple: just do it. Understand what you have and what you’re willing to invest in but do something.

Before it’s too late.

This is an update to an article originally posted : February, 2004


  1. As a possible replacement for SyncFile consider Replicator from Karen Kenworthy (www.karenware.com). It also replicates a directory by examining the last modified date/time of each file and is also free (although Karen does appreciate donations). However, it has a Windows UI and can run in either unattended mode (using its own scheduler) or manually by setting up an icon on your Windows desktop that backs up one or multiple directories. The “tags” feature also provides a backup for the backup.

  2. Matthew Engstrom

    I have downloaded syncfile to compare the date and time-stamps of different files. I am finding that if I use it to compare files across time zones the time stamps differ therefore syncfile thinks they are different. Is there a setting to change the time-stamp cusion to a few hours or ignore the time itself and only compare date or date & size?

  3. Leo

    I ran into this problem all the time when I was backing up across different disk formats … an NTFS drive syncing with a FAT drive. The problem is that FAT doesn’t know about, or store, timezone or daylight savings time information. NTFS stores all timestamps internally as GMT, so cross-timezone compares should work. (My problem happened twice a year … when daylight saving time came and went).

    Syncfile doesn’t do what you ask (60seconds is the maximum “really sloppy” time comparison). I’ll add to my todo list the ability to allow you to specify the amount of allowable difference as a parameter on the command line.

  4. Joe McElroy

    I copy my entire current XP NTFS partition to a second hard disc. As long as it’s partitoned first, (you can do this from within XP) , made active, and as large as my current C: partition (using Maxblast or any freeware to do this) it works fine. After copying, you must remove (disconnect) the original drive temporarily and boot from a floppy containing Fdisk. (i use a Win98 boot disk) It will say you have no valid c: drive because it doesn’t see the NTFS partition as valid. You then answer yes to use disc as large disk, and then run Fdisk/mbr. Remove the floppy, reboot, and it will boot to the XP backup drive, and you have an entire, activated, backup of your complete active hard disk for a fatal crash (they DO happen, and for no good reason) of your current one. I bought a 60 gig drive for $40 a month ago and keep it in my case without power cable attached just for this purpose. This could then be reversed to a new, larger drive if required. This was the only way to make it work with

  5. joe mcelroy

    I had a virus i couldn’t remove with spybot, adaware, avg, and trend micro so i restored my 2 week old XP backup and problem solved! Didn’t think i’d need it with those tools….

  6. Hans Klein

    For a nice non-techie backup solution, I’m using the new Carbonite Online backup (www.carbonite.com). It’s $5/month with unlimited capacity. I have about 32GB backed up. Can’t beat the price. It takes awhile for the initial backup as my DSL only uploads at about 2GB/day, but now that it’s done, it just works away quietly in the background keeping the backup current. So far so good. Gotta check out their whacky web site if nothing else.


  7. absi

    I have been using carbonite (www.carbonite.com for a month or so for backup and
    it has been working flawlessly.

  8. herry

    Carbonite hides this well within their FAQ:

    To keep users with very high speed internet connections from hogging all our bandwidth and storage, we limit backups to .5GB per day once you have sent us 50GB of data. So if your initial backup is, say 40GB, the initial backup will go as fast as your Internet allows. If you add .5GB of new data each day, after 10 days you

  9. jereme

    If you want to back up your whole disk, and have equal room to spare, try

    Norton Ghost

    I don’t use it, because I don’t mind Reinstallation of almost everything.
    But I’ve heard, it’s good!!!


    • Clyde Reed

      Norton Ghost has been discontinued. I didn’t know this until I tried to restore my computer after a virus “bit me”. I was using Ghost 13 (the last version), which had no on-disk manual. Nor did Version 13 come with a printed manual It was when trying to find the online manual that I found none, and learned about end of support. So I went to Carbonite, which did not back up my Adobe Photoshop Elements catalog; the pictures were saved, but now months of work cataloging them is lost. Nearly everything else of value has been found on Carbonite.

  10. G.Lance DIXON

    Another advocate of Norton’s Ghost. Saved my bacon more times than I care to remember – requires a second hard drive ( cheap these days ) but just copy to my Pioneer DVD-RW toaster despite fiddling with the parametres.
    This can be done easily with other burning software though so; 1 backup on the 2nd HDD and a a 2nd on a RW-DVD –

  11. patrick witeck

    Love your site Leo! Okay, I downloaded back up files with Genie. Well recently I lost 2 files on my computer. Now with my back up CDs how do I get them back. Very sorry if this is a really dumb question! Thanks for your precious time. Patrick

  12. Leo Notenboom

    I’m not at all familiar with Genie. You might need to contact the vendor’s site for support. I would expect the instructions to be part of the basic documentation, though.

