I just finished an arduous search for inexpensive or free backup software. I finally settled on Macrium Reflect to take disk images of my system drive and GFI Backup for my data. At least for now. In the process of this search I wasted three days trying to get the Acronis software to work in any form of a reliable manner. I ultimately failed. You can see more information here.
Macrium reflect uses a sector-based imaging method. This is fine, unless you want to take incremental images and you also defragment your hard drive at any time. Defragmenting the hard drive changes almost all the segments on the disk and therefore an "incremental" image will be almost as large as the original image. However, this means that you now have to keep both images around if you want to be able to restore to the later version. Do this a few more times and you are keeping four and five times the original drive size in backups just to have the latest version available. In the end, this makes the incremental imaging feature utterly useless, because any sane computer user defragments their hard drive on a regular basis. Therefore, you can use the free version of Macrium Reflect and not really be missing anything from the full version, as far as imaging goes.
I do not like the file backup of Macrium Reflect because it does not store any history of what files were backed up. Or, at least, it does not make that history available to the users if it is stored. The only way to find out if a file is in a backup is to mount the backup as a drive letter and look yourself. If you don't find the file in one backup then you have to mount another backup and look in there. It is a terribly tedious process. Finally, the Macrium Reflect backup files are in a proprietary format so the only way to get anything out of them is to use the same program you created them with.
GFI Backup is available in a free version that is pretty darned good. They currently don't offer a paid for version but I assume they will eventually. Or maybe they did in the past. I don't know. It keeps a history and you can check to see if the file you have on the drive has changed since you made a backup. It will also give you an estimate of how large the next incremental backup would be so you can wait to backup until you have a certain number of changed files. (You would have to keep checking yourself as it is not automatic. However, it would keep you from making a large quantity of very small backups if it isn't necessary.) Unfortunately, the history does not allow you to see all the different versions of the backed up files.
The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.