Since image-based backup is primarily favored by system administrators and developers, we’ll focus much of the discussion on business-oriented solutions that can handle both workstation and servers. Heading the class is highly scalable CloudBerry Backup, followed distantly by Acronis Backup 12 and Handy Backup.
We’ll also touch on the best home image-based backup tool, Acronis True Image, plus introduce you to a powerful, free image-based tool in EaseUS Todo Backup Free. With the tools presented in this article, anybody should be able to do their own image-based backup.
For a tl;dr version of this article, check out our top thee best disk image backup software of 2020 video below.
Why You Should Use Image-Based Backup and Clone Your Hard Drive
Most people who backup their devices are familiar with file-based backup tools. File-based backup stores individual files and folders. You tag the folders and files you want to back up and the tool handles things from there. For a look at the top options, check out best cloud backup services of 2020
The problem with file-based backup is that it’s possible to overlook including certain files in your backup. Also, while some file-based backup services automatically backup all files of a certain type (i.e., documents, photos, videos), other files, like system files, aren’t backed up.
That makes file-based backup a poor choice for drives with sensitive data, particularly where business regulations and production systems are involved. Image-based backup resolves the issues inherent in file-based backup by making a byte-by-byte copy of your workstation or server drive.
Because you don’t have to rebuild your entire system in the case of a crash or other issue, image-based backup also means faster disaster recovery in the event of a server crash and therefor makes for a better backup strategy for those who need their files back fast.
Both businesses and consumers alike can also benefit from image-based backup’s ability to quickly rebuild damaged systems or transfer copies of your hard drive to larger drives. By backing up your system files, it means you don’t have to reinstall your operating system or programs. You just load the image and you’re all set.
Image-Based Backup Features
Not all image-based backup tools are equal. For example, while Carbonite Plus supports desktop image backup, you have to save your image locally and you can’t restore the image on new hardware. Our picks below will generally allow you to do a far larger range of things than other, more consumer-minded, options.
Here’s a look at basic features we consider essential to a top image-based solution.
|Feature||Description||CloudBerry Backup||Acronis Backup 12||Handy Backup|
|Cloud storage||Stores your image file on a remote server for safekeeping|
|Multiple cloud storage support||Choose your preferred cloud storage vendor (i.e., Amazon S3, Azure, Google Cloud)|
|Bare-metal restore||Restore to drive without having to preload an OS or other software|
|Restore image to dissimilar hardware||Restore image onto devices with different hardware|
|USB flash restore||Restore via USB Flash directly from the cloud|
|File-level restore from image||Browse files in image and restore specific files instead of full backup|
|Restore image to cloud VM||Restore Windows Server to Amazon EC2 or Azure VM|
|Image backup compression||Zip image files to decrease space and bandwidth used|
|Scheduled backups||Schedule recurrent backup of drive images|
|Event-based backups||Automatically create an image-based backup when certain user-defined events occur.|
|Private end-to-end encryption||Encrypt files before being sent to the cloud with a private key only you know|
1. CloudBerry Backup (CloudBerry Labs)
CloudBerry Labs got its start in 2008 with CloudBerry Explorer, a free file manager. A year later, CloudBerry Backup was introduced, which allows for automated backup of files, folders and system images, the focus of this article.
Rather that build and run its own data centers, from the start CloudBerry designed its software to integrate with Amazon S3. Throughout the years, the company has added more and more integration partners beyond Amazon.
Today, CloudBerry Backup lets you integrate with over 20 different cloud storage services and you can pick anyone you want. Besides Amazon S3, popular choices include Amazon Glacier, Azure, Google Cloud and Rackspace. But there are many more, including low-cost options like Backblaze B2.
Plans and Pricing
The benefit of being able to pick the cloud storage integration that you’re most comfortable with is that different vendors offer different price points, server locations and features. With the freedom of choice comes more opportunity for scalability and cost control.
Even better, CloudBerry Backup isn’t a subscription service. You pay a one-time software license cost, with several different licence editions available.