  13. Chris

    You should use an automatic online backup tool like Data Deposit Box… It’s not terribly expensive and you can back up as many PCs or servers as you like. Once you set it up, there is nothing to do.

  14. Leo Notenboom

    Typically there’s a way to examine what files are included in a backup. Another recommended approach is to pick a file at random, and try to restore it.

  15. Morgan

    I backup to an external hard drive every night using a batch file I wrote myself and WinRAR (rar.exe command line program) and GPG (to sign the backups). I keep the past 3 months backups so I can restore any file within that period which is perfect for what I want.

    I have tried many other tools however I prefer to backup to a industry standard format and a RAR archive is perfect for this. For a few hundred bucks on the external drive and a few hours writing the batch file it has been a great backup solution for the past few years for me.

  16. Ken Crook

    I tried Norton Ghost a few years ago and it required a second partition to do the image backup. But I would have had to reformat the drive to make the second partition, which would have destroyed the stuff I wanted to backup!
    Recently I again wanted to try doing a image backup. The Norton Ghost site would not display the Ghost documentation to let me see if things had changed.
    I checked out “Acronis True Image” on its site and the documentation is readable and understandable. I tried it and it runs easy and seems to work, I haven’t needed to restore yet.
    Anyone have any experience with Acronis True Image?

  17. Lou Gascon

    Hi Leo…
    Whilst I must agree that ’10 Quick Steps to Perfect Backups’ is perhaps worth the small outlay, it only mentions and recommends Retrospect 7.5 which at more than $100 bucks is, I think, a bit heavy weight.

    Having researched further, I can see that things have moved on un petit peu, and have to consider the convergence of Vista…

    With this in mind, I have found what appears to be a fairly new prog by the 2 Bright Sparks co http://www.2brightsparks.com/ namely SyncBackSE 4.1.3…
    The 2 Bright sparks say somewhere in their blurb that they were fed up with Backup software not quite doing things the way they would do them, and so developed a program that would – I’m impressed! And this showed to my way of thinking that they knew what they were doing…!

    I should like to ask if you or any readers know the program and have anything to say…?

    Costs: SyncBack – Freeware
    SyncbackSE – $30.00

    Change for my Partitioning Prog…

    Thanx in advance


  18. Chris

    I recommend Norton Ghost 12. I also recommend that you ALWAYS back up to a separate drive. If your primary drive dies, so does your backup.. No point in that. With Norton Ghost 12, you can back up to a network computer (and recover from a network computer) using the windows software or the bootable CD (saved my butt so many times). I have 2 back up places, a different drive on the same PC, and a network drive on another PC. Works great and only takes minutes to do both!

  19. Tom C

    This article makes reference to “10 Quick Steps to Perfect Backups”. However, the link to get a copy is “http://go.ask-leo.com/10qsback” which comes back with 404 error.

    The site http://www.10quicksteps.com is currently inactive and says it will return shortly.

    Is there another source for “10 Quick Steps to Perfect Backups”?


  20. Ron.H

    I Have been using Acronis 10 for a long time, and find it very good and easy to use, as a bonus it will back up your email in a separate file about 60 seconds. I use an external usb drive and internal drive for main back up. I use the external drive for a very good reason, I had a bad experience when my computer went mad and deleted my backup drive as well as my C:drive,
    I did not think it possible to delete two separate drives but it did and I did not touch f/disk or format at all hence the external drive, when I am doing any thing like format etc I make sure that I turn it off.
    Regards to all

  21. John Baldry

    Karen Kenworthy’s Replicator program (for Windows) does everything I need for regular backups. As with all Karen’s programs it’s freeware and is available from her site at http://www.karenware.com The page for the Replicator can be found via the following TinyURL:
    You can set up all the backup jobs you need, both large and small. It’s a very flexible program, and unless you really must create drive images I don’t see any need for another program.

  22. Chucko

    Hi to all! I tried the Karen Kenworthy product and it was OK (her other stuff is pretty cool) but SynchBack SE is SUPERB! Bit complex, maybe, but defaults will get you 99% of the way there. Filter and schedule features optional and very helpful. We backup data partitions (drives) from multiple machines across a network to a central USB file repository. All local data is on drive d: and subsequent F G H etc. Meaning we do not back up the C: Windoze OS files to the network repository — that is another matter entirely because of registry issues. Possible solution might be Acronis Drive Image 10 on each local machine. Don’t know… Or a real OS like Unix: we’re thinking about it! Hey: Anything but Windoze: it IS time.

  23. Keith B.

    I recently tried and bought Acronis True Image 10 after many years of using Retrospect (anyone remember when Retrospect was called DiskFit?). My issues with Retrospect had to do with occasionally damaged backup files (Retrospect calls them “Catalog Files”).

