Symantec Norton Ghost 10 review

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Imaging your hard disk regularly provides a lifeline in just about any PC disaster. Whether you’ve fallen victim to virulent adware, Windows has become mysteriously corrupted, or you simply want to try out some unknown shareware, restoring an image is almost as good as travelling back in time. But like all backup jobs, if it isn’t quick and easy, you’ll be less inclined to do it. There’s surprisingly little competition in the consumer disk-imaging area either, with Norton Ghost and Acronis True Image 9 being the principle contenders.

Symantec Norton Ghost 10 review

Symantec has completely changed the user interface of Ghost 10, with a new task-driven look and feel to simplify backup and restoration. Gone is the extensive use of wizards, although the slightly strange reason given for this is that it ‘reduces complexity’. There’s much to be said for the task-driven approach, though. We particularly like the ability to set event-triggered recovery points when a new application is being installed, data is added exceeding a specified size, or a new user is logging on. We also appreciate the simplified schedule editor, which makes recovery-point scheduling a one-click process. There’s an elegant slider-driven way of controlling the amount of CPU time that’s used too, which can also be altered on-the-fly during a backup. True Image sticks with the traditional slow, medium and fast options, which feel a little dated by contrast.

Ghost focuses on automation, with its hands-off approach evident throughout the application. Take the automatic monitoring of recovery point storage space, for example, deleting or archiving old recovery point data as per your configuration choices. Then there’s the ‘best-practice media detection’ feature that monitors storage devices attached to the PC and determines which should be backed up, as well as flagging those that offer optimal backup storage capabilities – external drives will be chosen in preference to a second internal drive.

Common sense also rises to the fore when it comes to archive security, with Ghost supporting 128-, 192- and 256-bit AES encryption. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is overkill: external drives are all too easy to steal, and there’s no such thing as ‘too secure’ when someone has unlimited time to go through your data.

Backwards compatibility with version 8 and 9 format images is welcome, as is support for legacy PowerQuest Drive Image files. Unlike True Image, you can also back up to CD and DVD without the need for additional software, use Iomega Zip and Jaz and, at long last, both USB and FireWire drives are properly supported. There’s also full integration with Maxtor’s OneTouch system used on many of its external drives. As with True Image, there’s even the ability to mount backup images as drives for easy data exploration.

Compared to True Image though, overall performance begins to look a little dated, and Ghost soon falls behind. A 10GB partition of mixed data took 25 minutes to produce a 7GB image – three minutes faster than True Image but a substantial 1.5GB larger. For restoration, Acronis took 24 minutes, against Ghost’s 38 minutes. We also ran into trouble with our first image-restore test, because our external drive was assigned letter Z, the same letter used by the recovery CD for ms-ramdrive, causing a conflict. This isn’t mentioned in the documentation or in Symantec’s online support knowledge base, but was a common gripe in online forums.

The recovery CD is slow to boot too, taking three minutes in our tests, compared to just 30 seconds for the True Image equivalent. It won’t let you create an image while using it either. This prevents the recovery of data not previously backed up from a crashed partition. True Image has no such limitations. You could achieve this by using the DOS-based Ghost 2003 CD that’s included in the box, because Ghost 10 only supports Windows 2000 and XP, but that’s a clumsy solution.

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