Save your data with one of these top backup programs

We test five new apps that make saving -- and restoring -- your vital data a lot easier than tools you've tried in the past.

The Traditionalists

NTI Backup 5 Advanced

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NTI Backup 5 Advanced (price US$70 as of 7/23/2008) is by far the most complete backup solution NTI has ever released. It brings continuous data protection (CDP), file-based backup, and what the company calls drive-based backup (otherwise known as disk imaging), all under one extremely friendly roof. It also solves a long-standing problem for NTI — the inability to back up open files.

Backup 5 Advanced uses the same impressively intuitive interface that has been its trademark for several years, with the more polished look that was introduced last year. The step-by-step buttons on the left and the relevant options and selectors on the right are the perfect blend of easy-to-learn and easy-to-use. Many wizardlike interfaces get in the way once you know them, but this one doesn't.

The imaging module includes adjustments for compression level, encryption, and verification. You can get more granular with your tweaks for Backup 5 Advanced's file-based and CDP backup. For CDP, you can back up by filter or location (choose a directory), as well as back up your "profile" (e-mail, desktop settings, address book, Outlook .pst file, and the like). All three types of backup can be scheduled at any time, and you may instruct the PC to go into standby, hibernation, or power-down modes after a job completes. You can also have the program notify you by e-mail upon the completion (or failure) of a job, though it lacks a provision for running programs before and after a job.

Broadly speaking, NTI Backup 5 Advanced worked extremely well for me. Its backups were flawless; however, I had a couple of minor operational gripes. To back up to a network location, I had to first map the destination as a drive within Windows Explorer — a rather odd approach considering the program allows you to select an FTP site as your backup destination. Also, while you can schedule daily backups, you can't set them to run on alternate weeks to different media as you can with Retrospect. I discovered a very minor bug where the drive-based backup wouldn't show the drives on my system while an internal 100MB IDE Zip drive was attached. This was most like a conflict with the ASPI layer used by NTI for low-level drive access.

Backup 5 Advanced is the first NTI backup product I can wholeheartedly recommend: It's a solid, reliable performer, its file-based backup is more than adequate for typical use, and it offers CDP and imaging as well. Alas, at US$100 it's twice the price of NovaBackup 10, a product that's nearly as friendly — and more powerful.

Download NTI Backup 5 Advanced (Price: US$70; 30-day free trial)

Paragon Drive Backup 9.0 Personal

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Paragon's disk-imaging application, Drive Backup 9.0 Personal (price US$40, as of 7/15/2008), may still be a feature or two shy of competitor Acronis True Image Home 11, but you probably don't need whatever is be missing. DB9's newfound ability to back up and restore individual files and folders, in addition to imaging whole drives and partitions, makes the two programs nearly equal. If the restore implementation were a little simpler, you could throw out the "nearly"; still, Drive Backup 9's friendlier, configurable GUI and its US$10 price advantage make it a difficult choice between the two.

While Paragon makes selecting individual files and folders for backup easy, selecting them for restore is harder. When you browse, instead of seeing a separate window with the files listed, you have to navigate a tree in the same browser you used to select the archive. If you're restoring from a long-path network location, this approach becomes unwieldy. The other, more serious problem is that you can restore a file only to its original location. This is a pain when you want to recover an older version of a file without overwriting the newer one.

The other major new feature in this version is the rescue media builder's ability to write its recovery image to a thumb drive as well as to CD. Flash USB drives boot much faster (on newer PCs whose BIOS supports booting from a USB device), and they're easier to carry around. Also, as always, if you own the company's Partition Manager the abilities of that program are added automatically to the recovery media. That makes for a very nice all-around emergency toolkit/boot disc.

The other changes to Drive Backup 9.0 Personal are minor: bug fixes, more drivers, and better support for various operating systems, including Apple's dual-boot Boot Camp for both Mac and PC support. In the end, for straight disk imaging, DB9 is as good as it gets. But the company needs to make restoring individual files and folders easier; and in light of NovaBackup 10, which has imaging as well as a host of other backup features, Paragon should also lower the price.

Download Paragon Drive Backup 9.0 Personal (Price: US$40; 30-day free trial)

Titan Backup

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Having reviewed literally dozens of backup programs, I'm not easy to impress. But I was impressed with Titan Backup (price US$40 as of 7/15/2008). Though it lacks the ability to back up open files and has no imaging capability, it has just about everything else you could wish for in a backup program. The interface is also one of the best I've seen — an intuitive combination of tabbed dialog and step-by-step wizard that I have only minor quibbles with.

Titan Backup's performance and abilities were pretty much on a par with other second-tier backup programs. You can opt for plain file backup, backup to a zip file, or backup to an executable zip (with a 4GB size limit — a zip limitation). Options include 256-bit AES encryption, the ability to run other programs before and after the backup, and user-name or password entry for backing up to protected network locations. The password didn't work with my Synology DS508 NAS box when the destination was a password-protected folder, but I'm inclined to blame this on the NAS box, which has a somewhat odd security implementation. There were no problems backing up to public folders, hard drives, a flash drive, CD/DVD, or via FTP.

Other features include e-mail notifications (with account settings), syncing of folders, a comprehensive scheduler, command-line execution, and some very nicely written help files. There's no support for tape, but on the consumer level, this is a not an issue these days.

As to those GUI quibbles, they were as petty as wishing the company had put the "Edit Task" button on the upper toolbar with "Delete" and "Import Task" configuration buttons instead of with the primary operational "Start" and "Restore" buttons on the side panel.

Download Titan Backup (Price: US$40; 15-day free trial)

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Jon L. Jacobi

PC World (US online)

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