Drive Image 7 beefs up backup

Utilities maker PowerQuest has updated Drive Image, and continues to promote imaging--creating an exact sector-by-sector copy of a hard drive partition--as a data backup strategy for everyday PC users.

Drive Image 7 is priced at AUD$116.50, and current users can upgrade from Drive Image 2002 or rival Symantec's Norton Ghost for AUD$66.50. The new version expands backup options by adding the capability to store images on external drives attached by USB or FireWire connections. Supported backup devices include hard drives; CD-R and CD-RW drives; Zip and Jaz drives; and all rewritable DVD drives except for DVD-RAM. PowerQuest is also publishing a list of specific CD-RW drive models verified to work with its software.

New Features

Also new is the product's so-called hot-imaging capability. This enables users to create an image of any partition, even the active partition containing the operating system, without exiting Windows and rebooting. (Restoring the active partition, of course, still requires exiting Windows.) PowerQuest previously incorporated this function into its enterprise imaging product, V2i Protector, but rival Acronis Software first brought the feature to consumers in its True Image program.

Drive Image 7 allows users to continue working in other applications while the imaging process runs in the background, says Cameron Francis, product manager. He says Drive Image's imaging backup operation consumes from 5 to 35 percent of system resources, depending on the PC's configuration. The only minimum hardware requirement is 256MB of RAM.

Version 7 also provides easier access to the program's restore function, which lets users mount an image file as a virtual hard drive and access files or folders in the image. This enables a user to restore selected files or folders by dragging and dropping.

The process does not yet work in reverse, however. Drive Image cannot perform incremental backups by revising an image file with individual file changes made after the image was created. To incorporate any changes, the user must create an entire new image. Its enterprise sibling V2i Protector supports incremental backups, however, and Francis says PowerQuest may add this function to later versions of Drive Image.

Promoting Imaging

Imaging is a familiar practice to technology professionals who sometimes save time when setting up multiple workstations by installing the operating system and applications on one PC and simply copying the hard drive contents to other systems. It's also a popular technique for sophisticated PC users who frequently change their systems. If newly installed hardware or software causes problems, they can undo the changes by restoring an earlier hard drive image.

With Drive Image 7, "we're trying to get down to another level of users," Francis says--notably targeting those who may not be familiar with imaging but understand the importance of making regular backups.

Like its predecessor, version 7 has a scheduling function so users can design backup jobs by setting parameters such as the partitions to image, the level of file compression, and password protection.

"You can just schedule your backup, set it up to go, and you know you'll be protected," Francis says. Unlike previous iterations, version 7 does not use the Windows Task Scheduler, but instead runs its own scheduling application. Implementing the hot-backup feature requires running this additional application, Francis says; he adds that it uses a minimum of system resources.

Ditching DOS

Previous versions of Drive Image let users run a simplified, DOS-based version of the utility from floppy disks. This was an option for PCs that could not boot normally due to hard drive errors, for systems running operating systems other than Windows, and for users who wanted to create a hard drive image without adding the Drive Image application to the drive they were backing up.

Version 7 can boot directly from the application CD, which loads a stripped-down version of Windows XP called Windows PE. This OS supports 32-bit applications and can automatically detect a system's network settings, allowing Drive Image 7 to read or write images stored on network drives.

Because Drive Image 7 works only on PCs running the Windows 2000 or XP operating system, the boot CD enables use of the program on computers running Linux (using the Ext3 and ReiserFS file systems) or earlier versions of Windows. PowerQuest also includes a copy of Drive Image 2002 for installing the application on systems with Windows NT 4.0, 95, 98, 98 SE, or Me.

(Rex Farrance of PCWorld.com contributed to this report.)

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