Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


True Image 8.0
by Chris Taylor

We all make sure we have regular backups so we can easily recover from any accidentally modified/deleted file or a hard disk crash, right?

Ok, maybe not.

Why don't we all do backups? Tape solutions are expensive and prone to errors. Imaging programs usually don't work from within Windows. Copying individual files optical discs can be cumbersome, fraught with failure to catch all files and doesn't provide easy recovery from a major crash. Copying open files can result in incomplete backups. The result is that most of us either don't do effective backups or don't bother with backups at all.

But then I found a program from Acronis called True Image. Now I do backups because True Image fixes just about every complaint I have about backing up my computer.

True Image creates images of your hard drive partitions. An image is one or more files that contain a replica of everything on a hard drive. Image files can be stored anywhere - another hard disk partition on your computer, an external hard disk, a drive on another computer on the network, or recordable CDs or DVDs. In the event of a disaster, True Image can reconstruct the imaged disk to exactly the same state it was in when the image was created.

Some imaging software makes you exit Windows and run from a special configuration to create an image. This is done because Windows typically has files being written to at any time, preventing the imaging software from making a valid copy of all files. True Image manages to get around that limitation and the image will contain a valid copy of all files as they existed at the beginning of the image creation.

Because True Image can run while Windows is running, you can easily make an image at any time. Even better - True Image includes a scheduler so you can automate the process of creating images.

Images can either be complete or incremental. An incremental image contains the changes since the previous complete or incremental image. As such, it is typically created more quickly and the resulting image file is smaller.

While restoring a complete image is great for recovering from a disaster, often what you really want is just an individual file or folder. True Image allows you to browse images by mounting them as virtual, read-only drives. You can then use Explorer to browse the virtual drive and copy files or folders to anywhere on your physical disks.

What if you have a major disaster and can't even get Windows to load? How do you get to the program to allow you to restore an image? True Image allows you to create bootable rescue media. If you have a CD burner, True Image can create a bootable CD. Otherwise, you can create a set of seven 3-inch diskettes. I tried both. Both options will provide you with a version of True Image that can boot your computer and allow you to restore an image. It will even load network drivers, allowing you to access image files stored on another computer on your network. Very nice. As well, the boot disk option can be used to create images on computers running operating systems such as Linux or older versions of Windows.

I first tested True Image on an old computer that has been sitting in a closet for a year. I ran it through a battery if tests, with full and incremental images, doing restores of complete partitions as well as individual files and folders. True Image didn't skip a beat. Every task I threw at it, it handled perfectly. Having confidence in the program, I moved it over to my main computer - a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 with 1GB RAM.

Performance-wise, True Image is no slouch. At normal compression, it created an image of my main 80 GB partition, which had 30.27 GB of files in 20 minutes, creating an image file of 24.16GB. Increasing the compression to maximum decreased the image file to 22.73 GB, but increased the time to 90 minutes. Using no compression increased the image file to 28.78 GB and only decreased the image creation time to 17 minutes.

About a day and a half later, I created an incremental image and was appalled to see the incremental image file was 6.97 GB. Much too large for the few files changed since the full image. The problem was Raxco's PerfectDisk deframenter. Since True Image looks to the actual sectors on the disk, as opposed to individual files, PerfectDisk's moving of files around on the disk caused True Image to create a much larger incremental image than would otherwise have been necessary.

I turned off PerfectDisk and couple of days later an incremental image file was only 389MB. Considering my email programs modify some pretty big files each time they load, and I use X1 to index the contents of my hard disks, the 389MB incremental image size is actually quite reasonable.

Given the interaction between defragmenting programs and True Image, I will have to rethink how I defrag my drives. I will probably switch to scheduling True Image to do incremental images once a week and a full image once a month. I will schedule PerfectDisk to do a full defrag the day before I have True Image do the full image.

