The boot disc is based on Vista PE (Pre-installation Environment), so you can install drivers at any time in case you need to attach some esoteric outboard gear like a tape drive. While not as powerful an imaging product as Acronis's True Image or Norton's Save & Restore, the Active @ Boot Disc has some attractive disaster recovery utilities, including partition recovery, deep file recovery, disk wiping, a backup-to-CD/DVD program, a password changer, a Web browser (Vista PE offers network connectivity), and more. They're not weak throwaways either, but industrial-strength applications.
Download Active @ Disk Image
Paragon Drive Backup 8.5
Though reliable, capable, and truly user-friendly, Paragon's Drive Backup 8.5 imaging application falls a few features short of the latest versions of Acronis's True Image and Norton's Save & Restore. It lacks the ability to back up individual files and folders, and has none of Norton's automated housekeeping, or Acronis's Try & Decide or inline selective restore of files from full images.
However, Drive Backup's tabbed interface and exceptionally well-done wizards put advanced options at your fingertips instead of hiding them as Norton does. Some of those options include full and differential imaging, a recovery disc that will integrate the partitioning abilities of the company's Partition Manager if you own that program, and the ability to create a hidden restore partition (which Paragon calls a Backup Capsule).
Note: If you use the download version of Drive Backup 8.5, be sure to download the separate recovery CD as well. The bare-bones recovery disc that the program itself creates has limited driver support, lacking even USB.
Price: $50; 30-day trial
Download Drive Backup 8.5
Continuous data protection (CDP), sometimes called real-time backup, tracks files and backs them up whenever they change. Think of it as something like selective RAID mirroring, where only the files and folders you choose are copied. Unfortunately, CDP suffers the same weakness as RAID mirroring does: It might back up corrupted and infected files, as well as pieces of malware. The risk is substantially reduced, however, since nearly all CDP programs let you keep multiple versions of the files you back up, and normally you'll be backing up only data, not the executables that are most prone to attack.
All told, CDP may cost you a few CPU cycles here and there, but it's a great way to keep your system backed up at all times.
NTI Shadow 3
Though the first version of Shadow wasn't ready for prime time (it missed backing up some files), subsequent versions have been relatively reliable. That said, I did manage to crash version 3 once this go-round; and during the initial baseline backup (copying everything the first time), it failed to back up its own locked log files, a shortcoming it shares with NTI's Backup Now. Generally, however, open-file backup isn't important when you're backing up only the My Documents folder -- the most common scenario with CDP.
Shadow will back up files either as they change or at specified intervals, a nice option if you don't want the program interfering with CPU- or disk-intensive applications such as real-time video or audio recording. You can also save all revisions of a file, a specified number of revisions, or only the latest copy.