Backing up your PC occasionally is a very good idea: there's no better way to protect your valuable files from hardware failure, virus attack and other data disasters. But it's important to do it properly.

Running a simple file-based backup, for instance, will be quick, but only because you'll probably leave so much behind: emails, contacts, browser favourites, digital photos, music, fonts, Windows and application settings, Office add-ons, browser extensions - the list goes on.

Use Macrium Reflect - Free Edition, though, and the program will take a complete image of your entire hard drive. This will take longer, and you'll probably need a second hard drive to hold the image, but if disaster does strike in the future then you'll appreciate the difference. You won't have to reinstall Windows, or your applications, or try to recover any lost data: just boot from the program's rescue disc, restore the backup, and your PC will be back working as normal within an hour or two.

The program is easy to use and keeps backup hassles to a minimum. Support for Microsoft's Volume Shadow copy Service means it can create a hard drive image while you continue to use your PC, for instance. A built-in scheduler lets you run backup jobs even when you're not around. Powerful compression keeps the backup image as small as possible, then it can be saved to network, external or network drives, and even DVD (there's a built-in CD/DVD packet writing engine, so no additional burning software is required).

Macrium Reflect - Free Edition also lets you create a bootable Linux-based rescue CD with network support. If your PC won't start in future then you can boot from this, and use it to restore your last backup. But if you only need a few files, then the program can handle that, too. In just a few clicks you're able to attach an image, browse it for the files you need, then copy them back to your hard drive - it's all very quick and easy.

Version 5, which arrived three months after the paid-for editions were upgraded, featured a completely redesigned user interface that now supports drag-and-drop and new wizards. It also boasted full disk cloning capabilities, scheduled imaging, resizing and reordering of partitions when restored and the ability to rotate backup destinations so multiple backups can be kept.

Version 5 also allowed free users to create a Win PE-based rescue disc for the first time, although only the custom option – which involves a 1.7GB download – is available. WinPE support ensures USB 3.0 drives can be recognised in the recovery environment.

What you won't get here is direct file or folder backup, support for Windows Server, differential or incremental backups. They're reserved for the commercial version. Still, if you have a spare hard drive and just want quick, easy image backups then Macrium Reflect - Free Edition could be the ideal choice.

What's new in 7.2.3858 (see changelog for more information):

- Explorer Crash. Some customers have experienced a Windows Explorer crash if displaying the 'Backup Method' column when exploring folders containing Image files. This has been resolved.
- Wi-Fi Drivers copied for Windows PE. Windows PE could incorrectly load Windows RE Wi-Fi drivers at start-up and stall the boot sequence. This has been resolved.
- Rescue Media Builder. RMBuilder.exe could crash if invalid/non-writable media was inserted when burning optical rescue media. This has been resolved.
- Rescue Media Builder. The Windows volume manager could cause a delay when a partition was created on USB media causing the media creation to fail. This has been resolved.
- Backup Start Dialog. The delay time selected when a schedule backup starts was not being honoured. This has been resolved.
- Backup Failure Emails. When upgrading pre-7.2 backup definitions, the option to include/exclude 'Cancelled' backups from failure emails was not saved. This has been resolved.
- Windows PE 5.0. Windows PE 5.0 rescue media would incorrectly show 'PE 4.0' in the application title bar. This has been resolved.
- Windows XP System Tray Icon. When running scheduled backups on Windows XP the Reflect Monitor system tray icon could be hidden. This has been resolved.
- MIG Notifications. Macrium Image Guardian could show an incorrect blocking notification for ReflectBin.exe. This has been resolved.
- Server Plus SQL backups. Macrium Image Guardian could block Server Plus backups of SQL databases. This has been resolved.
- ShadowProtect incompatibility with CBT. Some customers have reported a Windows BSOD if StorageCraft ShadowProtect was installed. This has been resolved.

Verdict

A simple, reliable image backup tool that's packed with useful features and now boasts an even friendlier user interface.