The software includes some useful extras that go beyond mere backup. The Clone Disk feature lets you copy the complete contents of one drive onto another, which is useful if you're upgrading to a larger hard disk. The "Add a new disk" feature lets you format and partition a new disk drive, readying it for use on your system.
Acronis True Image 9 offers password protection for archives, but unfortunately, it doesn't support strong data encryption. This is an important security feature that Symantec introduced in Norton Ghost 10. We hope to see it in future versions of True Image.
Acronis True Image 9 performed well in our informal tests, quickly and efficiently creating images of hard disk partitions. Backups of your system disk occur in the background even while you work; there's no need to reboot your system. Acronis True Image 9 supports three methods of data backup. A full disk image backs up a drive from scratch. An incremental backup lets you keep a backup updated over time, recording just those changes made since the last incremental backup. A differential backup--a new feature in this version of the software--records in one file all the changes made to a disk since the initial full backup. Once you've made a full backup, these partial backups can quickly and efficiently keep it up-to-date.
Of course, if you are making a complete copy of your hard disk, you'll need a large amount of storage space. By default, Acronis True Image 9 compresses the data and leaves out some things, such as the Windows swap file, that aren't necessary to restore your system. If you don't have a large enough external hard drive or network disk, you can store images on removable media, such as a rewritable DVD drive.
One cool feature, Plug Image, makes a disk image appear as a separate hard drive. We found it a handy way to access specific files or folders in an archive; you simply mount a disk image as a hard drive. If you've made incremental or differential backups, you can use the image as a virtual time machine to return to your disk to an earlier state (for example, before you installed some buggy software).
Acronis True Image 9 comes with a detailed, though poorly organized, printed manual and a detailed Windows help file. On the company's Web site, you'll find a FAQ and a link to an external forum where users of the software share information and tips.
Unfortunately, True Image 9 has no autoupdate feature, so to get an update you have to go to the Acronis Web site and download a large install file.
To get free technical support, you fill out a support ticket at the company's site. Acronis also offers fee-based phone support.