    However, Acronis TI 10 was a major disappoinment to me. It has some serious SLOW speed issues during incremental backups! It can take HOURS to incrementally backup and verify the smallest incremental changes!! The program verifies the entire backup and NOT just the changes. Go to the Acronis forum and see for yourself. This is a known problem and the developer claims to be working on a fix for a later version. Try the demo first and be 100% certain that this program will work for you!!!!! Acronis product support is as slow as their software and consists of generic advice.

    I reluctantly went back to Retrospect and upgraded to the latest version ($49). I have been pleasantly surprised with the robustness of the program. Kudos to the new owners, EMC Insignia, for the improvements. Retrospect is back in my good graces! :)

    • Abe

      I agree with your synopsis of Acronis, I purchased True Image 2013 and had nothing but problems
      with it. I would not recommend Acronis to anyone.

  24. Joop St Kloos

    Leo: Am a Senior and have had 1 crash in 3 yrs. I have foto files for 3000+ and the thought of losing all that work drives me crazy. I have bot CD’s to copy but don’t know how many fotos each will take. Is there a way to determine this so I don’t lose all my work? Many thanx for yr articles which I just stumbled across!

  25. Leo A. Notenboom

    Hash: SHA1

    It depends on how you burn things to CD, but the first thing to do is simple:
    don’t delete them from your hard disk until you’re certain they’re all safely
    on CDs. THAT means making sure you can see the pictures from those cds on
    another computer.

    If you use CD burning software it’ll tell you when you’ve put too many on the
    CD before you burn it. Burn what will fit, keep track of what’s been burned and
    repeat, using as many CDs as you need to back up all your pictures.

    If you’re just using Windows Explorer to copy files, it’ll stop when the CD
    runs out of room. Again, just keep track of what’s been copied, and use
    multiple CDs to backup all your pictures.


    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  26. Thomas

    If you have not tested the recovery or restore process of the backup system you are using, then you essentially DO NOT HAVE a backup. I have seen too many sad faces from people who diligently made backups, but the inevitable computer crash came, and they were not able to restore their backup data because it was in a proprietary format and they had no idea how to gain access to it. Windows NT Backup is the classic example of boneheaded backup formats. Also make sure that your backup process does not copy the user and security information of the NT, W2k, and XP files. I’ve seen users that stuck an extra hard disk in their computers to make copies of their important files, but the computer crashed, and of course the hard disk backup is not readable by any other computer except the one that just blew up (because of the NTFS file security features). The moral is: TEST your backup data in a separate computer.

    Fortunately, most current backup programs store data in standard zipped format, or in uncompressed copies, and do not store the user security settings of each file.

    SyncBack is my favorite backup program, but it is a full-featured program that does a lot more than just backup. Make sure you understand what your backup program is doing because it is easy for a newbie to overwrite or delete files they did not intend to lose.

    Be exceedingly careful if you are using the built-in Windows file encryption feature for any of your files. Be sure you can restore and read the backup you made of any encrypted files on a different computer.

  27. Douglas Shilson

    Hello, in backing up and the CD is full, how does it know where to start the next CD to finish the copying? I have Microsoft Word. Thanks, too bad you don’t live close to Minneapolis. I’m going poor, having the Best-Buy Geek squad over at 170.00 per visit. (Hour) Thanks, Doug!

  28. Thomas


    The answer to the question you asked depends on whether you are manually burning files to CD, or if you are using a backup program that knows how to use multiple CD’s for the backup medium. If you are using intelligent backup software, then you just tell it what to back up, ‘My Documents’ for example, and the software will tell you when to place blank CD’s in the tray, and do the burning automatically.

    If you are just burning files to CD, then YOU have to select a group of files that will fit on the CD, keep track of which files have been backed up, and keep selecting groups of files until all the files you want backed up are finally on CD’s.

    The problem here is that Backing up to multiple CD’s can be tiresome and inefficient. It is easy to lose track of where you are, and it is not easy to find files on your CD collection when you need to fetch a particular file.

    I suggest you take stock of what you need to back up. If you have a static collection of files, say a set of digital images, that will fit on a few CD’s, then burning to CD’s will be sufficient. If your work documents add up to less than 15gb, then a flash stick of sufficient size will be work. If you have more to back up, then an external hard drive is your best bet. Either of these beats the pants off CD’s for routine backup needs, and the costs are less than one Geek Squad visit.

    You only need to back up the files you create, such as your word documents. It is useless to back up all the other stuff on your computer such as the Windows operating system files and all the program files because you can’t use them or restore them.

    Hope this helps.

  29. Leo A. Notenboom

    Hash: SHA1

    Douglas: you didn’t say *how* you’re backing up. But most
    backup programs just handle that automatically.


