Macrium Reflect

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CNET Editors' Rating 4.5 stars

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  • 5.0 stars

    "AT LAST, imaging software that works, A B C !"

    July 19, 2012  |   By brainout

    Pros

    1. Help that actually helps.
    2. Intuitive menu, with relevant explanations so that even if you know little about disk imaging, you will understand the consequences of your choices.
    3. FAST.
    4. User forum, so you can ask questions, and get intelligent answers from staff who actually understand the product.

    Cons

    Minor stuff, like the fact the menu icons are too large, too much white space. Makes it hard to read the help and look at the program window, at the same time.

    Help is online only. When you resize the window, the chm tree at left collapses and you lose your place in reading.

    Summary

    Macrium saved my machine, after two months of going down the rabbit hole with Alice: for my Windows registry crashed, and my computer guys couldn't restore it. As you may know, a crashed registry makes your backups worthless, if you can't restore the registry. Yeah you still have the programs and data, but until you rebuild the registry, Windows can't 'see' what you have. That's why we all suffer re-installing software so often. This is the fatal flaw of Windows, that it employs a little dictator who is so easily toppled from power, upon whom all others depend. I hate Windows for that reason.

    Still, we're stuck with it. Ergo, when trying to recover the registry, I needed to find good imaging software to prevent the recurrence of this two-month nightmare. But that only yielded another mad-hatter experience, as I tried four other companies' programs before stumbling across Macrium, here in cnet:

    * Acronis: paid CD and direct-site download, what a joke, it can't even install to the registry.

    * Rebit 5: trial version downloaded from cnet, dangerously dysfunctional, no-fine-tuning options, continual backup that keeps accessing your drives every 30 seconds.

    * TurboBackup: paid CD, old but swift file copy program which offers no imaging or any useful options beyond vanilla file copy. And finally,

    * EASEUS, which misread three of my drives (MBR and MFT), and thereby maybe wrecked one external HDD and nearly one other another, made the MBR on my boot machine go nuts. EASEUS has some very nice people, they did refund my money; their software works for some machines, but it nearly trashed mine, two years ago. The latest version (paid, downloaded two days ago from their site) kept on reading my empty floppy drive as did Rebit, thereby potentially harming it. But Rebit was a background-constant, backup. With EASEUS, I'd only installed the software, had not run it; so NO backups were scheduled. (EASEUS Todo Backup is not a continual backup program, so there is no reason for it to be constantly accessing the drives.) So if you buy their software, be SURE you backup first, ouch. NOTE: it isn't a problem on all machines, as you'll see in the reviews. So that means it is compatible with some XP or Win7 models, but not others.

    SO NOW THE WINNER: Macrium is like NONE of the above. It is simple, just works. The 30-day trial is full featured except for the ability to create a boot menu on your recovery disk. But hey: once you see how quickly and easily this program does the A B C's that you need, you'll buy it and GET that recovery boot menu. That's what I did, yesterday.

    You should read their documentation, but even if you just followed the steps in its little task frame -- like Windows XP help, almost childishly simple -- if you follow those steps in the order presented, you will do what needs doing, to protect your machine.

    Here's what needs doing:

    A for Anastasia,

    resurrecting a dead system: you need a RECOVERY boot disc, be it USB or CD, depending on your system. When you boot in XP, anyway, there is usually a function key like F12 or F8 which you can hit to enter the 'boot menu'. This menu allows you to specify whether the machine should boot up (become operational) from the hard drive's system, or from some other place, like your CD/DVD drive or some USB port. Connected within, must be a 'boot disk', a set of initializing programs which enable your machine files to be enacted by an 'operating system', the computer equivalent of a ruler. So if your 'ruler' gets sick or seems to die, you need a viceregent to govern your machine.

    So a RECOVERY boot disc is an ACTING ruler, thus governing your machine enough to restore the prior ruler, to power. So, the first option you'll see after installing and invoking Macrium's trial or paid program (after initial installation and close) -- is a popup warning you to make a 'recovery' disk. SAY YES. For without this viceregent, your computer's 'kingdom' is lost. (This was my mistake: I didn't do this A step, prior to downloading the trial version.)

    So next, Macrium prompts you for what kind of RECOVERY disc, USB or CD/DVD. The resulting files for it will take awhile to make, because Macrium does a most intelligent thing: it installs the Microsoft WAIK program as part of the 'recovery' to be made. This is called 'WinPE', meaning the stage of operating Windows before Windows is officially booted. (I wish they called it WinPRE, to make the meaning clearer.)

    To successfully create such a stage, is vital to recovery when a disaster hits your system. I've not seen any other software take you through that process. Macrium does. So these people know what they are doing!

    So: they ask you to pick your boot media. The resulting file for Windows XP on a standalone computer, is under 200MB, so you can choose a CD-RW if you want. Suggest you do this process twice, resulting in one USB and one CD that's bootable.

