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A simple Google search for "Time Machine for Windows" results in a flurry of different little apps. But instead of relying on forum anecdotes and advertisements, I call on the much wiser Super User beta community for some depth on this one.

Having Time Machine running on Leopard is like a warm, fuzzy blanket of comfort that I never got with RAID, rsync, or SyncToy on Windows. I'm not asking the community what the "best" backup software for Windows is, but instead:

Is there any true Time Machine clone for Windows, one that includes as many of the following as possible:

  • Completely transparent, "set-it-and-forget-it" backup
  • Incremental backups (changes only) for every hour for a day, every day for a month, and every week until the backup disk is full
  • Ability to rebuild from this backup disk in case of main drive meltdown (the backup doesn't have to be bootable; neither are Time Machine disks)
  • Extremely easy to use UI (target user == novice). Bonus points for a beautiful UI
  • As originally asked, this question did not take into consideration the Windows Registry, which has no equivalent on Mac OS X or any other UNIX, and poses a significant obstacle to Time Machine-like functionality. A true replacement for Windows would need to be able to seamlessly rebuild a user's desktop appearance, settings, applications, and all data on either a replacement drive (or equal or greater size), a brand new machine, or even an upgraded version of the OS, without the need to update file paths or make any other tweaks. This is the irreplaceable attraction of Time Machine.
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11 Answers 11

Edit: Shadow Copies allow the user to backup a file that is currently being used. Just that. The name may lead some to think that there is some ninja-trickery and your data is more secure in the shadows, it isn't.


For everyone recommending Shadow Copies: This is bogus (IMHO), as the copies are stored in the same filesystem on the same disk and will be gone when you need the backup because your disk is broken.

Time machine on the other side, uses an external volume at the least, and it might even be offsite (ie. at work, I backup to an iSCSI volume, and this would also work over an VPN from home).

In other words, shadow copies might help you if accidentally did something to a specific file, but it won't help you a bit when your disk crashed.

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Actually, a number of backup programs use VSS to make backups to a DIFFERENT hard drive, including Microsoft's own much-improved Backup feature in Windows 7, Rebit / SaveMe and Paragon backup. The main advantage of using VSS is that it allows you to take snapshots of files even if they have a lock on them (for example, if they are in use by the system). –  h4rrydog Nov 30 '10 at 12:12

The closest solution to Apple's Time Machine for a PC would be based on shadowing technology similar to RollBack Rx. This software allows you to restore to any point in time to an exact PC state. You can also recover entire files from other snapshots.

The Genie and others are simply glorified backup utilities similar to those which already exist in Windows 7.

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Oops!Backup is quite similar to Time Machine ($29) :

  • Very Fast & Reliable Backup
  • Fully Automatic - Never Forget to Back Up Anymore
  • Fantastically Easy to Use with BackInTime Technology
  • Double-Protection with Backup Drive Redundancy
  • Continuous Data Protection (CDP) for Best Protection
  • Back up directly to a UNC path
  • Automatic Backup on Connect with Plug & Protect™ - for Laptop Users
  • Save Space - Only back up sections of files that changed using ReverseDelta™ Technology
  • Back up to NAS, Network Drive & USB

In addition, a beautiful UI:

image

Another but more remote possibility is TimeTraveler ($19.95) :

Windows Explorer bar that allows you to look, search, restore and compare your documents, files and folders as they were at previous times. You can also restore your system to a prior time. The bar presents a timeline populated with ticks called points-in-time. You can bring Windows Explorer back in time by moving the time cursor to a point-in-time. When a new point is selected, TimeTraveler translates the address from the Explorer address bar into its equivalent at the selected time so Explorer displays the folders and files exactly as they were at that time.

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I've been using this for two days and it seems nice. It's not as fully comprehensive or simple as time machine (esp. when it comes to restore) but it does a good job backing up my docs. –  Michael Haren Dec 3 '10 at 20:37
    
The only problem I see is it does not appear to do full system backups. Just files. –  Archimedes Trajano Aug 9 '12 at 19:27
    
which of these two products was awarded the bounty? –  Simon Feb 18 '13 at 21:25

I'd say Crashplan is what you want.

Smart resource usage, differential backups, and saves backups to multiple targets. (attached drive, another computer with crashplan, or their cloud storage service)

So far, the peer to peer back up is the neatest part of the system. It even works over the internet. Its got clients for windows, mac and linux.

Its been pretty solid for me and I've been using it for about 2 years now. Its pretty much just install it and it works.

