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Macrium Reflect – Free or Paid version?


Microsoft officially proclaimed they will deprecate the native Windows Backup when it released the Fall Creators Update (version 1709) back in October, 2017 (source). The company also recommended that users switch to third party imaging and backup tools instead. In fact, the Windows Backup utility, although still present in version 19H1, is not and never was a reliable backup tool that has caused lots of issues and problems for users.

The best third party backup product, in my personal, subjective opinion, is Macrium Reflect. I have used many of the most popular alternatives, but all in all, Reflect simply wins in any head-to-head comparison. Macrium Reflect Free certainly suffices for normal home users to back up their Windows 10 devices, but is it worthwhile to purchase the fee-based version?

To that question, the short answer is “Yes!” Macrium Reflect Home and Workstation versions come with three excellent additional features to help users make backups faster, and keep them safer: Changed Block Tracking (CBT), the Macrium Image Guardian (MIG) and Incremental backups. These features are not present in the free version. Here’s a bit more information on these three value adds:

Changed Block Tracking

First, here’s a quote from the Macrium Knowledge Base:

Macrium Reflect Changed Block Tracker (MRCBT) reduces the amount of time it takes to perform incremental and differential images by monitoring the changes to an NTFS formatted volume in real-time. This is especially relevant when a file system contains very large files, such as virtual hard disk (VHD) files, where speed improvements are significant and can reduce the Incremental image time from hours to minutes or even seconds.

Implemented as a kernel mode filter driver, sitting below the NTFS file system driver, MRCBT is able to intercept all I/O requests to the logical volume and maintain a record of which blocks have changed.

CBT makes incremental backups faster and smaller. Only those blocks that have actually changed on disk since the last backup will be backed up. The user can monitor CBT status with this small tool  %program files&\Macrium\Reflect\MrCbtTools.exe:

When Reflect is installed, Delta Indexing and CBT for Incremental backups are enabled by default. The user can change these as he or she sees fit:

These features make incremental backups smaller. In my case a typical daily, scheduled incremental backup only takes a few minutes.

Macrium Knowledge Base: CBT

Macrium Image Guardian

Macrium Image Guardian protects Macrium backup files against ransomware attacks. MIG prevents unauthorised modifying of Macrium backup files on local and USB volumes. In case a Windows setup is compromised, the latest backups are recoverable and safe. MIG is focused on one single task: protecting Macrium files.

When MIG is enabled on a drive containing Macrium backups, a shield icon is shown:

Image from Macrium Knowledge Base.

Backup files cannot be tampered with, edited or modified in any way. They cannot be deleted. Only Macrium Reflect can access them:

MIG should not be compared to any malware protection or antivirus tools. Its sole purpose is to keep Macrium backup files safe. This job it does excellently: with MIG enabled, a Windows installation can always be recovered from a backup.

Macrium Knowledge Base: MIG

Incremental Backups

An incremental backup saves all changes since the last backup, be it full, differential or incremental. There are pros and cons when it comes to using incremental backups:

Advantage of incremental images:
Incremental images have the same advantages as differential images, but they only store the changes that were made since the last full or incremental. They are always small and very quick to make, especially if done frequently.

Disadvantage of incremental images:
All files must be present in the image set. If any intermediate incremental images are missing, it is not possible to restore the system to the latest backup.

Enabling MIG, the cons disappear; as MIG prevents any modifications of backup files, and makes deleting them impossible, all intermediate incremental backup files will be available when needed. With CBT enabled, Delta Indexing and CBT for Incremental backups are on by default, making incremental backups extremely fast and small.

Macrium Knowledge Base: Incremental backups

Conclusion

Incremental backups alone would be for me a reason enough to pay for Macrium Reflect. They help me to keep my backups smaller, thus saving storage space. Add CBT and MIG, and you have a complete, secure and reliable backup solution. As I mentioned, the free version of Reflect is enough for home users with maybe just one laptop to back up. But if you want to be absolutely sure you are fully protected, whatever happens, I wholeheartedly recommend that you purchase the Macrium Reflect Home or Workstation edition.

Additional reading material:

Macrium viBoot & A hassle-free, no risk Windows 10 upgrade
Macrium Technician – a tool for IT admins

Kari

Author: Kari Finn

A former Windows Insider MVP, Kari started in computing in the mid 80’s writing code for VAX / VMS systems. Since then, he’s worked in a variety of IT positions. He specializes in Windows image capture, customization, repair and deployment as well as Hyper-V virtualization. Kari is a proud Team Member at number #1 Windows site TenForums.com.

2 Responses “Macrium Reflect – Free or Paid version?”

  1. Keith Donald
    June 11, 2019 at 12:50

    You have missed the most important feature for me Kari. Fast Delta Restore which is the restore equivalent of incremental backups and makes recent restores complete in minutes.

    • June 11, 2019 at 14:07

      Yes, you are right. I concentrated to what you get to help creating images fast, reliably and secure. The restore part is of course also important, and as you said, Fast Delta Restore you get with paid versions for sure makes it both easy and fast.

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