The cheapest edition is workstation backup for Windows, Mac or Linux, each of which costs $29.99 per computer. Unfortunately, the workstation software only does file-based backup and not image-based like some of the other services covered in this article.
Hopefully that’s something CloudBerry Labs will fix, since image-based desktop backup at that price would only increase the distance between the best Windows Server backup service and the rest of the contenders.
You can, however, do image-based workstation backup with the pricier but more popular Windows Server license. CloudBerry also has licenses for SQL Server and Exchange. Then there’s the Ultimate license, which includes everything.
Keep in mind that you’ll also need to pay for your storage costs for whatever cloud storage you choose to integrated CloudBerry Backup with. Most vendors charge storage monthly per gigabyte stored.
Monthly Cloud Storage Costs per GB by Vendor
For regional storage, that works out to around $20 per 1TB per month for Azure, Amazon and Google and $5 per month for Backblaze.
On top of that, vendors also charge usage for uploads, transfers and other operations. Typical rates, including for those services in the above table, average around $0.05 per 10,000 transactions. These rates can be much more though for cold storage, intended for archiving and disaster recover rather than active use. Google Cloud Coldline transactions, for example, can cost up to $0.10 per 10,000 transactions.
CloudBerry Backup processes, including image-based backup and restore, are managed through the service’s desktop application. The experience is as feature-rich as any business-class backup tool we’ve tested.
We won’t spend time running through all the specs, since the focus here is on image backup, but be sure to check out our CloudBerry Backup review.
Setting up an image-based backup is easy. Just click the “image based” button in the top left-corner of the application.
CloudBerry Backup will launch a wizard to walk you through the process, which requires only a little technical aptitude.
Part of the process includes connecting CloudBerry to your cloud storage service of choice. You’ll need to login into your cloud storage to generate access keys and plug them into the wizard. Then, select the drive or partition you want to image.
You’ll also set a schedule and encryption settings before the backup begins.
CloudBerry Backup protects data in transit with secure TLS encryption tunnels to prevent eavesdropping. Beyond that, as a cross-platform product, the degree of security you get with CloudBerry depends mostly on your integration setup.
Most cloud storage services provide some level of server-side encryption. Some also give you the option of setting up a private encryption key for added security. With a private key, encryption and decryption always takes place on the client side.
Being able to pick a cloud storage solution with the security features that meet your needs is another reason to really like the CloudBerry model for image-based backup.
The three best business-oriented cloud storage options we recommend (Amazon S3, Azure and Google Cloud) all offer client-side encryption and AES-256 at-rest encryption, which is the protocol recommended by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Note that not all cloud storage solutions you can pair with CloudBerry Backup encrypt your data for you. This includes Backblaze B2. In such cases, you’ll have to implement your own client-side encryption solution to keep your data secure in the cloud.
CloudBerry Backup support is run through the CloudBerry Labs support portal. The portal includes links to a blog, dedicated knowledge base, FAQs and help documentation. Towards the bottom of the page, there are also support articles covering a range of subjects.
The knowledgebase has a search feature to help find articles more quickly, which includes troubleshooting guides for various problems.
If the wealth of support documentation doesn’t contain the answers you’re looking for, you can open a support ticket to get help.
Our interactions with CloudBerry Labs have always resulted in fast turnaround times, often in with responses arriving in just an hour or two.
If you’d prefer, you can also post to the CloudBerry Labs subreddit. This is a great resource for getting advice on building your backup solution. It’s also a good place to report possible (non-critical) bugs and suggest improvements.
For more technical inquiries, a link to ServerFault will put you in touch with professional system administrators and similar professionals.
2. Acronis Backup 12
If you want something more simple than a cross-platform backup solution, Acronis Backup 12 offers business-class backup packaged with Acronis’ own cloud storage service. That means you won’t have to shop for cloud storage through another service; it also means less flexibility than you get with CloudBerry Backup.
