Paragon Backup & Recovery 16

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For the latest version of Paragon Backup & Recover, the company has taken the word Home out of the name. Ironically, though, the new version is actually more consumer friendly than the last, with new Wizards to take you through the most common backup scenarios. In the past I've been underwhelmed with Paragon's file-and-folder backup software, especially in contrast with the company's excellent disk-partitioning tools. The company is aggressive about updating the product, now in its 16th version. In addition to Windows 10 support, the software supports UEFI startup, BitLocker, virtual drives, and Windows Storage Spaces. With the improvements in performance and usability, Paragon has pulled off a major turnaround for Backup & Recover, which I now recommend, though it's not yet at the Editors' Choice level.

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Pricing and Starting Up
Paragon Backup & Recovery's $39.95 list price is a bit lower than that of NTI Backup Now, which costs $69.99 (but is often offered at significant discount), and Genie Timeline Home, which is $49.95. For just the price of an email address, you can download and try out Paragon's product for 30 days, but the free trial version doesn't include the Paragon Recovery Media Builder utility. It's available in 32- and 64-bit flavors, and runs on versions from Windows 10 back to Windows 7 SP1. The installer also installs Visual C++ runtimes, and requires a driver installation, as well.

On first run, I had to activate the product with my serial number. If you don't have one, you can enter an email address and create a MyParagon account online. It seems you need both to get the program working.

Simplified Interface
For version 16, Paragon Backup & Recovery's interface has been revamped considerably. You see three tabs across the top: Home, Main, and X-View. The Home view shows settings, logs, and the Recovery Media Builder wizard. The Main view shows your hard disks and backup jobs. The simpler X-View, which is suitable for touch screens, has large buttons for four basic functions: Create Single Backup, Create Backup Job, Restore Backup, and Copy Files and Folders.

It's not a totally logical interface setup, since there's some duplications, but getting to what you need shouldn't be a problem. And the latest version saves users from having to worry about whether they should save backups as PVHDs (Paragon Virtual Hard Drives) or some other format. The default PVHD format compresses to save storage on the target. It also means you can use encryption and password protection. Paragon's virtual operation provides a layer of protection, so that you won't overwrite disk data until you confirm the action.

Creating a Backup
You start creating a backup by entering a name and description (or just using the one suggested by the program). Next, you choose what's to be backed up: The whole disk, specified partitions, some files or folders, or types of files. The last option is something not offered by Acronis True Image 2017, but that program adds a tool for finding large and unused files for archiving.

Back in Paragon's Main view, two round buttons on the left let you Create single backup and Create backup job. Both of these open wizards that take you through the steps of creating backups. And the wizards show some intelligence: When I selected my C: partition, a message said that another partition was also automatically selected since it was required if I wanted to restore to a working system.

After choosing a backup source, it's time to tell the program the destination media where you want to store the data. I chose an external Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Desk. Next, there are a few Advanced Settings, including degree of compression, with choices of None, Fast, Normal, and Maximum. Of course the higher your setting, the less disk space is used, but the longer processing will take.

And that's it. The backup starts processing. But wait a minute, what about scheduling options? That's what the Create backup job button is for. Create backup is just a one-shot deal. The only difference when you choose the job option is the Schedule step. There are four scheduling options: Daily, On-demand, Weekly, and One Backup. The last doesn't seem necessary, since you'd just use the Create single backup option for that. More scheduling settings include previous backup retention. For daily backups, you can have the program retain the last seven backups, with one full and six incremental backups performed. If you choose Monthly, you can save four previous backups.

Other backup-scheduling options include At System Startup and At Logon, but there's no Continuous option like that offered by Acronis True Image 2017 and StorageCraft ShadowProtect 5 Desktop. Even Windows 10's built-in Backup feature gets down to 10 minutes apart for backups. Acronis also doesn't restrict how many versions from previous backups you can save: In that program, you can simply choose how long to keep versions and how many back versions to save, with a default (and maximum) of 20.

Paragon presents an easy-to-use interface, but Acronis, by comparison, does a better job of hiding advanced settings. Acronis also offers the option to send you notifications about backup activity. In that program, you can just choose a simple full backup, without concerning yourself with nitpicky details, but the curious can still unveil many advanced options. Acronis also lets you exclude file types. This isn't explicitly available in Paragon, though as mentioned, you can choose to only include certain file types.

Backup Performance
A full backup of my test hard drive, which contained 14.1GB of data and programs, took 5 minutes and 3 seconds, a minute faster than Acronis True Image 2017's 6 minutes and 6 seconds. During the backup creation, the estimated time to completion in minutes and seconds vacillated unhelpfully, while Acronis's display of just minutes remaining was steadier and more believable. Paragon creates a VHD, or virtual hard drive, Once the job is done, you can create an increment, check the archive, show the contents of the backup, or mount the virtual drive. Mounting means the saved image can be assigned a drive letter and browsed as if it were another physical hard drive in the PC.

Restoring
Because Paragon saves backups as virtual hard drives, even if you chose to back up an entire system image, you can still restore only specified files and folders. If you try to restore an entire system, the program warns you that it's better to do so with external recovery media. For simply restoring folders and files, you get three destination options: Overwrite files in place, restore to original destination and keep files there, and restore to a new destination. During restoration, I again saw mixed messages about the projected time needed to finish: The top of the window said 30 minutes, and the bottom 22. This quickly changed to 13 and 11, so the estimate wasn't really helpful. I also saw a warning that security options prevented restoring a file that I wanted.

Paragon offers an even easier way to get to a particular file in your backed-up drive. As mentioned previously, you can mount the drive, giving it a drive letter so that it looks just like a local physical drive. This way, you can browse the pseudo-drive to see any of your backed up files. Thus I could get to an earlier, clean version of an image file that I'd scribbled on to test the restore function.

To restore an entire system, you need to have created recovery media, usually with a USB thumb drive or writable disc. A wizard accessible from the Home screen lets you create this. When you boot from the recovery media you see an interface that mimics the installed software's, complete with the three main tab options. I was able to restore my backed up drive in a mere three minutes.

Extras
Paragon claims that its software offers a unique capability, with its File Increment to a Sector Backup. Sector Backup has some advantages over file backup, particularly in that it doesn't rely on the operating system's file system, but rather copies the exact data on the disk. Normally, sector backup doesn't allow incremental backup changes, but Paragon's system does. Sector backup also takes hugely more space, since it backs up empty disk space. Normal users never use it.

The Recovery Media Builder includes a Boot Corrector utility, which could help with Windows or startup drive issues. The Transfer Files utility lets you move files from within a backup just as though they were in standard folders. But Paragon trails Acronis vastly when it comes to included extras. That product adds the Try&Decide tool to isolate software installation, mobile backup apps, Facebook backup, and file syncing.

Advanced options let you do impressive things like combining two or more existing backup archives, each from a different partition or folder, into a single archive. You can also create and reuse the full range of simple, differential, or incremental backups that are standard in all advanced backup programs.

Unlike many backup programs, Paragon's doesn't tie in with any online backup or cloud storage as a target for your backup, though you can send backups over FTP—something that home users will probably shy away from.

A Paragon of Backup Virtue?
After my complaining that the word Home had no place in the title of Paragon Backup & Recovery, the company took it out. Ironically, the product is now a lot more usable by non-IT civilians. The software includes some spiffy technology, and was faster in backup speed in testing than its primary competitor, Acronis True Image. Despite all these improvements—which do raise Paragon's rating—Acronis True Image remains our Editors' Choice for local backup software, because it's still the clearest and simplest to use, offers an online backup service, and throws in many more extras.

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