Acronis True Image is one of the most popular premium disk imaging utilities. It has all the disk imaging features expected in a premium tool. It offers a selection of backup schemes (including incremental backup), scheduling options, email notifications, file and folder exclusions, and many advanced features (some of which are detailed below). In my tests, it had the best compression and fastest backup times (although not by a wide margin).
It has a polished and intuitive user interface, which is one area where it stands out compared to other disk imaging software. It has clean interface with large buttons, where all important options and next steps are clearly laid out. You don’t need to go digging for features or explanations. Features are clearly visible as needed and the setup follows a logical flow.
When you go to set up a new backup, you select the source of the backup, which can either be the entire PC, selected disks or partitions, or individual files/folders. I don’t find much use for the last option, but some people may want to backup their personal data separately in this way. Next, you select the backup destination (location). This can be an external disk, the Acronis cloud service, or browse for another location (which you will want to select if you are saving to a network drive).
Once you’ve selected the basics of what to backup and where, you go through the backup options. The first thing is to decide on a backup schedule. It offers daily/weekly/monthly backup, or backup at events like logon or startup. One feature missing in other tools is the availability of non-stop or continuous backup, although this must be enabled when setting up a backup for the first time if you want to use it.
It also has a few extra scheduling options missing in other tools. I find the ability to only run a backup when the computer is idle and preventing the system from hibernating while running a backup to be particularly useful.
It offers a comprehensive set of backup methods, with the ability to run full, incremental or differential backups, as well as some custom configurations, namely single version scheme and version chain scheme, which more intelligently keep the last N backups and delete older ones.
You also have a lot of flexibility to do your own customization, by running full backups after chosen number incremental backups, deleting all backups older than a certain number of days/weeks/months, size limits and keeping the first backup in a chain. Acronis True Image stands out compared to many other tools here in that it presents the backup scheme options at initial setup, rather than having to dig for these features afterwards when setting up a repeat schedule for an existing backup job.
You can optionally set up email notifications. There are simple or advanced options, where you can specify recipient and subject, SMTP server, and when and what you want to get in emails (e.g. for success/failure of backup, include full log of backup job). Other disk imaging software I have tested did not offer this level of granularity in sending email notifications.
As with any decent premium disk imaging tool, Acronis True Image allows you to specify files and folders you want to exclude. This is an important feature, since you don’t want to waste time and disk space backing up your personal data, if you already have it backed up elsewhere. It also did quite well with the default configuration, by automatically excluding the swap file, recycle bin, and standard temporary files and folders that nobody will care about when doing a backup.
The final tab in the backup options has a range of advanced options. This includes sector by sector backups for unsupported operating systems, backup validation on demand or on a schedule (to make sure your data isn’t silently corrupted over time), detailed error handling options, the ability to set the priority of backups (useful to avoid hogging resources), and set a max network speed (to avoid hogging valuable network bandwidth during the day). Other tools offer many or all of these features too so nothing earth shattering here, however I appreciated that all these options were in one place and I didn’t have to go looking through multiple menus and forms to find them.
As mentioned above, there is an option to backup your data to their cloud service (Acronis Cloud). It will likely be slower than backing up to a local disk or network drive since you are backing up your data (lots of it) through your internet connection. However, you don’t need to worry about extra hardware issues, like your external disk failing or getting stolen. It’s best to make sure you have a fast internet connection if you want to do this. It costs around $100 per year which isn’t cheap, but you would be backing up far more data than with something like Dropbox, so it’s still in line with other cloud storage providers.
Individual files or folders can be recovered through the main interface by selecting the backup and date you are interested in and then navigating to the relevant file or folder. However, a faster and simpler option is to simply open the backup file (with .tib file extension) wherever you saved it. This will open a True Image volume where you can navigate through your files and folders as you normally would, and simply copy whatever file or folder you want to restore from there.
Being able to successfully recover your system from a failure is the whole point of using disk imaging software in the first place, so you want to be sure this is highly reliable. This is one reason to go with a well established software company over a newer, less proven one. Acronis (the company) was set up in 2003 and has developed a very good reputation over time for the reliability of their software.
To prepare for a system failure, you should create your rescue media, either on a CD/DVD or flash drive. There are two options, creating the “Acronis bootable rescue media” or the “Windows PE (preinstall environment) media”. The Acronis one is much easier to set up, as the Windows media requires additional downloads to work. The advantage of the WindowsPE media is that it will work with a greater range of hardware.
The best thing to do here is to create the Acronis rescue media first, test to confirm that it can boot and works with your drives and network adapter. If not, then you will need to go the extra mile to create the WindowsPE media.
Acronis True Image can be sluggish when navigating file/directory listings across a network drive. This is apparent when recovering individual files through the main interface, or setting up backups to a network drive for the first time. This is a fairly minor criticism and is something that is only occasionally encountered. It does not impact backup speeds to a network drive, which is faster than other tools tested.
I also found the tool a bit more resource intensive than other disk imaging tools, which is not really a concern on newer computers, but something to consider if you are running older hardware. This may in part be due to it’s greater OS integration than many other imaging tools, which also has it’s advantages (e.g. the ability to natively open and browse True Image (.tib) backup files).
Some competing tools offer the option to save disk image files in third party or more open formats such as VHD or VMDK. Acronis True Image only offers it’s own internal TIB format, which means you need to keep the tool to access your data. I understand there are tools to convert TIB files to other formats if really needed, so there are workarounds available for anyone concerned about this.
Acronis True Image has all the premium features needed for a dedicated disk imaging tool. It has probably the best user interface of imaging tools currently on the market, making advanced features easily accessible with minimal time spent learning how to use the software. It has a long history and good reputation, which is important so you know you can trust your backups are reliable when you need to restore them. There are a few minor downsides, but nothing to be too concerned about for the majority of people.