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Guide To Acronis True Image - 2

Guide To Acronis - Part 2

Guide to Acronis - Part 1   [go back]
Guide to Acronis - Part 2   [this page]

Part 1 on the previous page looked at the background and all the options. Here in Part 2, creating an image in detail is examined, plus troubleshooting.

Procedural issues

The first time you create an image, the task is a little unnerving since there are so many options presented by ATI at this point that you may worry that something has been overlooked. You won't know if your chosen procedure works until you have created a full image and restored it; given a choice, a practice run-through on an unimportant older machine, and some full notes on what you did, would be a wise choice.

In just a second we'll look at the precise method to use, but first let's first consider the program options. In my opinion the best way to use the app is to create a full image, and add incremental backups as and when. You can choose from differential or incremental additions, but most users think the incremental choice is better. You could do both until you're satisfied (in different folders).

Setting up the image creation parameters 

This is an important area and needs some attention, because:


There are three areas where one might justifiably complain Acronis have fallen short:

  • They do not provide a simple ABC run-through for creating a full image, whether by the Secure Zone method or the more realistic removable media / remote disk method. The whole subject is so complex that ordinary PC users are frightened off.
  • The default image creation settings (of program versions v8 and earlier) will not produce a satisfactory working backup.
  • When you have changed the defaults and set them up exactly as you need them, closing the app may scrub your settings. Earlier program versions return to non-usable defaults. There is no 'Save Configs' option.

The second point is a serious bug in v8 and v9. The third point was corrected in v9 onward. Unless you alter the default settings, your backup simply won't work. These defaults seem to be set up for file & folder backups, and not disk backups, which is surely the reason most people will use ATI. Even backing-up folders might not produce a working directory backup on these settings.

When creating your image – whether a full disk or just a directory – you must change the default options manually. You can do this in the middle of the image creation procedure, and in fact this is the preferred method. These defaults can be accessed via the Tools menu (top menu bar - Tools - Options - Default Backup Options - Source Files Exclusion). Don't forget to alter these options each time you use ATI – the program may not keep your alterations, and may return to the unusable default settings (earlier program versions lose the user settings – later versions may keep them).

The problem is within the settings for file exclusion: wthout altering these settings, no system files will be copied. Since the main reason for using the program must surely be to backup the system files, this is a little strange. Even if backing up a new folder, and certainly with a bunch of them in a directory, one feels that excluding hidden files will not be a safe option. The only case in which these defaults will work is if you are just backing up a few files in an existing folder - in which case using ATI is probably not the best choice anyway.

Therefore, when creating an image with Acronis TI 8, be certain to 'manually change' (as ATI calls it) the following defaults, via the main Tools menu, just before you start:

Tools - Options -
Backup Defaults:
Source Files Exclusion:
:: Exclude all hidden files and folders
:: Exclude all system files and folders
:: Exclude all files matching the following criteria: (etc.)

UNCHECK ALL THESE BOXES, so that ALL files are copied.

Then, in the same Options menu, set the backup priority to high; compression to normal; and check image for errors = on. These settings ensure a fast error-free image creation. You most likely don't need an archive password, or want to use scripts; setting either of these to on introduces unwanted complexity into your first run-through.

You can leave the Archive Splitting method setting on auto; or set a value yourself. This means that when ATI is burning the image on CDs – or putting it on some other type of media with a size limitation – it will stop when the first CD is full, and prompt you to insert the next. Since this means it might fill up every last MB of data space, some may think it wise to set a filesize limit of for instance 675 MB if your CDs hold 700 MB, so that the risk of a CD read-error might be reduced. This setting should be used even when using a USB external disk, since: (a) you might want to put the image on CD at some stage, and (b) the image file size may be unacceptably large otherwise. Files of 5GB or whatever on a disk are just not a sensible option.

Make sure to enable the option to check the image for errors. This unfortunately doubles the image creation time (or even more in some cases) - but a dud image is of little use.


