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Acronis Backup for PC Review
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Review

Acronis Backup for PC Review

by February 6, 2015

Acronis Backup for PC Review

Acronis Backup for PC is primarily intended for small business use to help protect Workstations. It is a full featured and well thought out piece of software which allows you to backup your important data or even an entire machine including the Operating System.

The Acronis Backup installer comes as a large package inside an executable file weighing in at just over 1 GB. It is usable on a broader range of Operating Systems than its home counterpart from the standard Windows XP up to Windows 8 computers along with Windows2000 and Windows XP x64 as well. It supports saving to a wide variety of drives, discs, removable media and network locations. In addition, if you have a subscription, you can also make use of the Acronis Cloud for offsite backups.

The installer has a standard setup with only a couple of screens which you may want to pay special attention on. The first involves starting the trial or inputting your license key if you have already purchased it.

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The second screen lets you modify the account used by the background service.

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The last one requiring a choice will depend on if you would rather not participate in the Acronis Customer Experience Program. This is a voluntary program which allows basic system or configuration information to be reported back to Acronis so that they have a better idea of how to test and improve their products.

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The first screen you’ll see after launch will appear similar to the one shown below. If you are using a trial version to test the software you may also sign up for a free thirty day cloud trial. I find the fifteen day trial of the Acronis Backup software a bit odd considering it only accounts for half of the Acronis Clouds trial length. It could work out perfectly though if you are going to be testing Acronis Backup Advanced for PC as well.

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The primary management window, or console, is simple enough and allows you to jump right in to the backup process, define a schedule, manage your Acronis account, or if you already have a backup to make use of, you can restore it. There are also many options which can be found in the menu. We’ll explore some of these options later but if you’re more interested in making an initial backup you can do so here by simply clicking ‘Backup up now’. Simply select what you want to back up and choose a location where it should be stored.

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There are a few small options on the backup selection window worth noting. The first is within ‘Data to back up:’ which allows you to switch between disk and file mode.

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The other is a calculate button which will show you the size of the selected disks or folders.

You also may select from exclusions such as all hidden files and folders, all system files and folders or select your own criteria. It does allow the use of wildcards.

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Under ‘Where to back up’ you can select the location you intend to store the archive. It does allow you to store a backup onto the same drive but this is discouraged for many reasons. I attached a second drive and labeled it backup so that I could run through the process.

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Under How to back up are other options you should decide if you want to make use of. The first is the backup type: Full, Incremental or Differential. The second is ‘Validation’ and is an option I usually make use of myself as it’s always nice knowing that the backup has been verified and that there will be no surprise errors should I need to make use of the backup. Depending on the amount of data you’ll be storing this may not be viable for your situation.

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The final area, ‘Parameters’ hold the more advanced options. You can alter the user for the service or select ‘Backup options…’ to open a window which is where most of the archive specific choices can be tweaked.

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The first settings included here is ‘Archive protection’ which allows you to set a password and optionally encrypt the backup with up to AES 256. It is important to note that Acronis cannot recover your password for you if it is encrypted so be sure to remember it.

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Other settings include changing the ‘Backup cataloging’ between full or fast and an expandable ‘Backup performance’ section. You can set the priority of the backup process between Low, Normal and high along with limit the write speed of the backup to a disk or network usage. Making use of these options can aid in either ensuring the backup has top priority or adjusting it so that the backup will happen in the background using minimal resources so as not to affect an employee or user who may be working on the machine.

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‘Backup splitting’ can be used to chop the archive into smaller files and comes with a few, common, predefined rules for things like ZIP disk or optical discs. You may also define your own by simply typing in a number and adding MB or GB.

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‘Compression level’ is helpful if you need to be concerned about the size vs time taken to complete a backup. The higher the setting, the more processing (CPU and time) will be required to complete the backup.

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The ‘Disaster recovery plan (DRP)’ can be helpful in a multi-computer environment and will allow you to set up an email address list to send the relevant DRP file to. The DRP file contains a list of what was backed up and can guide a user who needs to make use of the backup in recovering something.

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‘E-mail notifications’ allows you to define an email list along with choosing between a few scenarios where Acronis Backup should send a message. This can be useful simply to verify that a scheduled backup is completed without needing to access the computer or only to let you know if something has not gone as expected.

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‘Error handling’ lets you prevent dialogs from being shown in the event there is an issue during the creation of a backup. Once again this comes in handy if you do not want the user of the PC to be effected by the backup process. You can also tweak the number of retries and delay between each retry attempt.

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If you want more detailed information stored in the Windows Event Log or sent via SNMP you can set these up in the ‘Event tracing’ sections, ‘SNMP notifications’ and ‘Windows event log’.

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‘Fast incremental/differential backup’ toggles if change only backups should be made after the initial backup and is more suited for a scheduled task than a one-run backup.

