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Review: Norton Save & Restore

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By Wendell Benedetti

System crashes can be a major headache for photographers. Obviously, for protection, valuable digital images must be stored outside the system. But storing images offline doesn't protect the system itself. The operating system with its numerous components, all the software applications, and countless personal files, are stored on the hard drive. Complete protection can only be guaranteed by backing up the entire system to removable media. That's done with an application such as Norton Save & Restore.

Norton Save & Restore is a more user-friendly version of the well-known Norton Ghost backup and recovery utility. It has all the power of Norton Ghost, but with its wizard interface it's easier to use. It provides a straightforward approach to its primary task of backing up and restoring the entire system, as well as copying the contents of one hard drive to another.

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Norton Save & Restore can be configured to back up mirror images of specific disks, or to back up  specific folders or file types, such as TIF, JPEG and RAW, among other options. Save & Restore can be run manually or set to back up automatically, on a daily basis, when specific criteria are met, or in the case of Maxtor's OneTouch drives, when the OneTouch button is pressed. Save & Restore can back up to a variety of removable storage media, including almost all current CD, DVD, FireWire or USB drives. For this review backups were stored on the test system's 233GB Maxtor OneTouch external FireWire drive.

Frequently, photographers will archive their photos to CDs and DVDs. CDs and DVDs can also be used for system backups, but they aren't the best choice. The optimum choice is to select the largest removable drive available on the system. In fact, during installation, the application recommends which removable drive available will work best.

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Installation is straightforward. However, unlike most applications, which just start up, the Save & Restore installer goes into a diagnostic routine. The diagnostics determine whether or not the Symantec recovery boot CD has the appropriate drivers for the computer's storage devices, network, mouse and monitor. It actually stops and scans the system and then reports back whether the drivers on the CD will work.

The installation program also strongly recommends that users boot (start up) their computer with the Save & Restore CD in the CD drive. While most current Windows-based computer systems can be set up to boot from the CD, not all systems have been configured to boot that way. The test system for this review, for example, initially would not boot from the CD. That meant starting up the BIOS setup program at startup and reconfiguring the startup sequence to access the CD drive before booting from the hard drive. Once the CD drive was given top priority, the system booted from the Norton CD without any problems. Some older systems lack CD booting capability altogether, so it's important to make sure the CD works before backing up the system. You don't want to have a system crash and then find out your computer won't boot from the Save & Restore CD.

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For this review, I backed up the entire boot drive as well as several specific image folders on another hard drive. The application leads you through the process, using wizards that present the optional storage configurations. You simply select what you want to back up, where you want to back it up, and the application does the rest. Nevertheless, during an actual system crash and restore, you may not remember exactly how the application works. During an actual restoration, you don't want to have to guess how the process works.

To avoid having to guess, play with the program. I don't necessarily recommend doing a complete save and restore operation of your entire system, just enough to test the process. Things can always come up that might present problems, so it's a good idea to put the program through its paces by backing up and restoring a few file folders, just to see how it work. I did that. Even though I had just read through the user manual, it still took me several times before I felt comfortable during each step of the restoration process.

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Norton Save & Restore includes a handy utility that sets the priority Windows gives the application as it backs up the system. Setting the sliding bar all the way to the right gives Save & Restore almost exclusive priority, which speeds up the backup process, but brings all other applications to a grinding halt. Moving the slider all the way to the left pauses the application whenever another program needs to access the hard drives or when the user types something on the keyboard or moves the mouse. For most users the halfway point is a good compromise. You can continue to work as your system is backed up.

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Reflecting Symantec's extensive involvement with computer security, Norton Save & Restore also features a Protection Center, which provides an assessment of the computer's potential risks. Protection Center advises users about the status of their security applications, data backups, computer performance, and web browsing and email screening. For this review, the test system received a "good  status," nevertheless Protection Center failed to recognize that Microsoft's Windows Defender, Spybot - Search & Destroy, Spyware Doctor and several pop-up filters were also running.

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Norton Save & Restore ships with a 170-page User Guide that covers every aspect of the application. For technologically proficient photographers, it might be an interesting read. The vast majority of users will only need to read the installation and basics sections. Save & Restore can be purchased online (www.symantec.com) or at retail software outlets. Only available for Windows, it carries a list price of $69.99. Norton is offering a $30 mail-in rebate for purchases of Save & Restore made between July 7 and September 30, 2006. See the Web site for details.