The top performers in our review are NovaBACKUP, the Gold Award winner; Acronis Backup for PC, the Silver Award winner; and Genie Backup Manager, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a program to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 programs.
One of the great risks of housing all of your personal or business data on a computer is the sobering probability of hard drive failure. Computers weren't built to last forever. And if you don't take steps to ensure you have a bulletproof backup plan to help you recover in the event of a hack attack, a virus strike or the dreaded blue screen of death, you're asking for trouble. Instead, consider investing a bit of money into safeguarding yourself against it. In the end, it'll save you time, money and untold amounts of grief.
The first thing to know is that there's a difference between PC backup software programs, like NovaBACKUP, and cloud storage services, like Carbonite. For one, using a software program to back up your PC gives you additional options with regard to where you're going to store those files. If you don't quite trust the cloud and would much rather store your duplicate files to another device, to a partitioned section of your hard drive or to an external drive, computer backup software will let you do that. Many of them, including our top three picks NovaBACKUP, Acronis Backup for PC and Genie Backup Manager, even feature something called drive spanning, which lets you store gigabytes of data across multiple CDs, DVDs and other removable media.
Another big difference is the fact that PC backup software doesn't only back up your files; it also backs up all of your computer registry settings. What this means is that if your computer crashes, you can recover everything without having to experience the tedious process of reinstalling programs and adjusting your settings to how they were prior to the incident. Using PC backup software creates a frequently updated carbon copy, or clone image, of your computer. This way, if your computer is damaged beyond repair or compromised by a virus, you can restore all of your data and settings to another computer and the environment will be exactly as it was in the machine you were previously using.
How We Tested the Best PC Backup Software of 2015
A lot went into determining which programs would top our list of best PC backup software. The principal methodology we undertook was to try out each of the software programs in our lineup to test their features and verify their performance was what the manufacturers claim. To come to a fair and accurate assessment of the backup software, we created four rating categories that provide a picture of each program's capabilities: Backup Features, Recover & Restore, Scheduling & Reporting and Help & Support.
Software programs you can grow into are better because they won't require replacing or upgrading anytime in the near future. Since backup and restore capabilities are so important to the software's ability to do what it was intended to do, we assigned greater ranking weight to those features. Consequently, any missing features or capabilities had a negative impact on the product's score.
There are a number of features that all of the software programs share. These include the ability to back up individual files and folders instead of an entire computer at once – a function that could be greatly useful if you have limited storage space and only want to back up critical files. Additionally, we tested and confirmed that all of the software programs in our list are able to perform files-in-use backup. This means that a file can be successfully backed up, even if it's being accessed at the time the backup occurs. Another commonly shared recovery feature includes the ability to restore file paths so that your installed programs can continue to operate in a fully functional manner, even if you restore data to another computer.
As you might imagine, there are many features that aren't shared by all of the programs in our top 10 list. Some of the less-common backup and restore functionalities include compatibility with cloud storage platforms. In these cases, you still have the option of backing up data to a partitioned drive in your computer or storing data to removable media like burned CDs and DVDs. The ability to create a complete system image backup was another feature missing from some of the products we reviewed, as was being able to create pre- and post-run commands to tell the program what to do once the backup or restore cycle completes. We also found that built-in virus scanners that automatically scour your computer and contents for signs of infection are uncommon, present only in our number one choice software program, NovaBACKUP.
Next, we looked closely at each of the programs' built-in scheduling and reporting abilities. Although not so commonly in demand among home users, these features can be invaluable to small business owners because they allow you to track the status of backed up data at any given point in time. Automatically generating event logs, as well as the option to receive email notification whenever backups occur, are features that all of the PC backup software programs we reviewed have. One not-so-common feature, which gives an administrator the power to schedule backup and recovery from a remote location, was only present in two of the software programs. If you're a professional on the constant go, this could be a determining factor that informs your purchase decision. All of the products in our top 10 include the ability to schedule automatic data backups in advance.
Finally, we tested each program's Help & Support to determine how many avenues you'll have at your disposal for receiving technical assistance. We found that all of the software programs include readily available FAQs and a knowledgebase of information for troubleshooting, ensuring you have documentation at your disposal if you encounter something you can't figure out. Additionally, all of the programs offer the ability to email technical support for personalized assistance – but few have actual telephone or live chat support. It's notable to mention that Paragon Backup & Recovery is the only PC backup software program outside of our top four rankers to include telephone support. Overall, we found our highest-ranked products offer the greatest diversity of support channels, while our lower-ranked products require a bit more of the DIY spirit than you may desire.
If you're a newcomer to software backup, it's important to seek out a program that comes with a helpful wizard that walks you through the various complex and potentially confusing process of performing a full system backup of your computer. We found that the majority of the PC backup programs we reviewed come with this feature.
Your level of proficiency may also guide you through your deciding process, but it's always best not to choose a program that could prove too limiting in the future. Although you may not currently have the need to perform advanced activities like backup scripting or file filtering, the more high-level functionality that a program offers, the better it will serve you in the long run. For this reason, think about what you may need your backup software to do in the future to help you decide which to purchase.
The Best PC Backup Software Available: The Final Verdict
In our comparative testing, three PC backup software programs outshone the rest and secured themselves at the head of the pack: NovaBACKUP, Acronis Backup for PC and Genie Backup Manager. That said, this doesn't necessarily mean that any of our lower-rated products won't serve you well. If you find yourself gravitating to one of the software programs outside of the top three, it might mean that it's perfectly suited to your specific needs. To be sure, consider downloading a trial version and taking it on a test drive for yourself. You can also educate yourself a bit more on what separates the best from the rest by reading our articles on PC backup software.
Whether you're a home user or a small business owner, there's no denying that a lot is riding on your ability to ensure your computer ecosystem and all of your important files are safe from accidental loss or purposeful destruction. Buying the best PC backup software program for your needs is the best way to keep your computer up and running, no matter what gets thrown your way.