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‘File-Level backup snapshot’ changes rules concerning the use of snapshots. If a file is open, without using snapshots, it may be possible that it will not be read during a backup. On the other hand if you do use snapshots and a file has changed before the backup process reaches, then accesses, the file in order to store it any changes occurring during that delayed period will not be saved.

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‘File-level security’ refers to NTFS security permissions or EFS protected files. You can save these EFS files in a decrypted state if you need to be able to restore the files to a separate device where the user who encrypted them will not exist. The same can be applies to NTFS Security permissions which may be limited to specific users on the machine.

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‘Media components’ can enable an option to add a bootable Acronis Agent onto removable media selected for the backup. This could prove useful during recovery but is not likely to be needed in a small office environment.

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‘Mount points’ allows you to choose if any mounted volumes should be saved along with the backup or not. It is only relevant when you have ‘current’ logically attached sub-folders within a folder that has been selected for backup while doing a ‘file level’ backup instead of an entire disk backup.

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‘Multi-volume snapshot’ is similar to the ‘File-Level backup snapshot’ mentioned before except that it is applied only when you need to backup more than one volume or disk. Enabling this will take a snapshot of all the selected partitions ‘at once’ instead of when the backup reaches the specific volume.

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If you want to run any .bat files before or after a backup you may do so by selecting them in ‘Pre/post commands’. Likewise the Pre/post data capture commands can be used to suspend database usage prior to a snapshot. Want to clear the temp folders before you do a backup? This would be an easy opportunity to do so!

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‘Replication/cleanup inactivity time’ is another one meant for use with a scheduled backup task rather than a lone backup. It allows you to define time frames when replication or cleanup should not be allowed to run.

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If you are taking a disk image you may enable a sector-by-sector backup. This can be useful in a few situations such as when you want to image a fully encrypted drive without exposing the contents or there may be information which was deleted and you hope to recover.

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‘Task failure handling’ is also meant for a scheduled backup and will allow you to choose if the backup should be restarted after a failure and if so, how many attempts along with the delay between each attempt.

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‘Task start conditions’ lets you select if a defined task should be skipped if all the conditions are not met, wait until they are met, or start it anyway after a delay which you can choose.

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‘Volume Shadow Copy Service’ allows you to select which ‘Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS)’  to make use of, if any.

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That concludes the ‘advanced options’ available for backups. Seemed like it would never end, didn’t it? Now ask yourself is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’d wager, like me, you thought it was good! =)

Next up we’ll cover ‘Create backup plan’ aka create a Schedule except that with the number of options (some of which are covered above) available in this area it IS more than a simple ‘schedule’.

Starting off like the previous ‘Back up now’ window you need to select WHAT and WHERE to back things up and then it allows you to tweak the parameters much like before but with a few extras. The plan includes a new area, HOW.

Happen to remind you of the entire Who, What, When, Where, Why and How rule? Well even if it doesn’t ring any bells for you it sure did in my silly brain. The ‘Why’ is obvious, to backup your data! With ‘WHO’ defined as the machine in which the rules are being set for, the rest are easily handled by the software and except for the ‘Plan parameters’, which are the ‘advanced options’ and happen to follow in the ‘HOW’ category inside my limited mind, along with another singular option included in the ‘How’ category actually belonging to the ‘WHEN’ part of the rule….the “schedule”…. it seems like Acronis started off strong and changed their mind along the way. OK, so all it really does is ruin my analogy. Either way – it’s all rather simple to grasp.

With the ‘What to back up’ and ‘Where to back up’ being exactly the same as the last time I covered it there is no reason to bore you with it again.

While ‘How to back up’ has been covered in a limited fashion versus the options available in the ‘backup plan’ area found here they are actually slightly different and you will want to pay attention to this area when setting the software up for your machines.

Not only does the backup scheme here have a few more options but there are other features I will attempt to discuss such as retention rules and a second location.

Starting with the ‘Backup scheme’ you have options between several presets along with a custom option which allows you to set up your own ‘scheme’ These include Simple, Gradfather-Father-Son, Tower of Hanoi, Manual and Initial seeding which is only available through the Acronis Cloud with a separate license.

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There are a number of options for scheduling a backup to occur. You have the standard choices for days, weeks, months, etc. Then come the ‘event driven’ types such as when a user logs on or off, at system boot or shutdown and on specific Windows event log events.

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The retention rules help you to keep the backups relevant or simply within a defined size limit. You can choose to automatically delete or move backups when they are a certain age or if you are using one of the more advanced schemes you can also select the total number of backups to keep and delete or move the oldest for those above the limit you set.

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Secondary and tertiary locations can also be chosen to mirror backups. This is helpful if you want to keep a local copy on the HDD and another on the network along with storing one in the cloud for instance.