One partition only may be copied, instead of the entire disk. However, if this is a bootable partition containing an OS, and especially if it wasn't the first partition on the disk, it may not prove bootable when restored. This may be because the MBR might not be included: this is the master boot record at the front of the disk, which tells the BIOS what partitions exist and if they are bootable. There are ways around this perhaps: use MBRtool, an MBR-adjusting utility available on the very useful UBCD**; or use an Acronis or PowerQuest partition utility to adjust things afterward. The safe option though is to image the whole disk first, then do incrementals for the individual partition required.

** UBCD = ultimate boot CD: a free download – Google it. Note that you can't actually boot from this CD unless you get the bootable Windows version, or add the files from a boot floppy, or adjust the visible files content. The idea of the CD is that it contains a lot of tools useful at boot-time (though they don't really make this very clear). Somehow, the user guide never gets the attention it deserves...

Burn Baby Burn

OK, let's do it. You need a PC or laptop with a CD-RW; some blank CD-Rs (do not be tempted to use CD-RWs, for umpteen different reasons); USB ports on the PC; a USB external hard disk; and an hour or two. Yes, you can set the image backup creation process to Low Priority, and keep working while it does it's stuff in the background; but is that a good idea? I don't think so. Would you defrag your hard drive while also compiling the Company's annual financial report at the last moment, with the printer's courier waiting at the door? Probably not. So just let it do it's thing and go out to lunch. Oh, and get the office junior to keep loading the CDs as required...

Let's assume a clean drive, a Windows OS, and access to the Service Packs, programs, and data you need to install in the first session. The drive has one or more partitions and is newly formatted. However, the quickest way to get a multi-partition drive working is to install one OS first, then run the preferred Acronis or PowerQuest partition utility; but that's by-the-by.

1. Boot to your Windows CD (if bootable) or floppy. Install the OS. Choose the fastest, skinniest way to get the OS up and running: don't choose all the options at this stage – you can easily add network or media capability later. You want a quick install and the minimum number of CDs to have to burn it to. Unless, of course, you have a spindle pack full of CDs to waste, and loads of time to kill.

2. Install Acronis TI. Reboot for safety.

3. Run Scandisk, or a 3rd-party tool like Ontrack Fix-It Utilities' Disk Checker. This checks that everything is as it should be. If somehow there's been a glitch in the OS install, you really don't want to record it for posterity.

4. Install a 3rd-party defragger – i.e. load and run a defragmentation utility. The Windows install leaves the whole disk looking like a dustbin, and you need to defrag and compact it to reduce the data block size overall, to save time and CDs on the image backup burn. ATI does a very good job on the compression, but there's no harm in helping it out. There is no point in saving a badly-fragmented image in any case. Plus, some of these utilities will also defrag, compact, and optimise the pagefile – a valuable bonus. Tip: VoptXP and Raxco PerfectDisk work well.

5. Now plug in your USB disk and check it works. You need to be able to see the disk in My Computer – it needs a drive letter assigned – you must save a file onto it – you must alter the file while it is on the external disk – you must then transfer the changed file back to your desktop. If you can do all these things then the USB HD is usable at this stage of the OS / driver install process. You may well find that it isn't, in which case you might need to load the disk's proprietary drivers into Windows. Sometimes it seems to be working but there is no drive letter for it in My Computer; this normally means you must install the drivers. If you've already done this, then in W2K you can resolve it in Control Panel - Administrative Tools - Computer Management - Storage - Disk Management.

6. When the USB disk is working and usable, you can proceed. Forget the Secure Zone and Recovery Manager options unless you can give away one-third of your hard drive. Load a blank CD into the burner drive.

7. Create an Acronis Boot CD. This is separate from and different to the backup CD. It contains a Windows boot sequence and an Acronis program loader, which together create an environment that can accept the first Acronis image CD.

