We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. The backup software ensures that we are covered the day our primary drive shuts down and dies.
It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an efficient total system backup and recovery solution that requires little user interaction or thought. .
Instead, Microsoft offers a hodgepodge of restore points, recovery discs, file backups, and even the unremoved system backup (Windows 7), which was probably initially put on pasture for its propensity to choke on different material. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer a lot more flexibility.
Plenty of providers have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are as slick or seamless as Time Machine, some come darn close and many are free. Read on for our top picks.
1. R-Drive Image 7 – Best Overall
R-Drive Image has always been one of our favorites – a low-resource product that was ultra-reliable in creating partition and disk backup images. But it didn’t have as much polish as Acronis’ backup program (below) and wasn’t as feature-rich. That has changed with this latest version, which now has a more modern, user-friendly interface and more versatility in the types of backups you can perform.
Read our full R-Drive Image 7 review
2. Acronis True Image 2021 – Top Overall Runner Up
There’s a reason Acronis is renowned in the world of backup software. Cyber Protect Home Office (previously named Acronis True Image) is capable, flexible and rock-solid reliability. Indeed, it is by far the most comprehensive data security package on the planet.
In addition to offering unparalleled backup functionality that is both robust and easy to navigate, it also integrates security applications, which protect against malware, malicious websites and other threats with real-time monitoring. .
Read our full Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office review
3. Cobian 11 backup
If you can overlook its very old aesthetic, Cobian Backup is a freebie that takes care of file backups efficiently and can even run the same backup task to multiple destinations. It doesn’t offer any fancy features of the system, so you’ll need another solution for that.
Read our full Cobian Backup 11 review
4. Backupper 6 Standard – Best Free Option
Of the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and simple file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options. (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version only added more options, making it a surprisingly comprehensive free offering. We encountered some performance issues with less conventional system configurations, but for the average user it should work as expected.
Read our full Backupper 6 Standard review
5. CloudBerry Backup Desktop
CloudBerry is a good solution for a mixed storage scenario, i.e. you want to back up data from different sources to different destinations. It is also highly configurable. But it’s not as user-friendly as some of the other popular solutions. Luckily, there’s a free version you can try out before you spend any money.
Read our full CloudBerry Backup Desktop review
6. Ivy Backup
IvyBackup sports a clean look and saves in popular Zip and VHD formats. However, it did not check if there was enough space for its image backups, which caused unsaved failures.
Read our full IvyBackup review
What to Look for in Backup Software
As with most things, don’t buy too much. Features you don’t need add complexity and can slow down your system. Also, if you’re planning on backing up to a recently purchased external hard drive, check out the software that came with it. Seagate, WD and others provide backup utilities suitable for the average user.
File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, although it takes a bit of time and effort), a program that backs up only the files you select is a great time saver. . Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use Windows Library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).
Image Backup/Imaging: Images are byte-by-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in the event of a system crash and also ensures that you don’t miss anything important.
Boot medium: If your system completely crashes, you need another way to boot and run recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB flash drive. Some will also create a recovery partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.
Planning: If you want to back up effectively, you need to do it regularly. Any backup program worth its salt lets you schedule backups.
Version management: If you overwrite previous files, it’s not a backup, it’s a one-way sync or mirror. Any backup program you use should allow you to keep multiple previous backups or, with file backup, previous versions of the file. The best software will retain and dispose of old backups according to the criteria you establish.
Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as outdated as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are excellent archival media. If you’re worried about the reliability of optical media, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims backed up by Department of Defense testing.
Online support: An offsite copy of your data provides protection against physical disasters such as floods, fires, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to keep an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.
FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS enclosures on your network or in remote locations (eg, your parents’ house) is another way to physically protect your data with an offsite, or at least physically unobtrusive, copy. FTP can be used offsite, while SMB (Windows and most operating systems) and AFP (Apple) are suitable for other PCs or NAS on your local network.
Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually when creating or saving. This is also called mirroring and is useful for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile datasets, the gain does not compensate for the exhaustion of system resources. Instead, planning should be used.
Continuous backup: In this case, “continuous” simply means backing up on a tight schedule, typically every 5-15 minutes, instead of daily or weekly. Use continuous backup for fast-changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow or computing power is too valuable for real-time backup.
Performance: Most backups happen in the background or during downtime, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the mainstream space. However, if you are backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or processing very large datasets, speed is a consideration.
How we test
We run each program through the different types of backups it is capable of. This is largely for testing reliability and hardware compatibility, but we’re timing two: a ~115GB system image (two partitions) and a ~50GB image created from a set of files and smaller folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity through the program’s restore functions. We also test USB bootable drives created by programs.
All our reviews
If you want to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, below are links to all of our backup software reviews. We will continue to evaluate new programs and regularly re-evaluate existing software, so be sure to check our current impressions.