    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  30. Professor Asus

    It is far easier and more efficient to make an image of your OS partition with Acronis or Drive Image and to restore your drive with this back-up image when necessary.This is a quite fast and reliable method of restore and also protects and preserves settings,connections,and any installed programs.Further benefits can also be gained by saving an image of a “virgin install” and using it to “start fresh” if need be,as this is much faster than normal OS installs.I highly recommend use of these imaging methods for ALL computer owners and users.Making images of other partitions and data is also a very useful tool for complete backup and safety of your computer.You can save these image files on DVD,an external drive,on other drives or all for multiple backup with ease.Imaging as such will save you many hours and bring your systems back in a flash…Be sure to make an Bootable Recovery Disk and keep this in safe storage with your image disks.I have used Acronis for years on my clients computers with virtually no problems and have ALWAYS been able to fully restore completely with no loss of systems or data!!!

  31. jitesh singh

    i think i will be a wise thing to have a backup copy of all your important data on a CD and also a backup copy in a portable memory stick(Pen drive).

  32. lb

    Professor Asus’ comments (postd jan 4’08) were *so*helpful!! i just bought a simpletech external harddrive (320gb) and was checking out the data backup software that it came with (arcsoft total media backup & record). it has an seemingly easy interface but i was starting to get pretty frustrated trying to understand how to backup and what to backup. i looked up the Acronis True Image software that Prof Asus recommended and it sounds like exactly what i want. thanks! http://disk-imaging-software-review.toptenreviews.com/acronis-true-image-review.html

  33. Don Clark

    Dear, Leo
    Can I and if so can I just backup windows updates? Is the NTBackup Backup/Restore that comes with windows ok for home backup? I have only one computer for home use Windows XP Home SP2.


  34. Bill Cartledge

    Leo, can I use the Internet via DSL, to copy data files from my laptop (Vista) to my desktop PC (WinXP-SP2) or vice-versa? Using what program?
    I have mostly photos, under 1000.

  35. Christian Meid

    Hi Leo.
    I am looking for a backup software that can make a different daily backup of some selected data for a week and start after to overwrite the first once again. So that I could go a little back in the backup in case I lost some data. Could you advice me a product? Thanks a lot! Christian 😉

  36. Harrison Gardner

    In reading this series of comments, I went to check my own software, PCCloneEx, since I had never really tried to restore anything with it. The program seems to work, but when it restores files it leaves them in a zipped format. I know I can simply unzip it, but are there back-up programs that will restore the file in its native format?



    Most backup programs actually restore to original format. Restoring only .zip is … unusual.


  37. Richard Goodman

    I have backed up my Windows XP and Office on a 16GB Flash Drive. If my hard drive fails, can I just boot from the Flash Drive, then copy all the backed-up files to the replacement drive? Or, will I need some interim step?

    It really depends on how you’re backing up. Some backup programs will do as you describe, but most do not. You’ll likely need some kind of interim boot disk at a minimum.


  38. Jay

    Acronis only restores to the backed up computer. I want backup software that will backup to a new computer. If mine crashes I will purchase a new computer. What program should I use? Thanks. Jay

    I’m not aware of a *backup* program that will do what you’re asking for. Moving software from one computer to another is typically way more complex than just putting the files from one computer onto another.

    My recommendation for setting up a new computer is that you set it up … install everything for that computer on that computer. Then transfer data – perhaps using your backups. Most backup programs work fine for that.

    – Leo
  39. Victor

    Restoring to a new computer seems to be like doing illegal copies of your OS.
    But what if your hard disk crashes? I had to deal with that problem: I had a 80GB hd and it crashes. Hd I could buy was 200GB. Backup programs simply made a first partition but I loose 120GB. I had to reinstall all to be able to use the whole disk.
    Is there a backup program able to do this tasks?

  40. Bob

    I recently bought Acronis, because of recommendations here, to use on my wife’s laptop, Vista OS, and the program comes back with a failure window every way we have tried to make a drive image whether onto a USB external drive, networked computer, or network drive. Acronis will make backups of e-mails and docs but it is very slow. Their support is not only slow but has been unable to provide a workable answer for image making failure and a password problem getting onto the network drive. They suggested using router password for the later.
    I think I am going to trash Acronis and buy new Ghost program which (Version 9)has worked for years on my desktop computer. I do regular backups of data but want regular full drive images in case of drive failures, of wich I’ve had only three in twenty five years of computers. I probably should consider myself very lucky.

  41. David Chesler

    If I back up everything then am I not risking backing up, and then restoring, the bad stuff? Not just something catastrophic like a virus but all the registry crud that might be slowing me down?

    (If I’m worried about a hard drive crash, or a fire, I would want to restore to everything exactly as it was.)

