Don’t worry, Paragon Backup & Recovery 10.1 Free Edition really is free. And it is a backup and recovery tool. But I’m not sure I would call it a paragon among programs of its kind, even though Paragon Software Group has been developing it for 15 years now.
Unlike many backup products, which are designed to back up your files, Paragon concentrates on creating images of your hard drive. If your drive crashes and you have to replace it, you can insert the recovery CD (or memory stick), follow the directions, and restore the image. Presto! You have everything back: operating system, software, and data.
I mostly find that while it’s nice to have an image of a recently-installed machine with all the software, and while I’m going to want a drive image before attempting anything really strange and tricky, and certainly before reinstalling the computer, you may not want to use drive imaging for your regular daily or weekly backup routine. Image files tend to be large and to take a long time to make, and if there’s anything wrong with your system (e.g. virus infections), the problem will return along with the image when you restore it.
So you want to have an imaging program available for those times when you need it, but even with differential imaging, you may find it’s too time-consuming for backups and too tedious for restoring individual files. Plus they use proprietary archive formats, so you can’t open your backups without a copy of the program that created them.
That’s true of all imaging programs, not just Paragon Backup and Recovery. (More about drive imaging software on the blog.) Different types of backups work better in different situations. You balance the drawbacks against the advantages and decide what fits your needs.
When you start Paragon Backup & Recovery Free 10.1 for the first time, it prompts you to get a free serial number. Click the button and it takes you to a website where you fill in some basic information, and shortly thereafter you’ll get an e-mail with your product key and your serial number. Fill those in and you can get started.
One of the first things you’ll see is a visual representation of your disk, color-coded for the format (that blue means NTFS), and showing the number of partitions (this drive only has one).
You won’t have much time to admire it, though, because you’ll be prompted to create your recovery media. This is what you’ll need to be able to do a “bare-metal restore” from your backup, in the event that Windows isn’t working or you’re dealing with a replacement disk. Despite the illustration showing what looks like a ZIP disk, your options are CD/DVD and Flash Memory.
I started by creating a USB stick with the recovery software on it, but it turns out that neither Enna nor Mena is set to boot from a flash drive. I remember the contortions the Ur-Guru went through trying to get the netbook to boot from a memory stick, without success. This is a bit peculiar for a computer without an optical drive, if you ask me.
Enna is old enough that I’m not sure whether booting from USB is even an option, and I didn’t take time to go into the BIOS settings to find out. I just made a CD instead.
Backing Up (Creating Images)
If you click “Back up Disk or Partition” from the menu of options in the sidebar, the Paragon Backup Wizard starts you on your path to creating a drive image. You can choose any of your connected hard drives to back up.
I don’t know why you would choose not to back up the first hard disk track or the Master Boot Record, but you have the option to refuse—or, I presume, to back up that and only that. I selected my C drive (listed here as “Basic Hard Disk 0”), which is what I would normally make an image of. I haven’t yet come across a situation in which I needed an image of a non-system disk, though it’s possible that using one would be faster than copying the files through Windows Explorer.
There’s a little box at the bottom of this screen labeled “Change Backup Settings” that takes you to the advanced settings. I wish I’d noticed this before, because I would have un-checked the “enable image splitting” box. If you aren’t backing up to DVDs, there’s no reason to divide your backup file into DVD-sized chunks.
Next you choose the destination for your backup (local/network drive or CD/DVD) and whether to back up now or schedule the backup. Then you see an overview of your options, and then, on the final screen, a warning: “The wiza
rd did not commit the changes. Backup & Recovery™ works in virtual mode now. To commit your changes use Apply command.”
This is geek-talk for the more familiar “Are you sure you want to…?” dialog boxes that you often see in Windows. If you click “Finish” to exit the wizard and then “Apply” from the top menu, your backup program will start.
It took a long time to make an image of my 80 GB hard drive. I’m not sure quite how long. I started at 6:44 PM, and it was still running when I went to bed at 9:00. I woke up briefly at 1:30 AM and noticed it was finished, but I don’t know how long before that it finished. The estimated time to completion had been 6 hours, which seemed excessive.
Once the archive is complete, you’ll see it in the Archives tab in Paragon Backup & Recovery.
Your primary options are to restore the archive, check its integrity, or make a differential backup—one that backs up the changes since you created that archive. Even though I haven’t accumulated that much new data on my machine since last night, I hesitate to commit the time it might take after the experience with the first image, so I haven’t tested the differential backup.
You can do file-level backups with Paragon, via their File Transfer Wizard. The name of this component is a bit confusing, because it doesn’t say anything about backup. But if you want to copy files from one drive to another with Paragon, this is what you use.
You can copy files from any drive to any other drive by putting them on the file transfer clipboard and telling it where to send them. You use the same tool for backup and restore. It seems like a remarkable number of steps to go through for what amounts to drag-and-drop file copying, but it does work. You can see the transferred files in the navigation pane of the Archives window by browsing to the destination, and restore them by right-clicking and choosing “Export.”
Note that the File Transfer Wizard does not act as a browser to let you view individual files within your drive image. For that, you need the Restore Wizard.
Restoring Your Data
The Restore Wizard gives you the option of restoring your entire image or just selected files, and you can restore them to their original location or to a different location. I wasn’t about to test the full-image restore on a working system that I didn’t have another, known-to-be-trustworthy image of as a backup, so I tried a file-level restore and asked the Restore Wizard to export the !WordPress Asylum folder into the C:\Temp folder.
Once again, I had to click the “Apply” button before Paragon would carry out my commands. In the case of restoring a disk image and overwriting an entire drive, I can certainly see why you’d want an extra “Are you sure?” step. And, actually, if your backup is going to take 6 hours, you might want that warning then, as well.
The progress gears ground for a little while, and then Paragon informed me that the restore procedure was finished. But when I went to look in my Temp folder, I saw a very odd thing:
For some reason, Paragon restored substantial chunks of two folders that I didn’t ask for—but not everything from the folder I did want. Unless, of course, it never backed up everything from that folder. I have to say this was not a reassuring result. Is something wrong with my image, or with the Restore Wizard? Neither is especially good.
Paragon Backup & Recovery 10.1 is attractively designed but not aimed at the beginning user. One could argue that creating and restoring drive images is not a task for the technophobe, but there’s nothing inherently more complicated about using the product than there is about many consumer-oriented file backup programs. In part it’s just the language: “virtual mode” and “commit changes” are expressions for software developers, not ordinary users.
The range of image-creation options open to more advanced users is good. The option to use a USB stick instead of a CD for your recovery medium is a good one. Unlike some programs I’ve tested, backing up to network drives is no problem. Differential image backups can save time and storage space.
But the results of my file restoration worry me. At no time did Paragon tell me there was an error, which you would expect if something had gone wrong during either the creation of the image or the export of the files back onto the C drive. But something went wrong. So how can I entrust my entire system to this program?
Your mileage may vary. It’s possible that you could download Paragon Backup & Recovery 10.1 Free Edition, create an image, restore from the image, and have it all work flawlessly. The company would never have stayed in business if problems like this were the norm rather than the exception. So I’d say you should go ahead and try it if you’re looking for something like this—but test it in a safe environment. If it works for you, great. Come back and tell me about i