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BackUp Now 4.0 makes a versatile platform for protecting PC data

Few things are worse than starting your workday with a blue screen of death. We recently had that experience in the GCN Lab, which prompted us to seek a more robust solution for backing up our critical data and hard drive images. After comparing BackUp Now 4.0 Deluxe Suite from NewTech Information Systems Inc. to Symantec Corp.'s Norton Ghost 9.0, we found that BackUp Now 4 is the better backup alternative, although it's not perfect.

The main difference between BackUp Now and Norton Ghost is their approach to recording data from your hard drive. Not only can BackUp Now take an image of the hard drive in its entirety, like a snapshot, but it can also back up a hard drive on a file-by-file basis. Norton Ghost only takes the snapshot and stores that image on separate media such as a DVD or removable drive. Granted, Norton Ghost remembers the backup image and can be set to only update the files that change going forward, but it can't do more targeted file- or folder-level backups. Nor can you schedule it, for example, to back up accounting data once a day. With BackUp Now you can do both.

Another important difference between these programs is the drive-spanning capabilities that BackUp Now has and Norton lacks. Drive spanning is the ability to extend the backup process to multiple hard drives. BackUp Now can back up at a file level or take a snapshot of multiple hard drives. Norton can only take a snapshot one drive at a time.

Not a whiz of a wiz

One significant drawback to Backup Now, we found, is its difficult installation. The file and image backup tools are separate programs, but BackUp Now doesn't give you the option of installing both programs in the same wizard. You have to repeat the same steps twice. More importantly, in our testing the software wouldn't always install properly on all systems. We originally used an MPC ClientPro 414 computer running Windows XP Professional, a 3-GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512M of double-data-rate-2 RAM. Backup Now would not install on the first three attempts on that machine. Norton Ghost installed on the ClientPro without issue.

We then tested the software on a 3-GHz Hewlett-Packard desktop with a Pentium 4 and 2G of DDR RAM. Both programs installed without difficulty, which leads us to believe the new DDR2-RAM in the ClientPro caused the errors with the NTI solution.

Despite the initial setup hiccup, BackUp Now is superior to Norton Ghost in almost every other way. The interface is cleaner and more appealing to the eye, making it easier to use.

That said, we recognize the improvements Symantec has made to Ghost 9.0. First is the ability to back up the changes made to a hard drive instead of requiring a full re-imaging. Second is the way the Ghost program remains open in the Windows environment after completing a full backup.

Norton Ghost was also 10 minutes faster on average when it came to mirroring our 40G hard drive. We felt, however, that speed benefit didn't overcome Norton Ghost's inability to perform file backups or work on computers running Windows 9x. (Symantec bundles Ghost 2003 software with Ghost 9 for use with older Windows versions and Linux.)

Despite notable improvements in the Norton Ghost software, it is still more limiting than BackUp Now, particularly when it comes to drive spanning, OS compatibility and user-friendliness. BackUp Now is also a better deal. For $79 you get what amounts to two programs'file backup and disk imaging (NTI sells the imaging portion of the suite separately for $39). Norton Ghost costs $69 and doesn't include the file backup utility.

Each program has quirks that keep it from scoring higher in our review. One improvement we'd like to see in both products, for example, is compatibility with Mac OS platforms. But after evaluating both together, BackUp Now Deluxe Suite is the better buy. But either is better than losing your data.

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