    I suppose I should buy the program and try out the settings. Besides my data (and I can copy that easily enough) I’ll want various applications, and also various settings (I’ve got my start menu and my desktop just the way I like them.) How do I back up and restore the good while leaving the bad?

    A backup program is not a cleaning tool. It’s purpose is to save and restore files, or your entire system, to a previous state. So this concept of “restoring the good but not the bad” isn’t really looking at what the tool is supposed to be about.

    So if you need to restore an entire system, then that’s what you should expect, the entire system as of the time you took the backup. That’s the point.

    Most all backups also allow you to restore individual files, so in cases where you don’t need to restore everything, you can pick and chose individual files to recover from your backup.

    But if you’re trying to clean your system, other methods are much more appropriate.

    – Leo

  42. Matthew

    I don’t think Leo mentioned that often many external hard drives come with a backup function as well. Such as my mybook I got (by western digital) came with.

  43. George

    Leo, I am not real bright when it comes to computers.But, I do know that my computer XP has a virus that anit virus programs will not touch. And I also know that I have lots of stuff on my computer that is very important to my business. I also know that ’10 Quick Steps’ is not working.
    Do you recommend any off site storage businesses?? I need to save MS Office and its files. HELP, and thanks for your time.

  44. mike

    Because of a failing hard drive, I backed up my system using both Macrium Reflect and the backup tool in Windows XP Home onto a separate external hard drive.
    My plan is to replace my laptop hard drive and use the (external) backup to restore the system back to it’s current state.

    My question is, once I install the new blank hard drive, how do I get the system going again? That is, do I simply hook up the external HD with the backup on it, and hope the computer finds the backup files automatically?

    Or do I need to install windows or something on the new internal HD first?

    The problem here is that windows was preinstalled on my dell laptop, so i have no windows CD to work with.

    Many thanks!

    No, it won’t just magically work. You’ll need to check the documentation that came with your backup tools on how to restore to a bare system.

    – Leo
  45. Owen Glendower

    Acronis only restores to the backed up computer. I want backup software that will backup to a new computer. If mine crashes I will purchase a new computer. What program should I use? Thanks. Jay

    I’m not aware of a *backup* program that will do what you’re asking for. Moving software from one computer to another is typically way more complex than just putting the files from one computer onto another.

    My recommendation for setting up a new computer is that you set it up … install everything for that computer on that computer. Then transfer data
    – perhaps using your backups. Most backup programs work fine for that.
    – Leo

    True, but I’ve seen more than one disc-imaging program which is designed to be used on a regular basis, and which claims to permit a “bare-metal restore”…that is, restoration of the disc image to a new computer, in case of complete destruction of the first machine. Any experience with these?

  46. David Howells

    Thank you for the advice above. I found it by looking on the internet for the answer to the problem I found when My backup failed because of the fat 32 problem. When I first read your advice, I thought that my computer’s hard drive was FAT 32. When I opened the command and inserted the request to reformat the internal hard drive I got a message saying that the drive was already NTFS. I then changed the command to drive E (which it was – an iomega hdd. I then got the message “The type of the file system is FAT 32. Enter current volume label for drive E:” I have no idea how to answer this. Simply putting in Iomega did not work> I would be grateful for any advice!! With thanks in advance

    Have a peek at this article: What’s a Volume Name?

    – Leo
  47. Henrik Nielsen

    To Victor (November 9, 2008):
    What you need (in addition to the backup software) is a program that can extend the system partition of your HD onto the unused space. Partition Magic can do it for $$, EASEUS Partition Manager can do it for free (if you’re a home user).

  48. Richard

    I purchased a new 1.5 terabyte external hard drive, with the intent of backing up my extensive picture files created in Adobe Lightroom. I didn’t want to use the “mirror” approach – just want to back up the actual raw (.NEF) photo files and their sidecar (.XML) files. When comparing the original non-system internal hard drive (G:)to the new external hard drive (H:), there is a 134 GB difference (i.e., G > H). Should I be worried that something didn’t copy that should have? I can’t “see” the 134 GB when reviewing properties…

  49. Glenn Haslam

    In my opinion a better strategy with respect to PC backups is to create a backup image immediately after the PC has been re-installed and configured to your preferences. This is, if you like, a ‘Clean System Image’ and may be made using Acronis TrueImage or Norton Ghost, whichever you prefer. I then use a program called Syncback SE (which is a free download) to back up the complete contents of the My Documents Folder on to second hard drive. For most people this takes care of the majority of information that is required to restore their PC with an absolute minimum of downtime. The only other two things are e-mails, which Acronis TrueImage can backup on a daily schedule, or, if you are using Outlook, it is a relatively simple operation to export (backup) the .pst file, also preferably to a second hard drive. Finally the web-browser bookmarks should also be exported if you change these regularly. Whilst Acronis will allow you to make ongoing incremental backups, the great advantage of restoring a ‘Clean System Image’ is that you are not re-creating the issues which may well have caused the initial system crash, and gets you back to a lean, mean, fighting machine.

