August 16, 2006
by Ross Rubin
Original article at Engadget web site
Switched On: An Image to Protect
I can't say I broke my neck in search of ideal data and entire PC migration software, but what I did was quite a job. In January, after having reviewed a couple of utilities allowing the user to migrate Windows applications to a new drive, I wrote about my experience with PC Mover from Laplink Software, an effective solution for migrating your applications from one Windows PC to another, even (with some caveats) when those computers are running different versions of Windows. But there is another kind of migration that PC users often face, upgrading their hard drive. I mean entire PC migration; it's desirable that backup migration software be able to migrate all hard drive applications, both static and working at the moment when PC migration is processed. Unfortunately, backup applications that rely exclusively on file-based backup can't restore a working Windows installation because they don't capture what is known as the master boot record. (Apple, incidentally, notes that Time Machine, which creates browsable, file-based backups, can be used to restore or migrate to another Mac, but that Time Machine archives themselves are not bootable.)
So, in search of effective PC migration software, on the one hand, and recently upgrading a PC hard disk, on the other hand, I tried Acronis True Image 9.0 home, a utility that can create an "image" or exact copy of one's hard drive as well as file-level backup. Acronis True Image automates much of the hard disk migration process, even expanding the partition on the target drive to its maximum so that your new drive is ready to go after reinstalling.
Acronis True Image's interface is pretty simple, which significantly facilitates disk migration. You select your source drive and target drive and let it copy over the contents of the hard drive. Acronis True Image then reboots the PC and anoints the new hard drive with booting information. Unfortunately, my first attempt to do this booting from the original hard disk didn't work so I had to resort to Acronis' own backup plan, which involves booting from a CD you have to set up in advance. The CD runs Linux with an interface that convincingly mimics XP. So, the vendor intends to fully smooth Linux as well as Windows PC migration.
The CD-based system worked and after a few tugs and taps of a SATA cable, I had a new hard drive installed with minimal interruption to my configuration. Unlike with the PC Mover migration, iTunes did not complain about its new home. However, Microsoft Office required reactivation. Furthermore, much as PC Mover includes a handy startup manager that provides value after startup, Acronis True Image also keeps working after riding its otherwise one-trick pony. It can apportion part of your drive to an emergency boot and restore a partition similar to those preloaded by HP, Gateway and other companies.
Of course, upgrading a hard drive isn't the only reason to use imaging software, which also enables easy recovery if a hard disk fails. However, while image-based backups are great for restoring entire hard drives, they can be complicated for restoring individual files; a good backup strategy should include both techniques. Microsoft will embrace a new image format with Windows Vista that will be the basis of its installation and should enable users to drag and drop Windows installations onto hard drives bound for different PCs.
For its part, Acronis is now working on a product that will add system migration like PC Mover to its disk imaging capabilities. Furthermore, with the price of hard drives continuing to plummet, imaging is on the watch list of several companies creating network attached storage such as Seagate and Anthology Solutions. That's all great news for those wanting to migrate their PC with maximum efficiency as no one should have to install Windows and their applications more than once.