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Why do you prefer Macrium Reflect over Windows 7’s backup program?

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Is Macrium Reflect superior to the disk imaging utility included with a 32-bit version of Windows 7? And if so, in what regard?

To begin with, I wouldn’t call Windows 7’s backup program a disk imaging program exactly. Yes, it can create what we would call an image backup. But the term “disk imaging utility” really implies, to me, a lot more functionality than the Windows 7 backup program actually has.

While the Windows 7 backup program is perhaps the first utility built into Windows that meets what I consider the bare minimum necessary for a backup program, I definitely prefer solutions like Reflect.

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Windows 7 Backup

One of the biggest issues I have with Windows 7’s program is that I have a very hard time telling exactly what it’s doing. Because backups are so incredibly important, I want things to be clear and complete. In Windows 7, the interface for backing up data only is confusingly melded with the interface for creating full image backups. You have little control over just where things go, and not a lot of control over exactly how the backups are created.

That being said it is, as I said, the first backup program to come with Windows where I feel comfortable saying, yes, if you do nothing else, go ahead and use it.

It’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, Saved: Backing Up With Windows 7 BackupWhile it’s capable of doing all the things that I feel are necessary, it’s not at all obvious.

Defining the bare minimum

So, what’s necessary?

  • Full image backups that you can schedule to happen automatically.
  • A controlled and obvious way of managing your disk space so that you know what you’re getting.
  • The ability to restore not only a full image, but to extract individual files from that image.
  • Some sense that the backups are reliable and will be there when you need them.

The big risk I see with using Windows 7’s own backup program is actually kind of an odd one.

Microsoft has a very poor track record with maintaining backup compatibility across Windows versions. Windows XP backup images, as I understand it, are readable only by Windows XP backup. That just doesn’t help you if you’ve moved to, say, Windows 7 and need to recover a file from an old backup.

Windows 7 backup images are in .vhd format (Virtual Hard Disk). That could and should be readable not only by Windows 7 backup, but by other programs as well.

And lastly, Windows 7’s backup just feels like an afterthought in many ways. It’s as if it’s there because they needed to have something – they needed to check a box – not because they wanted to create a really good robust backup system.

Make a backup reminderMacrium Reflect

Macrium Reflect, on the other hand, is a program that is specifically architected to back up your computer. It has all of the features we might want and then some.

The interface can be a little confusing, it’s true, but I have yet to find a backup program that meets all those minimum requirements and isn’t somewhat confusing. It is very clear about what it’s doing when you set up your backup, while the backup is happening, and when you need to restore.

And, yes, I’ve written, Saved: Backing Up with Macrium Reflect to help you get the basics set up and to recover when the time comes.

Reflect works on XP, Vista, 7 and 8. And, Reflect installed on any of those can read backups created on any of the others.

I just believe it’s a more robust solution created by people who are actually trying to create the best backup program. And ultimately; robustness, power and features aside, I have to say that I simply trust Macrium more.

And when it comes to backups, trust is incredibly important.

48 comments on “Why do you prefer Macrium Reflect over Windows 7’s backup program?”

  1. I use Macrium Reflect paid version. The drive letter of the backup external drive changed. Macrium gives me the error that it can’t find the target folder to my mirror image, and the error message gives absolutely no information why the error might have occurred. I manually changed the drive letter back to the original drive letter and I get the same error message. I have 700 Gigs of space left on the external drive. This makes Macrium totally useless. The drive works properly otherwise.

    • Daniel, the first thing I would do is uninstall Macrium, restart my computer and then reinstall the program. Sometimes, software starts tripping over its own feet and a fresh install can fix it. Also, make sure that you have the latest version of MR before installing it.

  2. I have been using Macrium Free for about five years now and because I use it as a way to refresh my system I have performed many full restores using Macrium disk images.
    I have only had one failure and that was when, on restarting the computer after the image had been written to the drive I, got the message that Widows was configuring updates. However the updates were never configured and I had to resort to putting a different image on.
    I concluded ( but am not sure) that before I had taken the image that failed Windows must have downloaded some updates and they didn’t get a chance to start configuring as they normally would when the machine is shut down.
    In order to avoid this potential issue I now always restart my PC just before I make an image.