  50. Catmoves

    “…USB/Firewire Maxtor”…

    It came up with this web page:

    Not Found
    The requested object does not exist on this server. The link you followed is either outdated, inaccurate, or the server has been instructed not to let you have it. Please inform the site administrator of the referring page.
    “… Retrospect….” Seems to be a Mac program only. Poor Windows. >(~..^)

  51. Adolfo Picado

    All this is splendid information in case you need to back up your computer and obviously, protect your data and all documents; however, I did see mentioned that if the additional hardware was not available a “nearby computer” could do the job as well.

    I know that there are backup packages will allow you to backup across a network. What are these and how is it done using Acronis?

    Thanks a million for your feedback!

    If you have lots of spare disk space on another computer and a fast enough local network then backing up to another machine is ok. Just set up a share on the second machine, connect to it from the first, and you should be able to backup to it.

  52. Samuel Fullman

    One thing I would love to have for my own system is a “restore inventory” i.e. a checklist like a pilot’s checklist on all steps to get all my settings, bookmarks, screen appearance etc. back in place for all of my applications. That’s a lot of work! Even for Dreamweaver, there is a huge amount of customizating I’ve done – replicating thatt isnever a favorite activity. Leo I would enjoy seeing an article on this and especially on how to backup and restore your WINDOWS settings; perhaps it could grow to a section about the same procedure for all major programs (I’d even be able to contribute for programs like firefox and dreamweaver). Thanks

  53. David

    I have purchased a new ACER AS5738Z Laptop but it only has a 250G SATA HDD. So I purchased a 500G SATA HDD for replacement. How can I copy everthing including the OS to the new drive??? ACER did NOT provide an image Backup of the drive.

  54. manoj

    I have a old hard disk of 2111mb, i want to creat a duplicate/ image hard disk with the same capacity or higher. and i want all my softare should be in working condition. i is having dos operating system, wheal alignment sofware is installed on it. please tell me how to make a duplicate hard disk for safety perpose.

  55. Owen Smith


    I have recently discovered Backup4all http://www.backup4all.com/ and have purchased the lite version. It’s fantastic and backs up email and open files. I use the mirror option and ahve multiple versions on local and removeable which I store at work. Well worth a look.

    Enjoy your site and appreciate the advise.


  56. Oz Fisher

    Hi Leo,
    I am a little puzzled why you haven’t given mention to the Seagate Replica backup service when addressing backup programs. According to the Seagate hype on the Replica, the device does everything but slice bread. I realize the Replica is an external HD rather than just a “backup program”, and perhaps that’s the reason you haven’t mentioned it. Please advise. Thank you

    New devices and programs are showing up all the time – it’s hard to keep up. Looking at Replica, it looks like an attempt to duplicate the Mac’s “Time Machine” in some ways – at least in ease of use. Looks interesting, at least, but I haven’t heard enough about it yet to say more.


  57. David

    If you just want to back-up files, as distinct from a full disc image, I came across this recently:
    One-way only with no synchronisation other than anything altered on the source immediately gets mirrored at the destination (depending on the options) but can’t argue that for the price!
    It really is a set-and-forget item and works well – oh, and it’s free.

  58. Bill Bruneau

    Haven’t read all the comments, but has anyone talked about cloning their disk, ie, making a functional duplicate disk so that if the disk in your computer goes down, you put this one in and you are back in business as of the date you made the clone. Since we do daily data backups, this is a quick two-step to recover from any disk disaster. Of course if the computer disappears or the motherboard goes down that is another story. We use Casper and it is simple and effective.
    We also back up to the internet and burn a DVD now and then. All this is not that much work and I consider it minimal for proper backup.

  59. Michael

    I already have ATI Home for my Windows XP Home. However, I am now moving to Linux – specifically Ubuntu. Acronis (I believe) has a “server” version that supposedly runs on Linux. Can you help me in this regard for Ubuntu? Or, do you have any additional resources to check for back-up software for Ubuntu? Many thanks.