    First time you create the recovery disk, you are asked where you want to install the files used to create it: make sure you specify some EXTERNAL source, not your boot drive. (Or at least, copy those same files to an external source, later.) It takes an hour or two, first time.

    Subsequent recovery disks take maybe 10 minutes (at least on my old 2005 XP Pro machine). So now, if your machine won't boot one morning, you have a good way to recover, without having to use Linux or Parted Magic. (Those programs are good, but too arcanely presented.)

    B for Backup,

    making copies of the files. Here, that means image copies, not the typical backup of mere file contents on a disc. More precision. You have three choices, and can schedule these: Full Backup (entire disc, for example), Incremental Backup (only changes since the last backup), and Differential (only changes since the last FULL backup). Suggest you have a number of external drives, in rotation. So for example, say four drives: week one is scheduled for the first external drive, week 2 for the second, week three for the third, and so too for the fourth. That way if one of the drives dies, you at least have three others to choose from. Also, you can thus afford to use smaller drives. Backup doesn't require sector/partition alignment, so you can use any media big enough to hold a week's worth of full and incremental/differential backups. NOTE: you aren't ever overriding a prior backup. To get rid of a prior backup, you must manually delete it. You have options for compression, and you must use Macrium therefore to read the backed-up files. You also have the option to specify only certain folders, files, to back up. Took me an hour to backup 70GB from an old NTFS 2005 root drive, to a new WD 500 GB NTFS I just bought at Amazon. Not sure how long incrementals/differentials will take, will find out later this week.

    C for Clone.

    Here, you PHYSICALLY DUPLICATE THE LOCATIONS as well as the file contents. This is vital to XP, as it stupidly requires that certain files be in certain physical POSITIONS on the disc -- sector addresses and whatnot -- in order to operate. So that means you must CLONE your boot drive. So that means you must CREATE an identical disc. So that means you must MATCH an external hard drive which is physically equal to or not much bigger than your boot disk, of similar formatting (I think) . Macrium will physically clone your boot disk onto the external drive, so you can use it AS your boot drive, in the event of later boot failure. (Obviously this means the target drive will be erased first, so back it up, prior to cloning.)

    So now, if you awake one morning like I did and find your registry crashed, you just pop in your recovery disk, operate from your clone and restore files from your backup. A C B, due to having done your ABCs.

    Version 5 of Macrium says it can resize partitions and restore to dissimilar hardware, has virtual machine functions. I didn't test those. My guess is that they will work or at least that Macrium will very happily try to help you make them work. They also offer server functions, but since I refuse to create servers, I don't know how well those functions perform.

    In short, I'm a happy camper, very impressed with Macrium. My Windows registry nightmare is either over, or will be less hassle, in the future -- thanks to Macrium.

    Updated on Jul 19, 2012

    Just got confirmation from Macrium today, that the program will not repartition except upon restore.

    Updated on Jul 19, 2012

    Another update. Just ran the first incremental image backup. It took seven minutes, including the VERIFY operation. Admittedly, I didn't do much on my XP Prof machine today; but as you probably know, even an inactive machine processes and changes thousands of files while it idly sits, waiting for user commands. I merely installed and uninstalled a program, did some email and a few other things. Obviously more activity would mean more change, so the incremental backup would take longer.

    Updated on Jul 21, 2012

    UPDATE re testing different types of imaging and backup options:

    C -- Disc clone is fastest, most comprehensive and best, if your USB clone target is of the same size as source, or even slightly smaller (but bigger than USED space on source). 45-70GB takes an hour on my old 2005 Dell machines. Clone is fully accessible in Windows.

    I -- image backup, whether full, incremental, differential: fast, if you backup to USB device, with or w/o compression. SLOW, if you backup to a DVD or CD on 'High' compression (1hour per 45GB). I used an Apricorn DVD writer external drive. So opt for USB here, too. CAUTIONS: Macrium backup just aborts if your DVD's aren't formatted; it won't use the external name you provide to internally name the DVD/CD, but creates a separate internal ID. That's annoying.

    F -- file backup, whether full, incremental, differential. Same comments as for Image, same 3+ mins per 1GB on DVD.

    For I or F, you must view files through Macrium.

    Updated on Jul 21, 2012

    ANOTHER UPDATE: this is more like a tip, when using the program to schedule repeated imaging or backups. Reflect creates a Task you can edit in Task scheduler. The actual Macrium program is an xml file (with options to use vbs or bat instead), and whatever version you schedule, goes into Task Scheduler. The CONTENT of what you image or backup, remains in Macrium, but it NEVER stores the SCHEDULE. So each time you access it intending to edit the schedule, you may be disconcerted that it doesn't 'remember' the schedule, at all. Edit the schedule in Task Scheduler, not in Macrium. Edit the CONTENT what you're imaging or backing up, including whether incremental, differential or full, in Macrium.

    Mixed blessing, this. On the one hand, good: treat the Macrium settings as masters. Thus you can 'duplicate' on different schedules, without having to edit. On the other hand, you might have too many schedules, so must cull through Task Scheduler.

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