“When was the last time you backed up your data?” That’s the question I dread to ask people whenever I get those frantic calls after their computer has stopped working. And as some of us know from personal experience, there’s good reason to be worried. Stuff does happen… sooner or later: hardware failure, malware attack, a bad program or driver install, the list goes on.
But the real issue: you can’t do what you need to be doing… or even worse, you no longer have access to your irreplaceable data. And that’s why I dread asking that question or it’s follow up. “When was the last time you imaged your computer?”
What’s the difference? A data backup can be as simple as copying your pictures, music and other files that can’t be replaced to an external hard drive. ‘Imaging your computer’ means that in the event your OS gets hosed by malware or a bad install, you can get your machine back up and running in a matter of minutes. It’ll be just the way it used to be before disaster struck.
On their website, StorageCraft calls ShadowProtect Desktop 5 the “Best-in-class Backup and Disaster Recovery for Windows Desktops and Laptops.” And in my personal opinion, that’s not marketing hype, it really is that good. It will allow you to:
- Backup your entire computer
- Recovery from any disaster
- Get file-and-folder access
- Schedule your backups
- Manage your backups
- Launch backup image as virtual machines.
- Supports Windows 8 and GPT disks.
I’ve been familiar with ShadowProtect ever since I had the good fortune to encounter one of their extremely rare promotions back in 2009. Since I was so impressed with version 3.5, I jumped at the opportunity to review this latest version. Let’s get started.
I downloaded the 30 day trial from the website and installed it on Windows 7 64-bit machine. The install was very quick and required a reboot to start up the new services, ShadowProtect Desktop definitely lives up to its promise of being light on resources. I found 3 new services and 3 new processes in Task Manager: running in the background it only consumed about 25 MB.
Although I noticed no discernible impact, I decided to run the benchmarks from AIDA 64 Extreme. They showed that Shadow Protect running in the background had a 1% or less impact on the scores. And I must say that unlike consumer-grade products, I have no objections to having it actively installed on my machine.
At first launch I was given a choice between activating it, buying a license or continuing the trial. Then a very clean main window came up which you can see in screenshot below.
Simply clicking on the Wizards tab lets first time users easily get started. Before I did my first backup, I looked through the others tabs. If you were doing backups remotely, you’d go to the Management View tab: this is the default window for ShadowProtect Server.
The Disk Map tab has a GUI that’s like the Disk Management tool in Windows. It displays the partitions and status of all the drives connected to the selected machine. Right clicking on any of the partitions Also, you start a backup or restore of a partition simply by right clicking on it
The other three tabs are rather self-explanatory. Backup Jobs and Backup History tabs offer detailed information. The Destinations tab is where you designate the locations for your backups. They can be local, such as an external hard drive or a DVD, or a network share, such as a cloud service, a server or a NAS.
And if you look at the Navigation Panel on the left, you’ll notice that Network View is at the top. This is just one more clue that ShadowProtect is an enterprise-quality program that you can really count on. You’ll also notice that the panel provides immediate access to all the main functions you’ll need.
Explore Backup allows you to mount a backup to a temporary drive letter. Oops, did you accidently delete an important file? Perhaps, you need an older version of a file you’re currently working on. Mount the image, and use Windows Explorer to find and copy it
over your machine. Once mounted, the backup will remain mounted until you reboot and you Dismount Backup Image.
In the panel you’ll also find a License and a Help section. Finally, there’s the Tools section that offers Verify Image – which starts a wizard to check the quality and integrity of an image – and the Image Conversion Tool.
This awesome tool can turn “a point-in-time backup image (Full + Incremental images) into a new Full image.”. It can also change the compression or the encryption of an already existing image. It can split an image up into parts so you can burn it to CDs or DVDs. And finally, it can convert an image into a VDH or VMDK (virtual machine) format.
It has a long standing reputation as one of the fastest program around, but I wondered how just fast it is. So, I launched the wizard and chose a one-time full backup of my SSD system drive (40 GB used.) All the various options were clearly presented and understandable. And as you will see below, a summary dialog is presented before you begin the process.
This is a great feature. There’s been many times with other products that I’m ready to start, but then have to go back through the menu system to make sure I have everything set right. You’ll also notice that there’s a comment section where you can leave yourself notes. I consider this vital in a good backup imaging program.
Of course, you can schedule a backup to take place later or you can just continue working while ShadowProtect does its job. But I decided to watch. I’m used to doing
cold-imaging, that is, using a boot CD or what StorageCraft calls their Recovery Environment.
The Recovery Environment is not included in the trial. You have to input your serial number on the website in order to download it and burn it to DVD. It’s based on WinPE 4 (Preinstall Environment for Windows 8) which has native support for GPT drives. You can backup a system drive with the trial, but a system image has to be restored from “bare-metal,” that is, outside of your installed OS.
Earlier, before I installed ShadowProtect. I made a cold-image with a competing product which took just over 7 minutes. I was wondering how long it would take ShadowProtect to do a hot-image of the system drive from within Windows. As you can see below, it took less than 3 minutes: simply remarkable speed. I mean, SSDs are fast, but the image was being saved to an internal mechanical SATA III not another SSD!
But before I go into my summary, there’s a wonderful feature of ShadowProtect I want to mention: VirtualBoot. The trial version definitely did a hot-image of my system drive in under 3 minutes, but what about important question. Can I restore my machine from that image? And as mentioned, you have to have the Recovery DVD to do that.
Well, that’s exactly where VirtualBoot comes in handy because you easily boot a system image in VirtualBox. Of course, you need at least 1 GB of RAM and an AMD/Intel x64 processor. Note: to boot an image of a 64-bit OS: the CPU has to
support and have AMD-V or VT-x hardware virtualization enabled. You can let either let VirtualBoot automatically create the virtual machine for you or you can do it manually.
Last week, I had downloaded and installed ver. 4.2.6 while VirtualBoot supports versions. 3.1.0 – 3.2.12 and 4.0.2 – 4.2.4. The wizard even warned me it might not work. And it was right, the VM wouldn’t boot.
So, I simply did a clean install of an earlier version I had saved: 4.1.12. And minutes later, I see a my current system image booting up in VirtualBox. Amazing stuff! Of course, being a virtual machine, as you can see from the screenshot below, Windows isn’t activated in the VM. But in a matter of a few minutes, I had solid proof that the hot-image I just made within Windows is solid and reliable. Wow!
ShadowProtect Desktop 5 is an extremely impressive program. I’ve tried a large number of backup and imaging programs over the years. And I regularly backup my data – typically to an external drive with something like FreeFileSync – and take regular images of my system drive. I can’t stress enough how important such a practice is, nor the reliability of the backup program you use. Just ask anyone who’s had a hard drive die on them.
There’s lots of backup programs out there including the one built into Windows 7. Any of them is better than nothing. ShadowProtect is the only one I’ve tried so far that I would trust for doing hot-imaging. I’ve done lots of research and there’s far too many reports of unreliability with hot-images in other products.
Not only is ShadowProtect extremely reliable and very light on resources, it’s very easy and simple to use. It even allows you to schedule “continuous incremental” backups and later convert them into free-standing full images.
Personally, I can find only two cons: it’s not the cheapest imaging program available, and it uses a hardware footprint for activation. But it really is the “best in class” and its tech support is superb. What else would you expect from a company focused on enterprise-level imaging which offers a desktop product of the same quality?
I can’t say enough good things about ShadowProtect Desktop 5. It’s lean, fast and rock-solidly reliable without any of the bloat you see in competing products. If you’re ready to get serious about protecting your data, you owe it yourself to check out the 30 day trial.
Reviewed by jelson