  60. James Marsh

    Hi Leo,
    I have a windows XP and regularly backup on a USB thumb drive which works just fine, no problems.
    But recently I purchased a Seagate external hard drive for addithional backups. It had problems. It repeatedly caused my computer to freeze up.
    My solution was simple…I formated the Seagate erasing all of their pre-programmed trinkets and now I can use it like any simple USB thumb drive. I backu two ways. #1. Using a briefcase. #2. I copy all my files to it according to date without a briefcase. That way if I lose one file I can go back to that date and bring it back into my main files.
    I learnd the hard way a long time ago to back-up files.
    Happy computing

  61. Charles Tilley

    I have Windows 7 on two systems, my new (main) PC and a Dell Latitude D610 laptop. I use the built in Windows backup, it’s easier than any Windows backup that I’ve ever used. I have a WD external drive to backup the newer one on, I also use DVD’s for that one. The older one, I backup using DVD’s only. I only use it when I cant get to my main one (when outdoors or traveling). On my new HP, if the absolute worst happens, I was given the chance to make recovery discs, and I did. Also, there’s a recovery partition on the hard drive, to access it, just push F11 at startup, and do a full recovery (for some reason, HP recommends this yearly). But whatever backup you use, by all means, USE IT! There are too many free ones available not to do so.

  62. Johnson Govender

    Hi Leo,
    There is a backup that runs from windows. However there is problem when you do a full backup. After the backup image is created it requests you to insert a “floppy” disk although there is no floppy drive. The newer pc’s dont have floppy drives anymore and could this be addressed by someone at Microsoft. Ther are other software that can be used to backup the entire disk drive. Suppliers are flogging it as FREE and when this is downloaded and installed, they are requesting you to register and then purchase. This is an unethical advertising practise.

  63. bill meacham

    The built-in Windows Backup and Restore program that comes with Windows 7 works well. An excel file got corrupted, and it most recent backup was corrupted as well, but I was able to retrieve the version before that and all was well.

  64. Bob Grot

    I notice that reviews of Acronis True Image on Amazon.com are either Jeckel or Hyde. Thirty percent give it 5 stars while fifty percent rate it as 1 star. Is there a problem with the new release?

    I really enjoy your site – Bob

    I think it depends on how the tool is used. Configuring backups manually has always worked reliably for me and many others. When I hear complaints it’s typlically around “One Click Backup” or the old “Secure Zone”, both of wich I avoid. Their customer service also gets a bad rap at times, but supposedly they’re focussing on that.


  65. Michael

    I have 2 identical hard drives (only one connected at any time) and for several years have made clone backups with Acronis

  66. jpChris

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned XXClone for complete disk backup, including partitions.

    I’ve been using it for several years now because: 1) It’s FREE(!); 2) It’s easy to use; 3) It’s relatively idiot proof ([i]if you follow directions[/i]; 4) You can make your target drive bootable or not (if you want it bootable, make sure to click “Cool Tools” and “Make Bootable” and put a check mark in all three boxes; 5) You can copy a single folder, or directory, or partition(s).

  67. Alan_Disaster

    Hi Leo!
    Sure, Acronis is fine, but it is also expensive.
    Personally, I’d advice to use free Macrium for monthly image backup and paid or free Handy Backup for backing up your files, docs, images and so on. That is my own backup strategy.

  68. William Sternman

    I have used Mozy, DataDepositBox and Verizon backups, and in every case, when I’ve had to recover my data, it has been incomplete. Sometimes, the folders are empty. Usually, the .exe files are missing, so I can’t run the programs in question.

  69. Adrian

    For the ones who are concerned about price of Acronis, there’s a lot of cheaper software, but good enough to become the part of your backup plan.
    As for me, I tried Handy Backup and Genie Backup, but the first one I liked more and use it already a year.

  70. Derrick

    I used Buffallo hard drive with back up installed.
    Continually one has the message “your data is safe all backups in place”……or something like that ..I felt very secure …..all the lights twinkled for years ….fine until the hard drive in Buffallo crashed and lost everything.I use Google Docs and Photos uploaded . Its best not to have anything important saved on a pc or remote back up.


    If you’re in a pinch and need immediate disk copy, partition copy, etc., look into MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition 6.0. It does everything you could possibly want or need for total disk management – except for automatic back-up. The user interface is intuitive and easy and uses “wizards” for common operations. It’s FREE and takes up less than 20mb.

  72. John Wesley

    I have a Mac pro with I-5 Intel processor. Apple’s Time Machine will back up my data in Lion OS, however, what or how should I back up my w7 partition on my hard drive in Bootcamp? Do I need an external HD to do this on the w7 side?
    Thanks, jw

  73. Robin Clay

    The world of computer users is comprised of two different types of people:-
    Those who have had a disk crash, and
    Those who haven’t – yet.

  74. Bill Jones

    Hi I had a virus and lost everything but fortunately I had backed up with Clickfree DVD Transformer, and it put everything back in its place, and so easy to use.
    A wonderful program
    Regards Bill Jones

  75. Ken

    I recently bought a Dell notebook with Windows 7. Windows 7 comes with an image backup program. It is simple and seems to work. I restored my computer after an unsuccessful program install, and it went fast and easy.
    I previously used Acronis TrueImage for monthly image backups and the Windows 7 image backup is just as simple to use.

