NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2007
Backup Approaches Compared
By Gene Barlow, President
User Group Relations
gene@ugr.com (click to email author)

For the past few years, I have recommended the Perfect Backup Approach as the best way to backup your computerís hard drive (see http://www.ugr.com/newsletters.html). I have lectured on this topic, published a tutorial on it (see http://www.ugr.com/tutorials.html), and have personally advised many of my friends to use this approach. From my research, this is clearly the best way for end-users to backup their hard drives today. †

I am always surprised when some users prefer a different backup approach to use. My concern is that they may not have given the various approaches a thorough comparison. I hope this article will help users compare the various backup approaches and learn why the Perfect Backup Approach is the best one to use. †

Another factor to consider is what needs to be backed up on your computer. Your data files are important items that need to be backed up regularly. But that is not enough. Our computers are very complex and contain tens of thousands of files that are changing constantly. The effort to rebuild our computer software may take days or weeks to complete. Today, we must backup our entire hard drives and not just a few data files. †

This article will compare the four most popular backup approaches in use today. I hope it will help you understand why the Perfect Backup Approach is the best of the bunch. †

Four Backup Approaches

There are four backup approaches that are commonly used on personal computers today. These are the following:

File Backup Approach
Clone Backup Approach
Full Backup Image Approach
Full & Incremental Backup Image Approach (aka Perfect Backup Approach)

I will briefly describe each of these four approaches and then try to describe the comparisons between these four approaches that concern most end users. Acronis True Image 10.0 Home edition is the only backup product on the market that can do all four of these approaches, so no matter which approach you choose, True Image is the best backup utility to use. †

File Backup Approach: The File Backup Approach is the oldest and most common backup method used on personal computers. I would estimate that of the dozens of backup utilities available, 90% of them are file backup utilities. With this approach, you select which of the many files stored on your main hard drive to backup and the utility will copy each of these files individually to your backup device. It is possible to select all of the files on your main hard drive to backup, but this approach is not very good as we will see later. †

Clone Backup Approach: This approach became popular a few years ago to let you adequately backup your entire hard drive. With the Clone (or Copy) Backup Approach, you make an exact copy of your main hard drive to another hard drive inside your computer. Then if anything happens to your main hard drive, you simply replace it with the cloned hard drive and you are up and running again. While this approach seems simple and straight forward, it is not a very efficient way to do backups today. †

Full Backup Image Approach: The imaging approach copies the physical sectors of your main hard drive to the backup device instead of copying each file separately. So, the backups were much faster than individual file by file backups. Images could also be quickly restored to a new hard drive on your computer and let your computer be used again in a few minutes. The backup images could also be compressed to save room on your backup device. While much better than the first two backup approaches, this is not the most efficient way to store your backup images. †

Full & Incremental Backup Image Approach: The next step in improving the backup technology came when Acronis introduced True Image that could make not only full backup images of your main hard drive, but could also make incremental backup images of just the changes to your hard drive since the last backup was made. This permitted frequent backups to be taken for maximum protection, but still conserves your backup storage space. Combined with an external hard drive to save your backup images on, this was the basis of the Perfect Backup Approach and is the best way to do backups today. †

Backup Approaches Compared

The following table compares the four backup approaches commonly used today to let you see how one approach stacks up against the other approaches. The comparisons are kept small in size to let you quickly compare the various approaches. I think that the Perfect Backup Approach will stand out as clearly the best of the bunch as you read this comparison.

File Backup Clone Baclup Full Image Backup Full/Incremental Image Backup
Basic Approach Individual files copied and condensed to backup device one at a time. Entire hard drive copied to another hard drive. Entire hard drive sectors are copied and condensed on backup device. Entire hard drive or just changes to hard drive are copied to backup device.
Backup Device Types Hard drive (external, internal, or network) drives or CD/DVD. Internal or external hard drives. Hard drive (external, internal, or network) drives or CD/DVD. Hard drive (external, internal, or network) drives or CD/DVD
Individual File Backups Yes No No No
Full System Backups No Yes Yes Yes
Backup Space Used File Space Entire Hard Drive Used File Space Only Changed File Space
Backup Speed Slow Medium Medium Fast
Restore approach Create and Format partitions. Install OS, restore individual files Place Cloned hard drive inside computer Restore image to new hard drive Restore full & incremental images to new hard drive.
Restored Items Individual Files Entire Hard Drive Individual Files or Entire Hard Drive Individual Files or Entire Hard Drive
Restore Speed Very Slow & Complex Medium Medium Medium
Worst Feature Slow backups. Poor backups of full system. Complex Restores of full system. Requires new hard drive for each new backup. Need 3 as minimum. Restore Image step required. Storage Space. Restore Image step required.
Best Feature Backup just a few files. Not really adequate today. Simple physical replacement Quickly restore full hard drive. Quickly restore full hard drive. Minimal backup drive space.