    • I do so agree with Alex – this advice should be written into Macrium’s blurb. The damage
      that can be caused by interrupting Windows’ updates can be horrendous – I should know
      having my whole system crash 100% simply by turning my pc on during a lengthy update

  3. Does anyone have an opinion on Clonezilla ? Also, will the free version of Macrium include ” hidden ” partitions that are on a drive ?

    • The free version of Macrium Reflect copies all of the partitions the paid version does including hidden ones. The main differences are that the paid version allows incremental and differential backups, and the paid version has advanced backup management features. And last but not least, it offers very good customer support.

  4. Hi Gary T,
    Macrium free does show all the partitions on a drive and gives you the option to copy all or to make a selection.
    I’m sorry but I don’t have any experience of Clonezilla.

  5. Many years ago I tried Macrium and tried to restore and it did not work. Of course there could be man reason why it did not restore. I also tried Paragon Backup & Recovery, also free, and it restored fine. Paragon is not as easy to use or looked as nice but working is what counts.

    • Hi Roy,
      It always intrigues me how one person’s experience can differ to the next. After using Macrium with very good success I tried Paragon and found it to be very fast. I also liked the idea that I didn’t have to use recovery media as it will restore from the C drive by loading up files and then shutting down C whilst the recovery takes place. I did however experience a couple of failures as did a friend that I recommended it to.
      The failures outweighed the benefits and so I returned to Macrium and to date have only had one failure , which I think I have diagnosed and think I can easily avoid.

  6. Please be assured that this comment is not intended to be sarcastic or flippant, so please don’t think of me as a “Jerk.” (See Leo’s article about Jerks in today’s Newsletter.)

    My comment (?) is: If Macrium Reflect is easier to use and better than Windows Backup program, why is it necessary to buy a book to learn how to use it. Does not the instructions that come with the Macrium Reflect (Download) explain how to use it?

    • Isn’t that true of anything though? My opinion is that we save time by reading through the tips and remarks of someone who knows it well. And when it comes to backups, you first have to understand the difference between an image backup and a files and folders backup. Otherwise you won’t know where to start.

    • Hi,
      I agree with Connie here but as someone who started with Macrium when I knew VERY little about computers I would add that all the help files are available from a link in the app but they take some working through. I did this and now know what I need to in order to use Macrium in the way that I need. It possibly would have been easier if I had Leo’s book but I seem to remember that at the time he was recommending Acronis.

    • I should also add that once you have made your first image and restored it then the next time is a cinch. There is nothing too complicated about it and no difficult decisions to make. In simple terms Macrium will show you a plan of all drives and partitions on your PC or connected to it. You choose the disk or partitions to image, then choose a folder on a different drive to send the image to and off you go. To restore you need to have made a recovery disc or USB stick ,which is very easy from inside the Macrium application. When you boot the PC using the recovery media the Macrium recovery app loads and then you navigate to your image and select where you wish to restore that image to. It really is very simple.

    • Unfortunately I’ve not found any backup program for Windows that’s actually easy to use. And I don’t think I said “easy to use” as one of my justifications for preferring it. Many people can, and do, use it (and other programs) quite successfully without purchasing a book. On the other hand, books that are aimed at the less technical user who just wants to back up his computer without being distracted with the additional complexity of things that the program also does can benefit from a well-written “here’s what you do, step by step” kind of book.

  7. I have used Macrium Reflect free, because Leo does recommend it and backed up to an Seagate external hdd. When trying to recover, Macrium could not find the external hdd. So I thought I purchase Macrium but the same happened.
    I finally went back to Acronis which I don’t really like or trust and all m (3) my externals are recognized.
    Figure that

    • Especially after purchasing Macrium their support may have been able to help. This is also why they provide two different types of rescue media: Windows PE and Linux. On occasion one will recognize external drives that the other will not. (It’s also why I recommend testing your backups before you need them. πŸ™‚ ).

      • First, my apologies for the lengthy message. Just my experience with Macrium Reflect that may make some people want to reconsider it.