    I’m not a big fan of Windows 7’s backup. It’s better than previous Windows backups, but still doesn’t meet my criteria. A brief overview of Windows 7 Backup


  76. Me

    Have you ever heard of the 3-2-1 backup method? I’m not sure if that is the proper name of it, but it goes something like this (from memory) —
    3 separate backups
    2 different mediums (e.g. a USB flash drive and a network external drive)
    and 1 off-site backup.

    If so, whats your thoughts on it?

    Makes a lot of sense.

  77. Jim McMillen

    I had a Maxtor backup drive, turned on only about once a week when backing up, but the drive failed after a couple of years. Some backup!

  78. Kimberley

    What I have is an HP Simple Save external Hard Drive. I don’t know if it has backup software in it, or if I still need to buy Macrium.

    It didn’t back up my programmes and what I see on it is just a bunch of folders. Some of it is stuff I don’t even know if I need to put back on my computer. How do I get my computer to look the way it did before? For instance, everything that was on my desktop before it crashed is now just a folder called desktop. If I put it back on my computer I’ll just have a folder called desktop on my new desktop. I really don’t understand how to do the backups so I can just have my computer looking the way it did. I couldn’t find an article that showed how to do it.

  79. Bob D

    I’ve been using Acronis Version 11 since 2008.
    I decided to upgrade to the latest version. It seemed snazzier than Macrium, and the upgrade price is a few dollars cheaper.
    Big mistake.
    I got it installed, but it used 90% – 98% CPU, doing nothing.
    So I decided to install the update. The update refused to install, with an MSI error, unexplained, of course.
    I uninstalled, and even ran Acronis’s removal program. And I nosed around in the Registry for Acronis keys, but found none.
    I reinstalled, and tried to install the update.
    Then the update installation hung. Task Manager showed nothing running. After a couple of hours, I notified Acronis that I want a refund. (Always buy with a credit card, so that you can dispute the charge.)

  80. Brad Jones

    This is a good article, though it is a bit dated now. The cost of remote backup, and the fact that most people now have a steady and fast connection to the internet really makes having the both local and online backup options. Our online backup is unlimited, so is Livedrive and Carbonite now. Mozy is still using the older pricing model and pricing with limitations. External hard drives are exactly that, hard drives and they do go bad so having a good online backup to complement ensures you don’t loose irreplaceable pictures and files.

    • Sylvia Liney

      Brad, I’m an older person, according to my desktop, when I last did a de-frag, I’ve used only 40% of capacity, (capacity – 121 GB, free space – 73.36 GB 60%)…..I have Windows XP Pro, 32 bit, How do I determine what to use as a back up device, I only have email, photos, music, websites, faves etc, and Word documents.
      I an not a techie, but neither am I stupid, & I like learning new things. Also on a previous comment I saw a topic of partitions etc, what ate they & do I need to have that?
      I was looking at the Clickfast, would that basic model do what I need & back up everything, then restore it all if I had a crash? I really need some basic help here, thanks so much in advance…
      Kind regards

  81. Bradley

    I just got a new laptop and have one year of Super Easy Backup {URL removed} and was wondering if you had any experience or knowledge with them.


  82. stephen

    I partition my drive into operating system and data and use Crashplan to remotely back everything up. I also use Macrium Reflect to do an automated weekly image of the partitions required to restore Windows. However, since I am on a DSL connection I archive the images locally on two separate drives and do not try to run the huge image files through Crashplan. This method has proven its usefulness twice already; with minimal restoration needed for my desktop which is at most 6 days out of date. I keep the current image on the data partition and the current and prior images on an external drive.

  83. Cap Stubbs

    Having had on-going problems with Apple mail, I added Gmail on my computer about a month ago. During this time I have encountered problems with security issues. three times. The first two times I contacted Gmail tech support and was told I needed to pay about $200 for having a technician take over my computer and fix all the issues. The problem has not been fixed as evidenced by new security issue today. Once again, using “high pressure tactics” they tried to convince me to again pay $200 for a fix which I refused to accept. The tenacious efforts to try getting my acceptance forced me to simply hang up and restart my computer to get rid of online connections with them.

    I think that this is some kind of money making “scam” of Google that is costly and infuriating. Do you know of others who have experienced these difficulties in trying to make Gmail messages secure?

    • Connie

      Wow be careful! That doesn’t sound like Gmail. Sounds more like you answered an advertisement that tried to look like Gmail and fell for their scam. If you let then access your computer then you should consider yourself hacked and your computer compromised. Please check out this article from Leo on how to clean your computer of malware:

    • There is no “Gmail tech support” to contact. Any that show up in search listings are typically scams. Important: it is not Google. These are people posing as Google to scam you out of money.

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