Drive Image 4

PowerQuest Corp.’s Drive Image is one great backup tool. Within a few minutes, you can have a near-perfect copy of a hard drive or partition–complete with boot sector, Windows, and hidden files–in one compressed (but still huge) image file. But Drive Image has always had a major problem: Where, aside from your hard drive, could you put that big file?

The new $69 Drive Image 4.0 takes a major step toward fixing that problem by adding CD-Recordable and CD-Rewritable support. The new version also overcomes some problems with Windows Me, NT, and 2000. Unfortunately, the new features are poorly documented, and the user interface isn’t entirely thought-out.

Floppy-Free Launching

Drive Image is a DOS program–there’s simply no way for it to do its job from inside Windows. It’s always been easy to launch the application from an icon within Windows 9x, causing Windows to exit and the DOS program to start up. But Windows NT, 2000, and Me can’t exit to DOS, so previous versions of Drive Image required you to reboot from a floppy to load the program.

Version 4.0 solves that problem. Now the icon reboots your computer to a DOS-based virtual floppy disk, where Drive Image loads. It’s a good solution, but not a flawless one. For instance, if you’re using Windows 98, Drive Image takes dramatically longer to load than the previous version did–by nearly a factor of four on my test system.

This virtual floppy is also responsible for one small annoyance. Every program saves data to a default location (such as My Documents). Drive Image 4.0’s default location is that small, temporary virtual floppy–but that disk isn’t big enough to hold an image file, so you must direct the file elsewhere. Since you can’t change the default, you have to tell the program to save to a different location every time you create or open a file.

On the other hand, one of the places you can direct your files to is your CD-RW drive, making this edition of the program more viable as a backup utility. If your image won’t fit on one CD, Drive Image will let you span multiple discs. You’ll need an IDE or SCSI CD-R or CD-RW drive (the application doesn’t support parallel port or Universal Serial Bus drives).

One quirk: Drive Image can only write to unformatted CDs. That means that CD-RW discs must be new and unused, or you must erase them with something like Adaptec DirectCD’s CD-RW Eraser. CD-R discs must be new and unused.

That restriction wouldn’t be much of a problem if it were properly documented. Trying to write to a formatted CD-RW disc yields an unhelpful, undocumented error message. And the printed documentation tells you less about this formatting rule than what I told you in the previous paragraph.

But once you have an image saved to a CD, you have protection. In fact, with the right hardware, you’ll be able to boot directly from that CD into Drive Image–even if it spans several CDs–after which you can easily restore your hard drive.

Another Kind of Image Editor

Drive Image 4.0 comes with some additional programs that, unlike the main one, run in Windows. One of them, the Image File Editor, allows you to examine the contents of your images, restore single files from them, combine multiple images into one file, or split an image into smaller pieces (useful if your CD-RW drive is not among the many that Drive Image supports).

Another bundled program, PowerQuest Data Keeper, handles small, everyday backups, making it a nice compliment to Drive Image, which is more appropriate for big, “get everything, use occasionally” backups. Data Keeper, which is also available separately, works in the background, backing up files as you create and alter them.

Other backup programs cost less than Drive Image, but few can restore a drive so quickly and so exactly to its previous condition. The program is definitely worth its price, despite the minor shortcomings noted here.

If you’re already using Drive Image, should you upgrade? If you have Windows 2000, Windows Me, or a CD-RW drive, the answer is yes. Otherwise, stick with your old version.