        As an avid follower of this newsletter, I purchased the Macrium Reflect Professional (V5) 4-pack in August 2014 and it worked flawlessly on my two Acer laptops, Dell desktop, and Micro Center’s in-house Power Spec desktop – all with Windows XP Pro. I was able to connect it all to a 2 TB Seagate external HD without any problems whatsoever. I had been trying to hang onto my XP machines until some of the unanswered questions about Windows 10 were answered, but it recently (2 weeks ago) got to the point where I had to make a change. Between Leo’s input and that of my local (NOT a chain store) computer support, I opted for Windows 7 Professional. In the process, I purchased the upgrade to Macrium V6 4-pack. I was able to install it on all four machines and create the Rescue Media for each. However, when I tried to image the new laptops (a long time dream to have a clean image of a brand new machine!), I kept getting the following error message:
        “Starting Image – Friday, September 25, 2015 8:08:24 AM
        Initializing
        Destination Drive: Seagate Backup Plus Drive (G:) – Free Space 1023.55 GB
        Free space threshold: Delete oldest backup sets when free space is less than 5.00 GB

        Creating Volume Snapshot – Please Wait
        Failed: Code: 0x8004230f – Retrying without VSS Writers
        ERROR: COM call “m_pVssObject->BackupComplete(&pAsync)” failed.
        – Returned HRESULT = 0x80042301
        – Error text: VSS_E_BAD_STATE
        Gathering Windows Events – Please Wait

        ________________________________________

        Backup aborted! – Failed To Create Volume Snapshot. Result Code: 0x8004230f”

        Sadly, contacting Macrium Support was a waste of time. Their response:
        “Thanks for contacting us. Unfortunately 4k disks are not supported with Reflect v6 as of yet. You will need to have the 4k disk unplugged from your system in order to stop the VSS errors. Im afraid you will need to get another backup drive with the correct sector size.”

        It took several more emails (they are in the UK and do not have a support phone number in the US) where I repeatedly pointed out that this did not make any sense because it had been working fine with an older version and was currently working with my two desktops (A Dell with XP that I use for storage and a bare-bones machine assembled by my local computer guy with Windows 7 Pro.) It was then referred to a Tech Support Manager who simply (initially) repeated that Microsoft does not support 4k drives and that it was not a Reflect problem. When I asked for an explanation about how/why it was working on the old XP machines and now on the new Win 7 desktop, he provided me with directions on how to send them the log and backup files on a Support Case form that would go directly to them. He then asked me to first send the info from the laptop I was having the problem with and then from “one that works but shouldn’t .”

        I received their response this morning:
        “I can see on both computers the drive is reported to have a 4096 sector size. Based on Microsoft’s system documentation (article linked in last email) and our first hand experience these drives should have trouble working with operating systems below Windows 8. I’m afraid as this is an operating system limitation and not a Reflect issue we will not be able to help any further however, I can point you in the right direction to hopefully resolve the issue.

        These are the option I would take:

        1) Contact the USB enclosure manufacturer.
        2) Post your problem on http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us
        3) Contact your computer manufacturer or local repair shop
        4) Try a different enclosure which hasn’t a 4k sector size
        5) Take advantage of the free upgrade to Windows 10

        So, nobody at Macrium Support has answered why, if this is a Microsoft problem with all machines prior to Windows 8, why V5 worked on all of my XP machines (from 3 different manufacturers) and V6 is now working on two of my four machines (one XP and the other Win 7). I am still 99% convinced that it is NOT a Microsoft problem and that my current difficulty is more likely related to what HP bundled (or omitted) from my two new HP ProBook 450 G2 machines with Win 7 Pro. I hope I can still get a refund!

  8. I thought I’d try Macrium over the weekend. Downloaded the free version. One the first computer, the backup went smoothly. I made the recovery disc (put it on a USB stick). Then I figured out how to adjust the BIOS to boot from USB. Rebooted with the USB and attempted to look at the backup in Windows PE. Everything looked good.

    On computer #2, it said that it had a problem with the C: drive. Gave me error #4 and suggested that I run CHKDSK /F. I went to a command prompt and actually went a bit further and ran CHKDSK /F /R. Since Windows had some conflict, I scheduled it to run on the next boot. and restarted Windows. CHKDSK came back clean, so I tried to run the backup again and it still failed with the same error.

  9. Your help is, as usual, very honest – something rarely found on this medium. πŸ™ I have Acronis, per your recommendations, and now have Macrium (free for now). I’m very old and now very poor. I have 2 computers – one old XP and the other and older-than-dirt XP. If I have the paid, full Macrium can I install it on both? (Obviously I am only user).

    • I believe the terms of the paid license are one machine per. They have a family pack which gives you three licenses for a discounted rate, but I think it’s still not the right deal if you only use two.

  10. My only problem with image backups, is how do you know they work? How often do you test them? With a file by file, bootable clone, I can boot to backup just as easy as the normal drive, so I know it worked.