Besides simplicity, one of the key advantages of using Backup 12 is its broad platform support, which currently covers an impressive 16 different systems: from Windows to Linux to Mac plus a host of server options, there’s little chance that you won’t be able to run Acronis.
Android and iPhone backup are also included, a nice touch, although only file-based and not image-based backup is available.
Pricing and Plans
Backup for any given platform requires a separate license. We like the fact that Acronis lets us perform image-based backup for workstations without having to get Windows Server backup, too, like with CloudBerry. We also like that you can choose between a subscription fee or a perpetual license.
However, the licensing prices are quite a bit higher than CloudBerry Backup.
|Workstation||Windows server||Virtual host|
|Supported OSes||Windows PC, Mac||Windows Server, Linux Server, Exchange, SQL Server, Active Directory||VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V|
On top of software costs, you’ll have to pay for storage, just like with CloudBerry. This is where the inability to shop different cloud storage services becomes especially restrictive.
|Storage||One-year subscription||Two-year subscription||Three-year subscription|
So, compared CloudBerry Backup integrated with, for example, Amazon S3, you’d end up paying a little over $50 more per month for 1TB of cloud storage with Acronis.
Also, with services like Amazon S3 and Azure, you only pay for what you use. With Acronis Backup 12, you have to pay for everything up front, even if you never use it.
Overall, the Backup 12 user experience is intuitive, powerful and matches up well CloudBerry Backup. Along with Backup 12’s excellent platform support, it’s a big reason why we ranked the service number two in this roundup.
Acronis Backup 12 uses a browser-based cloud console, but you can’t just use it from just any computer to manage your backup processes. You have to install a management server application on your admin computer first.
You can also install client agents on other workstations, plus servers and mobile devices. Doing so will allow you to set and monitor backup processes on all of the devices you are backing up. This includes creating an image of a hard drive or partition.
From the console, you can easily set a backup schedule, set encryption options and perform other actions.
Acronis Backup 12 gives you the choice of leaving your cloud images unencrypted or protecting them with AES-128, AES-192 or AES-256. The range of choices is nice. While we’d never recommend leaving your backup unencrypted server side, AES-128 still offers plenty of security and the less complex encryption means faster backups.
All data backed up is encrypted before leaving your machine. When you turn encryption on for your device, you’re asked to set a password that only you will know.
There’s no option to store your encryption key with Acronis, instead. While we recommend private encryption in most cases, an option to go with server-side encryption instead of client-side would be nice. The reason for this that with client-side encryption, if you forget your password, Acronis can’t recover it for you.
Acronis has a dedicated support page with basic how-to guides and more detailed documentation. The page is searchable to locate answers more quickly.
Under the support menu, you can also find video tutorials, user forums, product updates and a link to submit feedback.
If you need to make direct contact with Acronis, you can do so via email, live chat or telephone. Turnaround times for live chat and telephone are excellent, cementing Acronis Backup 12’s place as a very good business backup solution:
- Live chat: Usually under two minutes
- Email: Usually under three days
- Telephone: Usually under two minutes
3. Novosoft Handy Backup
If you’re looking for a simplified backup solution that uses the same the cloud-integration model as CloudBerry, Novosoft Handy Backup is the best we’ve seen. While it doesn’t pack nearly as many features as our top-ranked image-based backup software, some users will appreciate the trimmed-down approach.
Handy Backup supports backup to several cloud storage partners: Amazon S3, Google Drive, Yandex.Disk, Dropbox, OneDrive and Backblaze, among others. The options are nearly as broad as what’s available with CloudBerry, though, with notable absences like Azure and Google Cloud.
Like CloudBerry Backup, Novosoft makes a desktop license (Handy Backup Standard) that doesn’t support image-based backup (note: it also doesn’t support cloud backup). You’ll need to purchase Handy Backup Professional or a more expensive license for that.
