If you find backup utilities harder to figure out than a 1040 form, you'll be interested in BackMaster from MSR development. Although it sounds like something you might find Suzanne Somers shilling on late-night infomercials, it's actually a data-protection and disaster-recovery tool that puts considerable emphasis on making the both data backup and restoration processes as straightforward as possible.
Backups Made Simple
Unlike drive-imaging tools (such as Symantec's Norton Ghost) BackMaster performs file-based backups; in other words, it backs up individual files rather than saving a "snapshot" of your entire hard drive. This can make for speedier (and often simpler) backups and restores, especially if you're more concerned with protecting your data rather than application-related files.
Whether you want to safeguard your whole system or just a handful of critical files, BackMaster has a clean, simple interface that makes the task quick and easy. A quick-start tutorial walks you through the necessary steps, and since the tutorial is displayed within the main application window you can easily refer to it while you're using the program. Another helpful interface feature called the Beacon, highlights the areas where input is required as you perform backup or restore operations. (Once you become familiar with the software, you can turn the Beacon off.)
BackMaster includes a tutorial that walks you through using the program, and a feature called Beacon shows you where to add required information.
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In addition to full backups, BackMaster lets you perform space- and time-saving differential and incremental backups (which back up only new or modified files), and you can exclude files that are large and unnecessary (like the Windows pagefile or a hibernation file).
The program lets you schedule backup jobs, compress them to save space and password-protect them to guard against unauthorized access. By default, all backup files are stored within a single proprietary file, but BackMaster also offers a copy feature that you can use to make one-off duplicates of files so that you can access them using Windows Explorer (or any application) without having to restore them first.
BackMaster lets you store your backups on several types of media, including external USB/FireWire hard disks, flash memory drives or recordable CD/DVD discs. BackMaster also supports dual-layer DVD burning (provided you have a DL-compatible drive and media), which lets you store over nine gigabytes on a disc compared to just 4.7GB on single-layer discs. We're disappointed, however, that BackMaster doesn't support backing up to network drives, since many people prefer to store their backups on file servers or NAS devices.
One of the knocks against file-based backup applications like BackMaster is that they make system restores troublesome because you must reinstall your operating software and backup software before restoring your data and the rest of your applications. But BackMaster includes top-notch disaster recovery capabilities that greatly simplify the process of restoring an entire system.
BackMaster's recovery tools help you create a bootable disk and recover files among other tasks.
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When you fire up BackMaster for the first time, you're prompted to create a recovery disc on a writable CD or DVD that comes in very handy in the unfortunate event of a complete system failure that renders your system unbootable. The recovery-disc-creation routine automatically sniffs out any special storage drivers needed to access your hard drive, which is particularly important on systems with SATA rather than IDE drives.
When you have a BackMaster recovery disc that contains all the drivers necessary to boot and access your system from outside Windows, you can perform a restore even on a completely pristine system (often referred to as a "bare metal recovery").
After creating recovery discs on several systems, we successfully used all of them to successfully boot, access the hard drive and restore data, even on a SATA drive-equipped system. The version of BackMaster that runs off the recovery disk has all the capabilities of the installed version, so you can even perform a backup from outside of Windows (useful if your system fails to boot when you don't have a recent backup). Another nice feature of the BackMaster recovery disk is its built-in hard disk partitioning utility, which saves you the trouble of having to prepare your hard disk separately prior to restoring data.
BackMaster 4.0, available for Windows 2000/XP only, sells for $59.95. That makes it more expensive than most of its competitors, but since the license lets you legally install the software on three systems the effective price per system can be as low as $20 per system.
BackMaster 4.0 won't be the best choice for many businesses due to its lack of support for networked drives. But for individuals or the SOHO crowd who prefer to back up to external media, BackMaster's excellent disaster recovery capabilities and generous licensing terms make it worth considering.
Price: $59.95 (for three-system license)
Pros: simple interface, excellent disaster recovery feature
Cons: doesn't support network drives
Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in Naples, Fla. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).
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