There are two types of backup software: those that backup an entire partition (boot record and all), and those that only backup files and folders. Simply put, neither is “better” than the other. Both have their benefits and drawbacks.
So which should you choose?
Restore your entire computer, or just your files?
Some people couldn’t care less about their system settings, what their desktop wallpaper is, what their start menu looks like, etc. For them, file and folder backup is preferred. You get to do a fresh install of your Operating System every time your computer takes a dump. You re-install your programs, restore all your files, and you’re done. There’s the added benefit that everything is “fresh.” Your OS and programs are all at their latest versions. There’s no bloatware and everything just seems faster.
However, there are those of us who believe a backup should backup everything, including the exact state the computer is in. If you’re good at keeping your computer free of bloatware, and you want to spend the absolute minimum amount of time restoring your computer, full disk imaging is for you. However, you must be sure to choose the right software for the job. Since you’re creating an image of your computer, you’ll be at the mercy of whatever proprietary format your backup software uses. Choose software from a company that has been in business a long time, has an excellent support base, and is easy to use.
To summarize, here are the pros and cons to full disk imaging and file/folder backups.
Pros of Full Disk Imaging
- Captures the exact state the computer is in
- Less time required to restore
Cons of Full Disk Imaging
- Proprietary formats. If the company goes out of business, your old backups might become inaccessible.
- A corrupted disk image can render all your backups useless (which is why it’s important to verify your backups)
Pros of File and Folder Backups
- You get to do a fresh install of your OS and programs, while still keeping your most important files
Cons of File and Folder Backups
- It takes time to re-install everything
I hope this helps clarify the differences between these two very important backup formats.