    • I actually cover testing the backups in my books (it was the #1 requested concern when I polled people). Basically you begin the restore process and stop just short of actually restoring, and then you also examine the contents of an image to make sure that it has what you expect. That’s a 95% confidence level in my opinion.

  11. I’m using Macrium Reflect 5 on a Win 7 Pro 64 bit machine.
    I just set it up for scheduled incremental backups after making a full image backup.
    I make a full backup twice a month and incrementals daily as Leo suggested.
    After a while this can soon fill up my external drive.
    How many of these full images with incrementals should be kept?

    • That’s totally up to you. It depends on how far back in time you want to be able to go when you restore a backup or retrieve a file from backup.

  12. Why do I have this message at the bottom corner of my screen, that I do not have a” genuine Windows on my PC ?” I’ve had my PC for five years with the same Windows7. What’s the story?

  13. I started using MR free then upgraded to paid about 9 months ago. Well don’t you know I had a crash about 3 weeks ago. Not to worry, I am using MR I will just throw in my MR Win PE Boot CD and run the wizard. Not happening, all I get is the cmd prompt, what!!! Panic hits what to do now? Sure I have all of my files, doc, photos, music etc. backed up on a second external drive but that doesn’t help me with my image.

    As I sit in shock and awe after much panic and thought I decided to go to my laptop and create another boot CD, why not right. I created it and installed in in my damaged machine and there it is the MR Wizard I was looking for. One hour and 20 minutes later I am up and running with no loss at all.

    I bring this up because of this Quote from Leo – “(It’s also why I recommend testing your backups before you need them. πŸ™‚ ).” I did not test my boot disk, why bother of coarse it is fine. WRONG!

    I love MR and I am so happy that after all of these years of Leo recommending it I finally tried it. I had been having problems with Win 7’s backup and image backups for months. It just so annoying trying to troubleshoot it I went to MR. “Wiping Brow”

    Thanks Leo!

    KAHSR

  14. Howdy Leo!

    Well, I was planning on using the “free” version of Macrium Reflect that you keep recommending (though you *could* be recommending only the paid version?…), but now (21 July 2014) it seems they only have two versions; one paid and one that is only good for 30 days. I thought you were talking about a free and paid both, weren’t you, not a 30-day trial and paid? I dunno?

  15. Leo,

    Sorry but I did not know that there were two different sites with two different URLs, one for the free and one for the paid/30-day trial versions of Macrium Reflect. (The paid/30-day trial site *did not* refer me to the free site, nor could I find a link to the free site.)

    Michael

  16. I have been an Acronis user for a few years….an unhappy user for the last 2 years. Years ago it saved mu behind, but it sure went downhill shortly afterwards. I bought the Pro version of Macrium Reflect and I couldn’t be happier. I successfully created disk image with no issues and have cloned my boot c drive to a second drive for an emergency backup. I found it very easy to use. I love that you have access to all files in the image file and also the incremental backup option. I am a believer.

  17. I believe in the K.I.S.S. principal. I am a long-time user, first of X-Tree, and today, ZTree. While I’ll admit this is simple, non-automated and VERY manual, in the split-window mode, ZTree provides a great simultaneous view of the files and structures you have saved, and what files and structures you plan to save.

    Doing back-ups this way, allows me to save new structures, complete with files in exactly the same structure as exists on your main drive. Its easy to see the entire drive, structure and files in one view. I can overwrite or not, as I choose. I can change attributes and save files to different locations, then I can write protect critical files. My back-up include my registries, so I can see what changes have been made over the long haul. This is a very useful tool.

    I started backing up first to 1.3 diskettes, then CDs, then DVDs, then removable hard drives which is my present default. Finally, I can back-up to USB sticks. I even have one with ZTree on it – great for portable use.

    If you don’t mind working in DOS, ZTree is fast and effective.

  18. Thanks for the great article.

    Backups!!! What a swamp. I have tried Acronis, Macrum, Paragon and Windows. My least favorite is Windows but any backup that compresses the date or otherwise backs it up in a propitiatory fashion is highly problematic. You will find yourself at the mercy of the vendor that produced the backup program.

    Recently I clean installed Win 7 pro on an SSD. Before that I used Windows 7 backup to create backups of my OS disk and Data disk on an external drive. But (clever/paranoid) me I also used Windows explorer to drag and drop the files I considered really critical (Word, Excel, Images, Music, .pst, etc.) to the external drive.

