PROS / The Linux-based startup disk is a fully functional version of Acronis True Image that writes directly to your master boot record (MBR).
CONS / True Image can only burn image files to CD or DVD in the Windows Preinstallation Environment.
VERDICT / The robust set of tools provided by Acronis True Image takes this software beyond simple disk imaging to include a full suite of hard-drive management options. The easy-to-use interface and setup wizards provide quick access to the most essential tasks.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following review is based on Acronis True Image 2014. Acronis has since announced the release of True Image 2016, which will be evaluated with the scheduled update of this site.
Acronis True Image is the ultimate in disk imaging software and works just as well for network administrators as it does for home users. Its features are the best available and include ISO compatibility, cloud storage and virtualization, to name a few. Additional True Image features such as continuous data protection, delta backup functionality, backward compatibility and migration tools ensure that Acronis will be there from your current system to the next.
The True Image interface speaks well to Acronis’ understanding of users who do not have time to click through features that may not suit their needs. At the same time, the full suite of tools are there to serve even your more complex needs for backup, data recovery, redundant storage and more. We were particularly impressed by the cross-platform functionality that extends from Windows and Mac operating systems to include Linux with an out-of-the-box OS-independent boot CD. All of this makes it one of the best imaging software applications available.
Acronis True Image was easily the Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner for best disk imaging software. Its range of cloning and virtualization options, along with outstanding support and backup functionality, make it a solid decision for your long-term computer needs.
Acronis started as disk imaging software in 2002 and has since built on the technology. While Acronis does have a proprietary file system, it can convert its native True Image Backup (TIB) files to VHD for emulation and vice versa to help you save space. Since TIB files are smaller than VHD, Acronis VHD files are dynamic to make the best use of available disk space.
Beyond file size, the added advantage to the TIB format is its ability to update your files with a variety of backup schemes that include full, differential and incremental backups with backup chains that allow you to roll back on changes though individual recovery points. The added open file backup capabilities can be a particularly important feature for gamers and programmers who are keen on recovering to a specific point in time.
Automatic backup rules keep Acronis from filling your drive with endless chains and infinite backups. User-defined parameters keep your backups to a minimum by deleting file versions and chains older than a specified period. Another setting allows for only a set number of recent chains and backups. Or you can set an upper limit on the overall size of your backup folder. When that limit is reached, Acronis will delete your oldest backup version, with the exception of your first full backup.
Acronis does create ISO files, but there is the limitation of needing a third-party application to burn that image to disk. The bootable ISO files that True Image does make are only available through WinPE with the Windows Automated Installation Kit installed. You can mount these files, just not burn them to disk with True Image.
Additional limitations are that True Image does not rip from CD/DVD, which can be a drawback for gamers looking for emulation capabilities. We did however, find that backups made from ripped files could be mounted and run that way.
One very interesting way that Acronis has expanded on virtualization is with True Image’s Try & Decide mode. Try & Decide allows you to unpack software, download attachments or just preview alternate functions before you commit them to your system. While this is not exactly the same as running a virtual version of your computer, all of your changes are kept in RAM until you decide to commit the changes to the system.
Additionally, if you restart your system while it is in Try & Decide mode, your computer will still be in that mode when it comes back online. Dual boot systems restarted in this mode will only start in the last OS used. Any file-level changes you make will not be committed to your system's memory unless you commit to the overall changes. While this is a great way to protect your PC, this could be an easy way to lose progress on an active file. There is a workaround for email applications so you won’t have to worry about losing those.
The True Image Mount Wizard lets you mount your True Image Backup (TIB) files so you can explore them as if they were physical drives. Each mounted image gets a drive letter and appears in the Windows File Explorer, from which you can browse and execute files. You can copy files from these images, but they will lose encryption and compression attributes upon being extracted. If you wish to keep these attributes, then you will have to restore the file rather than just copy folders from them. Also, files stored in the Acronis Cloud cannot be mounted until they have been downloaded.
Acronis True Image is also backward compatible with its previous versions, meaning you can also recover from images made with old True Image backups.
Restoration & Storage
Acronis True Image is, at heart, backup and recovery software, and it knows about storing and restoring your data. Acronis lets you mount and explore your images so you can extract individual files. Compatibility with early versions of True Image and the existing Windows Backup formats extends your file-recovery capabilities to those older machines collecting dust in your closet. Windows Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format files can even be converted to Acronis True Image Backup (TIB) files – and back – for portability between machines.
True Image has a convenient set of tools that work perfectly in most recovery situations. Right out of the box, True Image can create powerful startup media on disk and USB flash drive. Both of these create a stand-alone pre-OS Linux version that can write directly to your master boot record (MBR) for startup repairs. This is great for Windows users, but the results for Linux users may vary. If you are one, then you should consider storing your loaders to the Linux root partition boot record to avoid having to reinstall them after you use the startup media.
Finally, Acronis provides cloud storage redundancy and peace of mind. This feature provides absolute data continuity between your connected computers and devices. From your Android or iOS device, you are able to access content uploaded from any part of your network and even push files from one device to the next. With your purchase, you receive one year of 5GB cloud data recovery storage. Acronis offers competitively priced plans of up to 125GB after that.
Help & Support
The True Image interface is both attractive and intuitive when functioning from inside the Windows shell. You can set scheduled automatic backups to occur daily, weekly or monthly. A high-level calendar view displays the status of scheduled operations at a glance. Dedicated logs track the actions of all features, whether they’re scheduled to recur or are just a one-time operation. The pre-OS Linux version is not as pretty, but remains highly functional.
Of course, the Acronis website has FAQs, online forums and troubleshooting guides, but what’s best is the freely available PDF user manual. Acronis has some of the most comprehensive software documentation that we’ve seen. This resource is particularly useful for answering questions and helping you further your knowledge of Acronis True Image.
Acronis’ customer support is available directly through the True Image website. Submitted requests can take a few minutes to a few days to get a response, depending on how you submit your request. A Live Community forum connects you to other Acronis customers and MVPs for a nearly instant response to your questions. Live chat connects you with Acronis support professionals within minutes. You can email your less urgent questions to Acronis, but expect as much as a three-day response time. Telephone support is also available, but you have to purchase a per-incident license.
Acronis True Image is a powerful set of hard-drive imaging and virtualization tools. Power users and gamers will appreciate its expanded functionality, virtual disk and drive features on a simple interface. Its backup and recovery capabilities, along with a few simple workarounds, puts it well beyond most of today’s best off-the-shelf computers. This suite of disk-imaging software tools is one that will be just as useful to you five years from now as it will be today.