8. Start the backup process. Choose your CD drive for the backup location, and use a filename like WinXP-1 (ATI adds the .tib extension). This avoids the app calling it MyBackup or some such non-specific name. ATI will automatically name subsequent backups with the same filename plus 2, 3, etc. Don't use compression if you can avoid it.

ATI then creates the image CDs. Label the CDs as they are used.

Remember to adjust the defaults - do not allow it to exclude any files!

You must change the file exclusions option in the Tools menu, to NO files excluded.
You should change the priority to high, and 'check archive' to on – these can be changed in the Tools menu, or within the option choices given as you create the image.

9. When the initial OS backup finishes, run the whole same procedure on the USB disk. Make a folder called for instance Disk Images, and point the app to that. If you want to try cutting corners, then just paste the CD contents into the folder. Up to you. You'd have to be certain you got all the hidden files and folders, and that the disk image was in precisely the same form.

10. Now install any extra Windows components you need; then add Service Packs where required. Defrag the disk again.

11. Add an incremental backup to the USB disk.

12. Load programs and data onto your PC, defrag, then put another incremental backup on the USB disk. Make sure to put all backups in the same folder. They only work as a linked series (though you can pull out the first file and use it separately, as it is a complete backup for that early stage).

13. If you have enough space, DON'T use compression (which is the default). Using any level of compression is one of the main causes of faults in the image file.

And you're done. You can recover from a bare-metal crash, or get a fully-loaded disk back rapidly, or just plug the image (navigate to the backup folder and allow ATI to interpret the contents) to simply pull a folder or files out that you maybe deleted in error. If you go to the user forums for ATI, you'll find plenty of people who are very glad they used it. Your first backup and restore experience may not always go smoothly, but we hope that with this info it will at least work pardonably well.

We could say test the final result on another PC, and keep some brief notes on how you created the image and then restored it; but would anybody listen?


A Windows 2000 SP4 new install will image at ~540MB, so it fits on one CD at the normal compression setting. However compression is best avoided.

The CD burn procedure may have some glitches at the start, where the app cannot seem to see the CD drive. Just keep on going, though, and it turns out OK.

Checking that the archive is valid takes a lot longer than creating it in the first place, which can be fairly quick with bare OS installs. For example, it takes 20 minutes or less to create a 1-CD image, then more than half an hour to validate it. Alarmingly, the validation sequence opens with a message that it will take 10 hours, or something else equally ridiculous; but this is like file download time first estimates, and soon drops to a reasonable figure.

The CD burn may finish with an error message, but will be OK. The error probably refers to the CD drive glitches referred to earlier. In my experience you can ignore this; the CD will work fine.

Acronis problem-solving

Acronis cannot see my USB disk
1) If Acronis can't see a USB disk it is probably because that disk has not registered in the system correctly. Try (a) removing the disk, then reconnecting it; or (b) booting up with it connected. You must turn on the disk and WAIT for 2 minutes, to ensure the full disk registration has completed. Twenty seconds for example is not enough.

One of these usually fixes it.

2) Are you using Seagate Tools version of Acronis? In this case, somewhere in the system there needs to be a live Seagate disk (or Maxtor). It doesn't have to be the disk in use, but there needs to be one connected and running.

Acronis image is faulty
You should test images occasionally to see if they restore OK. Sometimes a faulty one is found, with corrupt data, especially when first using the program. If you then find that the next run is also faulty - assuming that all the parameters were correctly set - then you may well find the fault is caused by the compression process.

Set compression to zero during the image creation process, and the fault will disappear.

It will also help to set the file split size to 750MB as this means Acronis only has to work with files of a reasonable size. If the filesize is 4GB or even 20GB, there is more chance of a fault. Huge files like this are not a good idea.

The Acronis image takes a long time
Do not use compression. It takes longer as the system somehow has to create a live zip of a very large file - and it is a cause of faulty images.