    When time came to play with restoring the data to the new OS installation guess which one was easiest? Correct the drag and drop files. No “can’t find”, no “permission denied”, no proprietorially compressed files. Just the files I wanted restored to the correct location with a simple drag and drop from the external drive.

    Just for fun I tried to restore my D drive Windows backup to an alternate location to see how the system worked. Backup was 28GB expanding to 47GB according to the program. About 10% of the files were actually restored the rest not restored because of “inadequate permission bla bla bla”

    I had complete administrator privileges on the computer the files came from and have complete admin privileges on the new system but still windows backup (and other windows programs) play these privileges games. Yes I could probably work through the problem (take ownership etc.) but I have what I need in uncompressed “drag and drop” backups so I will just delete the Windows backups.

    The only MS backup I can recommend is Outlook .pst backup and restore. The reason for that is that if you simply drag and drop the .pst to the correct location you will end up with duplicate nested Outlook folders (new ones blank and dragged ones what you want). I you use the Outlook backup program the .pst is restored to the correct location.

  19. Macrium Reflex is stupid you create a backup image on a separate partition then hide that partition so people can’t see it for security reasons but can’t restore from that hidden partition how stupid is that in the backup section it sees it but not restore section.

  20. Using Macrium Reflet back up image,can I roll back to my windows 7 Home basic after upgrading to windows 10 for more than two months?

  21. Sorry if this question seems so basic, but new to this imaging thing and never made a back-up copy of operating system of any kind.
    I normally use a Desktop machine (Dell Dimensions 4700) which has Windows XP installed. I don’t; as yet have any Back-up disc. I have also recently acquired a cast-off Samsung Q45 Notebook; which seems to have been up-graded from Windows XP to Windows 7 Pro; also no Back-up disc for this.
    In the past when I have tried to up-grade my desktop using friends Back-up disc, my machine won’t recognise them as they are specific to their make of machine; which are not Dell. Presumably the up grade Windows 7 Pro on the Samsung Q45 is not specific to a Samsung machine and can I therefore use Macrium Free version to make a copy of the Windows 7 Pro operating system to use and upgrade my Dell Windows XP ? Even if the Windows 7Pro is a Samsung Machine up-grade, can I still use Macrium Free version to make an Operating disc to Upgrade my Dell Windows XP ?

    • It’s also likely that that backup wouldn’t work to upgrade your Dell, because although the downloaded Windows 10 isn’t specific for your Samsung machine, the installation process customizes the installation for the machine it is being installed on.

  22. I have attempted to use newly downloaded Macrium 6.1.1196 to backup the C: and D: partitions from a Compaq CQ60-420US notebook, running 32 bit Windows 7 Home Premium, into an empty folder on an Iomega 1TB external USB H/D. After a lengthy process, with the “busy” light flashing on the H/D, and the progress bars advancing, it reaches 100% and I get a message: “Backup aborted! Unable to read from disc – Error code 1117. The request could not be performed because of an I/O device error.” Windows Explorer shows that indeed the target folder on the H/D is empty. I verify that the External H/D works fine if I drag-and-drop files into it with Windows Explorer. Tried the Macrium backup a second time, with identical failure result. Also, there is plenty of empty space on the H/D. In the past, I have used Macrium on another system, with no problems. I am totally mystified. Any helpful suggestions will be much appreciated!!

    • That happens when the disk being backed up has a bad sector. Scheduling a chkdsk.exe /r to run on startup repairs or removes the bad sectors. That in most cases solves that problem.

  23. I would like to necro this thread for important information.

    After using both Macrium and Windows backup equally for five solid years, Macrium wins hands down. But not without a big red flag. In the past five years, the Windows backup utility has repeatedly failed to restore its ownself to its own hardware on more occassions that I can handle. Macrium backs up and restores your partitions quite reliably – even over network drives.

    HOWEVER – Macrium relies on the fragile Windows Task Scheduler for unattended backups. This works fine for awhile – until the task scheduler gets corrupted and doesn’t run ANY of the tasks. Usually, it gets messed up with things like installing Dropbox or improperly deleting the Microsoft Office updater. But by the time you realize it – its often too late. Macrium would do well to design its own built-in unattended task scheduler rather than relying on Microsoft’s poorly designed application.

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