Backing up your PC occasionally is a very good idea: there's no better way to protect your valuable files from hardware failure, virus attack and other data disasters. But it's important to do it properly.
Running a simple file-based backup, for instance, will be quick, but only because you'll probably leave so much behind: emails, contacts, browser favourites, digital photos, music, fonts, Windows and application settings, Office add-ons, browser extensions - the list goes on.
Use Macrium Reflect - Free Edition, though, and the program will take a complete image of your entire hard drive. This will take longer, and you'll probably need a second hard drive to hold the image, but if disaster does strike in the future then you'll appreciate the difference. You won't have to reinstall Windows, or your applications, or try to recover any lost data: just boot from the program's rescue disc, restore the backup, and your PC will be back working as normal within an hour or two.
The program is easy to use, and keeps backup hassles to a minimum. Support for Microsoft's Volume Shadow copy Service means it can create a hard drive image while you continue to use your PC, for instance. A built-in scheduler lets you run backup jobs even when you're not around. Powerful compression keeps the backup image as small as possible, then it can be saved to network, external or network drives, and even DVD (there's a built-in CD/DVD packet writing engine, so no additional burning software is required).
Macrium Reflect - Free Edition also lets you create a bootable Linux-based rescue CD with network support. If your PC won't start in future then you can boot from this, and use it to restore your last backup. But if you only need a few files, then the program can handle that, too. In just a few clicks you're able to attach an image, browse it for the files you need, then copy them back to your hard drive - it's all very quick and easy.
Version 5, which comes three months after the paid-for editions were upgraded, features a completely redesigned user interface that now supports drag-and-drop and new wizards. It also boasts full disk cloning capabilities, scheduled imaging, resizing and reordering of partitions when restored and the ability to rotate backup destinations so multiple backups can be kept.
The latest build also allows free users to create a Win PE-based rescue disc for the first time, although only the custom option – which involves a 1.7GB download – is available. WinPE support ensures USB 3.0 drives can be recognised in the recovery environment.
What you won't get here is direct file or folder backup, support for Windows Server, differential or incremental backups. They're reserved for the commercial version. Still, if you've a spare hard drive and just want quick, easy image backups then Macrium Reflect - Free Edition could be the ideal choice.