How can I retrieve the large disk space the Acronis secure zone used ?
You will probably need to cancel the 'Use Secure Zone' option, then use a partition manager to delete the secure zone partition and merge it back into the main partition. Backup all your data first.

Appendix 1 – USB disk images

Some work has been done by "mudcrab" to outline a method whereby a full, bootable backup can be created on an external USB hard disk. You can view it here:

However, it looks at this stage as if the USB disk will be wiped, and only the image file will be left on the disk. That would be a shame on a USB disk with another 250GB of files on it...

So it seems that the best tool for this will be a small USB drive, but big enough for a disk image. A good candidate might be an external USB 2.0 standard hard disk enclosure - the type you place an ordinary PC hard drive in, for backup data storage, that connects with a USB cable and has a mains electric PSU. Then your disk would be exactly the right size, and most likely you wouldn't risk wiping other valuable data.

Appendix 2 – Ensuring the smallest filesize for the first CD image

During the image creation run-through above, it was mentioned that the smaller, skinnier, and more compact the initial bare OS install could be kept at, then the less CDs would be required and the faster the first image could be burnt.

There are more ways to achieve this, if you are in search of the most compact solution. As mentioned, you should help ATI out by defragging the installed OS. If you check just after the install you can see the disk totally splattered. Forget the Windows defragger, always use a 3rd-party app. In addition, you can do one or more of the following, which all help to reduce the total filesize:

1. Install and run Ontrack Fix-It Utilities registry cleaner; remove all the unnecessary languages, time zones, keyboard settings, and desktop schemes. Make sure to leave one of each item.
2. Run the Ontrack registry defragger.
3. Run a boot-time defragger (Raxco PD for instance).
4. Optimise the pagefile (VoptXP is best; or Raxco PD, Ontrack).
5. Load and run WinWasher. This clears out all temporary and history files that you don't need. It's like Windows Disk Clean-up utility, but much, much better. It takes more time to run than you would think – because it finds files you would never be able to locate yourself without a long reference list and four hours spare time.

Appendix 3 - Restoring An Image

All the hard work was done at the image-creation stage. Now you just have to load the image back onto the PC or laptop.

With the Secure Zone option, there isn't much to do:
1. Load the Acronis Boot CD (recovery CD) – you still need this.
2. Start Recovery Manager.
3. Give it 20 minutes and you're back at work, even if the full image hasn't been fully restored yet.

Using the more likely CD + USB disk option, or USB disk only, if you have a corrupt Windows system then it may be better to reformat the disk and start from scratch, rather than loading an image on top (especially if there was any chance of a virus).

With a bare drive you can just load the image straight on, you don't have to format it. Even so, I do as it feels safer.

1. Start with a boot floppy or OS CD, then FDISK and format c: (if that's your choice).
2. Remove that media.
3. Load the Acronis Boot CD.

4. Then, load the first image CD or point to the USB disk, to start the image reload.
5. When the basic OS is loaded, reboot.
6. If the first stage was CD-only, then connect the USB disk, open ATI, start Recovery again, point ATI to the USB backup image and finish restoring the image.

Appendix 4 - boot failures

Acronis fails to load

If Acronis fails to boot up from the Boot CD, but will boot in safe mode from the CD, then the most likely reason is disk errors. This is the cause when the Acronis loader stops / hangs, on boot-up with the Boot CD.
You need to run a disk error correction utility first, to fix the errors, before Acronis will load.

The easiest way to do this is to run a Windows 98 CD install, which will automatically fix the disk errors first, then ask if you wish to format the disk, then if you wish to install W98. Format the disk, then shut down and go to the Acronis boot CD, which should now run.

If it doesn't the disk should be treated as faulty. You may well be able to install an OS and go ahead as normal, but the disk has errors that mean it is not wise to use it for a main drive.

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[This tute was written several years ago, and has been upgraded in parts. The info is still valid for most versions of Acronis TI, certainly v8 and 9.]
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