I store image files on my second hard drive. That won't protect me in the event of a disaster, where both drives could be corrupted or fail. So I decided to copy the images to DVD. I told True Image to create the files with a maximum size of 4.6GB so each file would fit on a 4.7GB DVD. I then discovered that my DVD burning software could only handle files up to 4GB.

To compound the problem, I think a recordable DVD cannot store an actual 4.7GB it claims to be able to hold. Or maybe they count 4.7GB as 4.7 billion bytes, not the 5.047 billion bytes truly represented by 4.7GB (4.7 x 1024^3). After experimenting, I settled on an image file size of 2.15GB which allowed 2 files to fit on a single DVD.

Even with recordable DVDs, it takes a lot of disks to store a complete image of my hard drive. Fortunately, prices on blank DVD media keep dropping. I found Memorex DVD+R 8x discs at Future Shop for $20 for a spindle of 50.

If you have UDF software that treats your CD/DVD like a big, writable floppy disk, True Image can write the image files directly to the removable media. The problems I had with this approach was being around to change the disc if the image took more than a single disc, and the excruciatingly slow pace of writing to the DVD+RW media. Not True Image's fault, of course. I decided to stick with writing to my second hard drive and then later burning the image files to DVD+R discs.

True Image can create a hidden partition known as the Acronis Secure Zone. It can be created from unpartitioned disk space or True Image can carve it out from unused space on existing partitions without disturbing existing data. The Secure Zone is not normally visible to other applications, which helps to protect the images you store there.

Once created, the Secure Zone shows up as an available location to store images. True Image totally manages the space there. When you create new images, it will delete older images if it runs out of space.

Secure Zone has some problems. If you are creating incremental images, you will eventually run out of space for new images, but True Image cannot delete any of the older files because the original full image plus all subsequent incremental images are required to restore a complete partition. In this case, you have to create a new full image, which will cause the old full image and subsequent incremental images to be deleted.

Worse than the Secure Zone running out of space is not knowing about it. If running scheduled tasks to do incremental backups, when the Secure Zone fills up, the image creation silently fails. You will get warned that imaging has failed only if you load the program. But the beauty of scheduling is not having to go into the program. I would like an option of a flashing tray icon to inform you of the completion of any scheduled task. Maybe flashing green for successful and flashing red for failure.

There is no way to directly access the image files stored in the Secure Zone. If you want an off-computer copy of your image files to protect against major disasters such as a complete failure of your hard drives, including the Secure Zone, you are out-of-luck.

The scheduler built into True Image is quite flexible. You can choose to create an image daily, weekly, monthly, one-time, when the computer starts, when you log on, when you log off, or when the computer shuts down. I can't image creating images on startup or shutdown, but maybe that's just me. You can choose any partition or collection of partitions to be imaged and specify whether they are to be full or incremental images.

True Image also includes functions that help when upgrading a computer. If you move to a larger hard drive, you can easily clone your existing hard drive to the new one, retaining all the existing partitions and data.

There is a tool that can check the integrity of an image file. Kind of nice to verify every now and then to make sure you will be able to use the images should you need them.

True Image has its own log file, eschewing the Windows application log.

The 81-page manual is included with the program in PDF format. It is very clearly written and understandable.

Overall, I am very impressed with the capabilities of True Image. I no longer have an excuse for not having a recent backup of my computer.

System requirements: Windows 98/ME/NT/2000/XP, 128MB RAM, 20MB disk space. Supported file systems: FAT16/32, NTFS, Linux Ext2, Ext3, ReiserFS, and Linux SWAP.

Available through
www.acronis.com for US$49.99. But you can get it through a user group discount for US$34. To take advantage of the deal, point your browser to www.usergroupstore.com. The code UGJUN05 will get you the discount. Also at the User Group Store, there are a couple of articles that might be of interest Perfect Backup Approach and Using Acronis True Image. They can be found at www.ugr.com/newsletters.html.


Bottom Line:

True Image 8.0
US$49.99
from Acronis
Web site: http://www.acronis.com


Click here to view the full OPCUG website with frames.

Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

The opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.

Send comments or suggestions to the .