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does it do full system restore? –  Archimedes Trajano Aug 9 '12 at 19:11
    
Not that I'm aware of. –  txyoji Aug 9 '12 at 21:01
    
repeated answer, indeed no full system restore. still, the closest to a time machine simple thing on windows. –  Cawas Aug 23 '12 at 15:05
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@Cawas it's hardly a repeated answer since the other Crashplan answer basically just said 'it works nicely' with no details. there's nothing to say you can't combine backup strategies - a full system image with Windows backup and Crashplan for your day to day work. (personally I like rebuilding a machine to get everything fresh if I ever have a crash) –  Simon Feb 18 '13 at 21:45

Personally I use SyncBack. Yes it is a syncing tool like SyncToy, but it is much more fully featured and is really more of a backup tool than syncing in my opinion. It's features include versioning, incremental backups, compression, automation, scheduling etc... http://www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/sbse-features.html

I use it at home for my personal use and also my wife's business.

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I found a really nice freeware application that I think fits the bill. It's called AutoVer.

It can make infinite backup versions of all your files, within seconds of their creation or modification (unlike Genie Timeline). It's really quick, fairly low on resources, and so far, it seems to work really well.

The only problem I see with it so far, is that it can't automatically delete old backups when the space on the drive gets low. You can set it to delete or zip old versions of files after a specified time, but it would be nice if it could manage drive space by itself. Then again, it's freeware, so I can't complain.

So far, I'm really impressed with it. It works much better than any of the paid-for applications I've tried.

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Genie Timeline 2.0 is out as of last month.

I know, I know, "yet another timeline plug!" ... but it's not.

Timeline 2.0 has been completely rewritten, and so far, the general consensus on the web has been very positive.

Best of all, almost all the features are available in a new free edition of Genie Timeline.

Specifications of Genie Timeline 2.0 Free: http://www.genie-soft.com/Free_products/free_timeline.aspx

Download: http://download.cnet.com/Genie-Timeline-Free/3000-2242_4-10967059.html?tag=mncol

The paid versions of the product add full-system Disaster Recovery, encryption, compression, and auto-purge of older backups.

DISCLOSURE: I was a project leader on version 2.0

(this post was copied from SO)

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In the comparison chart, I see "Smart Disaster Recovery". Does that imply Genie now supports full system restore? (That would be great! The Select Data screen might indicate differently, but another screenshot seems to confirm full backup is supported?) –  Arjan Apr 30 '10 at 16:58
    
Yes, it does! Not in the free version, but both the home and pro editions have complete system recovery w/ bootable rescue media. See this screenshot from Home Edition for a reference: genie-soft.com/Images/ScreenShotsTimeline/ScreenShot3.jpg –  Mahmoud Al-Qudsi May 4 '10 at 1:02
    
The free edtion doesn't compare well with Time Machine - Doesn't back up Programs files even if explicitly tell it to - the versioning system populates the same directory with the other versions of the file naming them like file.txt file.1.txt file.2.txt. And tough if your for some reason name your originals like that. - no way to control how much of the old versions are kept –  Peto Sep 22 '10 at 20:24
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Peto - the inability to back-up Program Files was a bug, and has been fixed in the latest release (apologies for the inconvenience). We're working on making a clean snapshot-like copy of the latest data available for future versions. –  Mahmoud Al-Qudsi Oct 15 '10 at 11:39
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I have the 2.0 pro version, and the only thing I warn is that even though the features are almost as good has apple timemachine, its 100x times slower. Took 3 days to create a full backup of my 60gb system, and its taking almost 4h to do a incremental backup... jeez, optimize those reads/writes. And hangs my XP system way too much. I can't use Genie while working or watching a movie. –  mrlinx Nov 1 '10 at 22:38

I like the rdiff-backup command line backup program. With it you can backup to a remote location using delta compression, so only the changes in files are sent over the network (just like rsync). Also, it keeps X days worth of backups automatically for you so that you can always go back to a specific day's data. There is also a web interface for it to make it easier to navigate your backups and extract older files.

I use it to backup my desktop and all our servers.

Unfortunately it's a little tricky to get configured but once it's running it's great.

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It sounds really cool from a geeky^H^H^H^H^H technical perspective, but when I gave it a try I found some problems - for instance, it just won't handle file names that contain non-latin characters. (like romanian characters șțîăâ) - I used version 1.2.8 on Win7. Another thing, I couldn't find a decent GUI for it. –  Cristi Diaconescu Jun 2 '10 at 23:52

What version of Windows are you using?

If using Vista and/or Windows 7: Go to Control Panel -> Backup and Restore (or just start typing "Backup and Restore" into the Start menu search box). Select "Backup Files" (for simple file backups) or "Backup Computer" (for whole system backup). It will ask you where to back up to, and you can set schedules, etc. The interfaces differ slightly between Vista/Win7, but the process is similar.