Handy Backup costs either $99 for the professional suite (which backs up Windows PC and server) or $249 for the “small server” package, which can perform image-based backups on Windows PC, Windows Server, MySQL, SQL Server, PostgreSQL, Oracle, Hyper-V, VirtualBox and VMware.
Licenses are perpetual, so it’s just a one-time cost. However, don’t forget about the storage and usage charges incurred with whatever cloud storage you pair Handy Backup with.
Upon startup, the Handy Backup desktop application launches a simple wizard to walk you through the backup, restore and sync process.
Beneath the header, “what to back up,” just select “disk clone” and then “disk image.” You’ll be able to choose to image your entire drive or a partition.
You’ll then be asked to select and configure a cloud storage integration. Like with CloudBerry, you need to generate keys through whatever solution you use.
After, Handy Backup will walk you through a few other steps like setting a backup type (full, incremental, differential), backup schedule and file compression to reduce storage space needs.
The underlying console basically amounts to a list of tasks that have you scheduled and a toolbar at the top to execute process and created new ones.
As with CloudBerry Backup, your data will be encrypted server-side using the encryption protocol of the cloud storage service you integrate with.
One of the advantages Handy Backup is that you’re not completely reliant on the encryption options of your cloud backup integration. During backup setup, you can choose to have Handy Backup encrypt your data using AES-128.
Encryption is performed client-side, before sending your data to the cloud. This is a nice feature if you’re going to be uploading data to a storage service that doesn’t offer client-side or even server-side encryption like BackBlaze B2.
The Handy Backup support page includes a user manual, FAQs and whitepapers, but the resources aren’t nearly as deep as what you get with CloudBerry Laps or Acronis. Also, Novosoft hasn’t worked any user forums into the portal.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can email technical support for free. However, response times range from one to three business days and there’s no option for priority support.
The service does have a Skype handle, NovosoftHelp, and a support phone number, though.
4. Acronis True Image
For consumers looking for full desktop backup, Acronis True Image stands as the best image-based backup solution for the home, beating out EaseUS Todo, Paragon Backup & Recovery and Retrospect.
One of the things to like about True Image is that it maintains some of the same enterprise capabilities as Acronis Backup 12 Workstation but it’s easy enough to use for most consumers. There are certain features that don’t come with True Image that do with Backup 12. However, most of these, like group management and remote installations and restores, aren’t going to be of interest for most home users.
There are other features you get with True Image that you don’t with Backup 12. These include social media backup and mobile device backup (not image-based) to local storage.
Another advantage of Acronis True Image over Backup 12 Workstation: cost.
Acronis True Image can be purchased as a one-time cost or annual subscription. The one-time subscription only lets you backup locally, though, and doesn’t include social media backup.
Most users will probably prefer the cloud option, although you can backup your local drive to a cloud backup service like IDrive, saving your image file that way.
|Essential plan||Plus plan||Premium plan|
|License type||Perpetual||One year||One year|
|Cloud storage||none||50GB included||1TB included|
Premium has a couple of added advantages over Plus like anti-ransomware protection, file certification and electronic signatures.
With both Plus and Premium, you can add cloud storage at an added cost of about $40 per terabyte per year.
True Image is run through clean, intuitive interface. To get your backup started, all you need to do is select a source and a destination and click the “backup now” button.
So, for example, you could select your PC and the Acronis Cloud, as in the above screenshot. This will create an image of your entire hard drive. Alternatively, you can change the source to a specific partition. You can also pick individual files or folders for file-level backup.
Once you click backup, you can shut down True Image and the process will complete in the background. You can make this a one-time process or set a regular schedule.
When you setup your image backup, you have the choice of setting client-side encryption.
This encryption level is private, so you if you forget your password, there’s no way for Acronis to retrieve it for you. If you don’t set a password, data stored is still encrypted server-side using AES-256.
Users of True Image Premium get two added security bonuses:
- Acronis Active Protection: Windows-only protection against ransomware
- Acronis Notary: ensure a backed-up file’s authenticity bit-by-bit with blockchain technology
True Image gives you access to the same direct lines of communication as Backup 12: phone, email and live chat.
