Version 11's interface is friendlier than past editions, though still unintuitive at times, and it presents some very useful new features. Try & Decide mode, for example, works like a proactive Windows Restore, writing changes to the program's Secure Zone hidden recovery partition and committing them later only at your discretion. Turn it on before you install unfamiliar software or browse to suspicious Web sites. In my gold beta it caused a noticeable performance hit, but it's a nice safeguard to have.
In addition, you can now restore individual files and folders from a full image within the main program, as well as perform a quick system-state backup; you also get improved filtering and masking for file and folder backup. The interface may be befuddling in spots, but True Image is the best all-around backup software on the market.
Price: $50; 15-day trial
Download Acronis True Image Home 11
Runtime Software DriveImage XML
How can you say anything bad about a program that's free? Even if it weren't, I wouldn't. I've used DriveImage XML a number of times over several years, and for basic imaging from within Windows, you can't go wrong. It creates images with or without unused sectors (images of the former type are larger, but great for transferring a partition from a rapidly failing drive to a good one for data recovery), and it restores them whole or retrieves only selected files and folders.
The program is unique in writing header information about the data being backed up (sector locations of files, etc.) in XML format so that it can be read by numerous programs, including Web browsers. This feature may not be useful for the average user, but it does allow us geekier types to process the data in other ways. A module for the popular Bart's PE boot disc is available so you can restore images even when Windows won't boot, though creating a custom Bart's PE disc isn't for technophobes.
DriveImage XML does have limitations. You can't back up individual files or folders, it offers no encryption, and you can't restore an image to a partition smaller than the one it was created from even if the data will fit. But for the price, we're not complaining -- the program is the perfect complement to traditional or continuous-protection programs that lack disaster recovery.
Download DriveImage XML
Active @ Disk Image
Though the imaging module is only part of the attraction of this handy boot disc, it's a component I've employed often, and it's both straightforward to use and reliable. All the basics are there: You can create compressed, encrypted images and restore them in their entirety or just retrieve selected files and folders. Additionally, you get a raw write mode that copies all sectors regardless of status, plus a drive clone function. Alas, the product has no Windows-installable component, so you can create images only if you boot from the disc, making it more suitable for disaster recovery than regular backup.