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Finding a Backup Program

by Chris Taylor

I’ve been a long-time user of Acronis True Image. However, I have found the user interface has become a mess over the past few versions and I don’t see it getting back to the simple interface I liked.

When True Image 2013 told to me it isn’t Windows 10-compatible, I wasn’t offered a free upgrade to fix the problem. So I decided to go looking to see if there was a better backup option, preferably free!
For my main desktop computer, my requirements list is pretty straightforward; image & restore partitions or entire disks; create full & incremental images; schedule backups; restore individual files & folders from an image; and create WinPE rescue media.

For my portables, my requirements are simpler. I don’t need scheduled backups or incremental imaging. I only run full backups of all partitions periodically because these computers don’t hold – for long – unique data files. For these computers, I am looking for emergency disaster recovery to get back a working computer with my applications should I have a disk crash or something.

With these mixed requirements, I suspected I’d be well served by a vendor that has a full-featured version for my desktop and a free version without all the bells and whistles for my portables.

Macrium Reflect Free v6

Alan German uses and recommends this program. It certainly seems robust and easy to use. However, the free version does not do incremental images. I do daily backups on my desktop computer. Incremental images allow me to recover anything to a specific day.

Macrium Reflect is a nice program and if I wanted to spend US$69.95 for the Home Edition, I would get the ability to do incremental images and additional features that might be nice, such as the ability to restore to different hardware. But I don’t.

Paragon Backup & Recovery 14 Free Edition

I found this to be a very confusing program. It’s feature list looks comprehensive, but I was never sure if I had really configured things optimally. I was also stumbling around in the program trying to find where to accomplish some task.

Paragon does have a fantastic feature – the ability to store backup images on a hidden partition.

Why is this so great? I do backups overnight, so my backup drive is always connected. If I get hit with malware like CryptoLocker, my backups might be encrypted! If backups are stored on a hidden partition, malware can’t mess with them. I do have off-site backups immune to malware attacks, but they only get updated once a month.
When testing Paragon, the backup occasionally failed, reporting; Invalid partition data – partition control blocks information incompatible. I couldn’t find a solution to the problem. No other backup program I tested complained of invalid partition data.

The periodic error and confusing user interface made me abandon Paragon Backup & Recovery. But I sure wish other backup programs would add the capability to save backups to a hidden partition!
Two programs out of the running. So I kept looking. And I found two contenders.

EaseUS Todo Backup Free v8.9

I first looked at EaseUS Todo Backup Free in the spring of 2014 - I like Todo Backup Free because it is clean, simple and quite comprehensive.

It has all the items on my needs list; the ability to image/restore entire disks or partitions; incremental images; scheduled backups; recover individual files/folders; and WindowsPE recovery media.

Todo Backup Free has some nice additional capabilities. You can specify a series of files and folders for incremental or differential backup. Another feature – Smart Backup – can track a series of files and folders for changes every half hour and keep them backed up. It is a rigid scheme but does allow you to restore a previous version of a file up to 15 days ago. Todo Backup automatically manages the space used for this feature quite efficiently.

One problem with backup programs is that the backups, which can be very large, eventually consume all space where they are stored. Todo Backup has an Image-Reserve Strategy available which can automatically delete older backups to make room for new. You can specify parameters such as the maximum number of backup images you want to keep or the length of time you want them kept.

I compared features of the Free version to the Home and Workstation versions. Home (US$29) adds speed, ability to exclude certain files from backup (great for files like the swap and hibernation files and folders like the Temp directory), email notifications, and a few other features. Workstation (US$39) adds more speed and extra features including command line capabilities and the ability to restore to different hardware.

The free version has everything I need for my portables. For my desktop, the ability to exclude files is very useful. Restoring to different hardware might be useful, but I am not sure I really need that. When I buy a new computer, I generally install my applications manually, and migrate my data. That way, I end up with a cleaner computer because I don’t reinstall everything I have collected over the years. I could probably get away with the free version on all my computers, including my desktop.

AOMEI Backupper Standard 3.2

Another interesting program I found was the free AOMEI Backupper Standard.

I found it to be simple and straightforward to use. It includes all the capabilities on my needs list.

Backupper Standard also includes file synchronization – where files/folders you select get automatically synched to another location. This can be done once, or on a daily basis, or every 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 hours.
It can even restore to different hardware; a feature I have not found in any other free backup program. I really don’t think I need this, but it’s certainly a nice-to-have.

The Professional version (US$49 for 2 computers) adds things like command line operation and faster backups. It includes space management capabilities similar to the Image-reserve Strategy in Todo Backup Free. And Professional includes free upgrades for life! Now that’s a bargain!

I did have some difficulties with AOMEI Backupper Standard.

The only “manual” available is a large series of web pages. But there is a work-around. Install the 30-day eval version of AOMEI Backupper Professional. In the program folder will be UserManual.pdf. Store a copy somewhere safe, uninstall Professional and install the free version. Just ignore parts of the manual that apply only to the Professional version.

Unlike most backup programs, where the creation of recovery media is as simple as clicking a couple of buttons within the program, AOMEI gives a link to Microsoft’s Windows Automated Installation Kit, which you must download and install. But, under Windows 10, the AIK doesn’t work! After contacting AOMEI, I found out, with Windows 10, you actually need the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit. Download and install it. Then AOMEI can create recovery media. Don’t be too freaked out when you see the ADK is a 6.5 GB download. You can turn off everything except Deployment Tools and Windows Preinstallation Environment for a download of only 3 GB. Okay, you can still freak a little.

The other thing I found difficult with AOMEI is the translation to English. Most of the English is not too bad, and I eventually triumphed over phrases like; “Please specify for the scheme that creating a full backup after xxx versions of differential backup being created.”
The authors of the program freely admit that English is not their first language and “All warm-hearted translators will receive a free license code plus lifetime upgrades of the software he or she translates.”
Aside from the above difficulties, I found AOMEI Backupper (Free or Professional) are very capable programs.

My new backup program

Ultimately, I decided on EaseUS Todo Backup. I bought a Workstation license for my main desktop computer and am using the Free version on my portables. But AOMEI Backupper came very close. It has strong capabilities in the free Standard version and the Professional version, with free upgrades for life, is a terrific bargain.

With free and 30-day eval premium versions available, you can try all these programs and see if any meet your backup needs.

Bottom Line:

EaseUS Todo Backup Free v8.9, Free
EaseUs Todo Backup Home, US$29
EaseUs Todo Backup Workstation, US$39
Use checkout code EDU-Q3W5-ORG for 20% discount

AOMEI Backupper Standard v3.2, Free
AOMEI Backupper Professional v3.2, US$49 (2PCs)

Macrium Reflect Free v6, Free
Macrium Reflect Home Edition, US$69.95

Paragon Backup & Recovery 14 Free, Free
Paragon Backup & Recovery Home, US$39.95

Originally published: February, 2016

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