The Acronis support portal contains a knowledge base, documentation and user forums. The portal is for all Acronis products but finding material specific to True Image is simple enough thanks to a search feature. There’s also a dedicated, searchable True Image help site.
5. EaseUS Todo Backup
EaseUS Todo Backup provides image-backup backup for home computers. The fact that it offers a free edition, Todo Backup Free, is a part of the reason it ranks among our favorite image-based backup services. That, and it’s really good.
In order to save your image to the cloud, you’ll need to make use of a cloud storage sync folder or set your cloud backup solution (i.e., IDrive, CrashPlan) to backup the image file. However, if you’re already paying for cloud storage or backup and don’t want to pay for image-based backup software also, EaseUS’s tool is as good as you’ll get for free.
It’s also a nice way to turn your cloud storage service into a backup service, which is something tools like Google Drive, Sync.com, Dropbox and similar services don’t excel at. Check out our article on backup vs. storage for the reasons why.
EaseUS also makes two paid versions for desktops: a home version called Todo Backup Home and an office version called ToDo Backup Workstation. The paid versions give you faster backup speeds, event-based backup and technical support.
Paid versions of Todo Backup come at a one-time cost of $17,40 for the “home” edition or $39 for the workstation package. The backup-only version of the software is free.
It’s worth pointing out that EaseUS also makes server backup tools capable of image-based backup. However, we didn’t find these competed well with other imaged-based server backups given cost and the hassle of having to rig cloud storage to work.
We would also recommend that if you’re looking for an office workstation solution that doesn’t include server backup, you go with Acronis Backup 12 Workstation instead of Todo Backup Workstation.
Todo Backup Free and Home use the same desktop application.
Setting up a backup is easy: just open the application and click the “disk/partition backup” button near the top of the interface. This will open a screen where you can select your drive or a partition and a destination for your backup image.
When selecting a destination, you can choose a location on your hard drive or an external drive. If you want to save a copy to a cloud storage service, just pick the sync folder for that service.
There’s also an option to set a backup schedule if you want to make imaging a recurrent task.
During the setup process for your drive backup, you can set a password for encryption. Choose this option, and EaseUS will encrypt your image file using the AES-256 protocol. This is great if you’re ending to store your backup image on cloud storage solutions with somewhat flimsy security, like Dropbox.
EaseUS maintains a knowledge center for ToDo Backup but it’s pretty shallow. At this time, it contains about a dozen articles covering common issues and procedures. For direct support, you’re out of luck with the free addition. However, if you’ve paid for a license, you can engage directly with support staff via live chat.
Support is definitely a glaring weakness of this product. Luckily, it’s pretty straightforward to use.
Finding the right image-based backup will largely depend on your needs. If you’re a system administrator managing a critical production environment, you’re probably looking for server backup, flexibility, low cost and great support. For those purposes, CloudBerry Backup leaves its closest competitors a distant second, at best.
The ability to pick and choose from over twenty different cloud storage options, including Amazon S3, Azure and Google Cloud, is something our other favorites just can’t do. Acronis Backup 12, while providing a stellar user experience, forces you to rely on its own pricey cloud storage. Handy Backup lets you pick your cloud storage service but doesn’t have many outstanding options.
For at-home image-based backup, the story is a bit different. CloudBerry Backup has workstation backup but it doesn’t support imaging. Buying a Windows Server license for $119 just to backup your desktop is tough to swallow.
So, for consumer image-based backup, Acronis TrueImage tops our list. The pricing is much better than what you get with Acronis Backup 12 Workstation and the tool is just as user friendly.
Or, if you don’t want to pay for software and just want an image-based backup tool you can use with your existing cloud storage or backup subscription, Todo Backup Free is the best tool you’ll find to make that happen.
Of course, we always love to take into account the experiences of others. Let us know about your own favorites in the image-based backup space in the comments below. Thanks for reading!