Acronis True Image Home 2009 and its rival Norton Ghost have pretty much sewn up the market in providing Windows software that can make fast, discreet and thorough backups of an entire PC; and that can then, in the event of any failure, completely restore your PC to its previous state.
The process is simple enough. After installing Acronis True Image Home 2009 you're asked to create a backup archive - initially be a full backup, although when you update this thereafter, you have the option of saving time and resources by choosing an incremental mode. This only updates those files that have changed since the last backup.
The Acronis file format also compresses the data. In our test, a 23GB Vista installation consumed 14GB of space on our USB drive. Our main 23GB Vista installation took 16 minutes and 21 seconds to back up. A subsequent incremental backup (with an extra 1GB of brand new files) took 9 minutes and 35 seconds. While this may seem like quite long for an incremental backup, the Acronis True Image Home 2009 process did happen in the background, allowing the PC to be used at the same time.
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Scheduled backups only initiate if the PC is idle at the time - otherwise it's the next time the computer starts up. The scheduling worked very smoothly, and really does allow you to sit back and forget about the process. However, we couldn't find a way of making Acronis True Image Home 2009 start a backup just before shutting down.
The Acronis True Image Home 2009 user interface is quite slick, but the option of having a more on-screen help would be nice. Once the backup details have been finalised, future backups can be performed at the click of a button, making for a quick and easy process.
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Going through the Acronis True Image Home 2009 menus can be confusing for newcomers, and a quick default wizard, allowing you to create backup jobs after answering a few questions would be a desirable feature. One boon is the ability to search within backup archives for specific words and filenames, allowing you to quickly open or restore any required files.
The only feature of Acronis True Image Home 2009 that didn't seem totally foolproof was the Try & Decide segment. This lets you test out new software in a virtual reconstruction of your PC. Should the software be fine, you can then replicate the changes on your ‘real' Windows setup. This last bit isn't always totally successful. Even so, it does give you an idea whether or not the software will work, and this can be very valuable.