Vista/Win7 also uses Shadow Copy Service to save previous versions of files. If you have a file you modified, but need a previous version of the file, right-click on it and select "Previous Versions". A list will come up with all if the previous versions of the file that you can either open, copy to a new location, or simply restore to the original location. These shadow copies are made at various points, including when restore points are made and backups are run. To restore a file you deleted (and hence, cannot right-click on it), simply right-click somewhere in the folder the file was in, and select Previous versions. You can then open past "versions" of that folder, find the file you deleted and restore it.

If you select "Backup Computer", this is where the fun starts. Vista/Win7 will actually back up your entire computer to a VHD file. This is the same file format that is used in Microsoft Virtual Machine technologies. So, it is a complete, full clone of your machine at that point in time. You can use it to restore the entire box. In Windows 7, you can even MOUNT the VHD file as a physical drive, and then browse the filesystem like it was a physical HDD. You can even mount a VHD from within other VHD's - its some seriously impressive stuff. Also, in a pinch, you can take the VHD of your backed-up computer and import it into a VirtualPC or Hyper-V setup and fire up the machine.

NOTES:

  • I have tested all of the above with Windows 7, and some of it in Vista. So, if my descriptions vary from Vista a bit, I apologize. I'm writing this from memory (been running Win7 for quite a while :)
  • If you have disabled "System Protection" on your machine, stuff like Previous Versions (and other stuff that works with Shadow Copy) will not be available, since you disabled the services used to perform that stuff.
  • By default, System Protection is enabled on the system drive (C: drive) by default. If you add partitions/additional drives, double-check to make sure it is enabled on those drives as well. (Go to Control Panel -> System -> System Protection).
  • As mentioned before, most of these functions can be scheduled, as well as be backed up to external drives, network shares, and DVDs.

If you are using XP, it does have System Restore on it, but I don't know if there is a nice interface to use its features. However, if you are still running XP, throw out your 2001 calendar... time has moved on, and so should you ;)

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Do the full backups also include the shadow copy versions of files; if you mount a VHD you would also have 'previous versions' of each file within that? –  JamesHenare Dec 2 '10 at 22:23
    
@dustin - Really impressive! Mac OS X Lion is just catching up. –  simpatico May 12 '11 at 8:28
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Incremental backups are not as fancy as with Time Machine. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 18 '11 at 18:40
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@7wp: Calm down brah. I was just pointing out that you have been able to mount Time Machine backups as virtual disks. The only one making this into a PC vs Mac war is you. –  Alan Jan 27 '12 at 19:03
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More or less the same? I am sad to say that the big thing that Windows backup doesn't do is manage space on your backup volume for you. You have to do that yourself. And instead of getting daily or multi-day copies of files WHEN THEY CHANGE, you only get full backups with Windows backup. It's not even close. –  Warren P Mar 26 '12 at 13:16

Acronis True Image will allow you to "mount" it's backup files as regular disk drives. You will have a choice from all the backups included in a given archive, by date. Then you can browse the archive in Explorer and access them from any program.

It's not sexy but it does work.

I don't think Shadow Copy by itself is what you want, even if you can access it with a nice UI. If you start running out of disk space there's nothing holding Windows back from overwriting the previous versions of your files. It's good for getting the previous version of a file you just overwrote by accident, but it's not a backup solution.

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I can no longer recommend Acronis True Image. On multiple occasions it has attempted to make a full backup instead of an incremental backup for no reason, which is annoying, slow and once free space on the backup drive runs out, starts overwriting older backups quickly. –  TomA Mar 18 '11 at 21:23
    
How Acronis manages its backup images is fully configurable. You can choose to allow it to automatically manage its backup set (either keep just one, or do smart automatic differential, and always keep a "full" copy around), or you can manually configure backup locations. It also has non-stop backup, which is pretty much the closest thing to Time Machine for windows as you can get. A continual stream of small, differential, moment-in-time backups that impose nearly zero impact on the system. I've been using Acronis True Image for about 8 months now...absolutely fantastic!! –  jrista Aug 3 '11 at 5:09
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I used Acronis for a year, and liked it, but more recently it has developed serious issues backing up over the network. Unfortunately their customer support is nonexistent; I haven't gotten so much as a confirmation in over a week. I've lost confidence in the software, and that's not acceptable for something as critical as backup. –  DNS Sep 6 '11 at 18:23

Windows 7 backup by default keeps a copy of the system image that can be used to restore the system after a hard drive failure. It also backs up user profiles and documents and allows you to restore previous versions of the file with relative ease. I don't know exactly how Time Machine works, but if your curious about backup functionality from a usability and protection stand, you might at least look at it (Windows 7 backup) to see if it meets your needs. :)

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Windows 7 backup finally allowed me to get rid of Acronis True Image, because it is the first Windows backup system that actually works and does EXACTLY what I need. Selective backups, incremental, backup locations, scheduling, easy restore of whole system or selected files, it's all there. The UI is very simple. –  TomA Apr 30 '10 at 12:43

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