You may choose to validate the created archives after a backup is created, after the retention rules have been enforced or on a given schedule.

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The ‘Plan parameters’ let’s you define a name, label and add comments. In addition you may access the advanced options we covered before through the ‘Backup options…’ selection.

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Recovering specific documents from a file level archive is simple. Select ‘Recover’ from the main console window and choose the backup that contains the data you want. Rather than restoring the entire backup you can explore the contents using the tree located in the bottom window and navigate to where the file existed. While it can save folders or files to the original location you may also choose to place them elsewhere.

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The recovery details window is similar to that of the backup details with a few tabs you may switch between starting with that of the task in progress, reviewing the selected archive statistics and settings or a history of the tasks progress.

As backups or restores are preformed you’ll see some of these listed on the primary window under recent activities along with any alerts that have been triggered.

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For more detailed information you may use the navigation menu at the top or the navigation pane to the left and choose ‘Alerts’ or ‘Log’

Also found in the navigation pane is the ‘Backup plans and tasks’ which contains a list of all scheduled or preformed tasks. You can manage them here with a number of options as shown below.

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‘Vaults’ can also be created or managed through the navigation pane. This lets you modify locations and limit access with rights. One feature that might interest you can be found on the vault window or from the actions menu, “Create Acronis Secure Zone” or as shown below after it has been created “Manage Acronis Secure Zone”.

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The ‘Acronis Secure Zone’ is a partition that can be created on the local machines disk and secured with a password. If the machine only has one drive a reboot will likely be required to complete the operation. While I have never had issues creating these zones myself it would still be a good idea to have a backup already on hand in case you do run into any issues. Using such a zone to store backups before replicating them to another location can be useful particularly in the case of laptops that might be taken outside of the office and thus not always connected to the network.

The last area of the navigation pane allows you to Mount archives as virtual drives. This is helpful when you aren’t sure where the file(s) you want is located inside of a full drive backup.

There are a few more useful functions available from the menu including the ability to create a bootable rescue disc. This can be found in the ‘Tools’ menu as ‘Create bootable media’. The wizard will guide you through the process and I highly recommend creating a few for emergencies. One of the abilities this media has is to restore a full backup to a different machine.

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You may also install or ‘Activate Acronis Startup Recovery Manager’ to aid in restorations if the OS is unbootable but the disk is intact and you have saved the backups locally. It can still be helpful if you have saved to a network location as well if the user is able to input the appropriate information to connect. This operation does modify the MBR and if you have a third party loader in place you will likely need to reconfigure it again.

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Finally we have the last area of interest which can be found in the Options > ‘Default backup and recovery options’. This will open a windows where you can tweak many of the advanced options described before so that you do not need to change them every time you create a new plan or backup.

There are a few other options you might want to mess with in the ‘Console options’ and ‘Machine options’ such as ‘Alert display options’, ‘Pop-up messages’, setting up ‘Time-based alerts’ or defining a Cloud backup proxy.

Looking for more info on the Acronis Cloud review? *Please note that this review is more about the business aspect but most details are still applicable to home users as well.*

Looking for Acronis True Image 2015 for PC review?

Looking for Acronis True Image 2015 for Mac review?

Final conclusion & thoughts:

Acronis Backup for PC is by no means as ‘pretty’ as the home users True Image 2015 line and it might take a little more time to get things set up just the way you want them but the extra options available here make the time spent worth it. At no point did I feel as though there were any obvious changes that should be made. Some of the navigation and options aren’t as readily apparent but they were still easy to find and tweak. The included help file is also rather comprehensive if you want to check on anything. If it can’t answer your question though there is a button to ‘Ask Acronis’ from within the program. Live Chat was fairly prompt in my experience but one of the people I spoke with came across a bit more like a computer program locating key words and responding with generic answers rather than actually bothering to read what I was writing. On the other side I encountered a truly pleasant and competent representative as well so that may just be luck of the draw.

The preset backup ‘schemes’ are good starting points but the ability to define your own and backup to multiple locations with one plan so easily is wonderful.

The background services consumed a bit more memory than I expected but they were not outrageous. Sitting at around 60 MB they were very calm when not actively engaged in a backup.

I didn’t encounter any program errors or experience a single crash so I’d happily suggest giving it a try if you are looking for a backup product.

Pros

It has an unparalleled ability to create Disk (sector level included) or File level backups with a great number of options allowing you to handle just about any setup imaginable!
Restore a full backup to dissimilar hardware.
Quick Solid, Reliable...

Cons

There is not a 'try to take over the world' scheme available in the presets.

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9.7
Conclusions

Acronis Backup for PC gives you everything you need to ensure an entire system or just specific data is backed up exactly when and where you want it. I thought True Image 2015 was great but this business version blows it out of the water!

It is a sad day for home users...

10
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