Retrospect Express Backup v5.5

Reviewed by: Howard Carson
Published by: Dantz Development Corporation
Requires: Windows 95 through XP, Mac OS8.x or higher
MSRP: $49.95

In 1997, Gartner Group predicted that exponential increases in hard drive capacity would make routine, frequent backups a real necessity for every computer owner. As hard drives got bigger and bigger, they might be more prone to failure, thus the need for backups. Hard drives are more reliable now than ever before. But user errors such as accidentally deleting an entire folder full of recent work, releasing a virus into your system or network, or damage from a flaky installer accompanying some new piece of shareware occurs with infuriating regularity. Hard drives aren't perfect either mind you. Fast forward from '97 and we're confronted with the realities of enormous amounts of valuable files and data that must be backed up for protection. You need a life saver. Enter Retrospect Express Backup.

Dantz Development has a large line of Retrospect backup software for Windows and Mac, designed to perform system, incremental and spot backups of desktop computers, workstations and servers in home, home/office and network environments. We tested Retrospect Express Backup v5.5 on two Windows machines and an iMac. Installation on the PII/350 Windows 98SE and PIII/1GHz Windows 2000 computers and creaky old G3 iMac DV was flawless. The computers were fitted with 128MB, 512MB, and 256MB of RAM respectively. There's nothing quite like reviewing software on underpowered hardware to really see how well everything can work.


We backed up five different hard drives ranging in size from 12GB to 40GB, containing data sizes between 8GB and 22GB. Testing consisted of one full backup of each hard drive in each computer to either a Tecmar Travan NS20 tape drive, a Seagate Hornet STT28000N tape drive, a Sony CD-RW CRX160E or an Iomega 2GB Jaz drive. We also wrote some fresh data to each drive and tried some incremental and spot backups. After performing backups we wiped large sections out of each drive (including the Registry on one of the Windows machines), then did full restores from either the backup media or the emergency startup disks.

Retrospect Express Backup works well. However, Dantz Development needs a bit of a User Interface and Online Help wake-up call. The UI is not particularly intuitive and Dantz should consider providing a plain language wizard in the software or a step-by-step tutorial in the Online Help system. The existing workflow for straightforward backups certainly works properly, but novice users will find themselves questioning different configuration settings. In addition, the main configuration dialog or window spawns separate configuration dialogs of its own. New users should read the online help, readme and printed documentation thoroughly, walk themselves through the UI, then do a quick test backup and restore before undertaking a system backup. The extra half hour spent familiarizing yourself with Retrospect will be worth the effort, paying off in quicker backup setups and restores in the future.

Cons: Average UI, poor documentation. The "Forget" command is used to remove old backup sets from the catalog so that old tapes can be erased. Forget(?) is not a widely used term. Erasing a tape should update the catalog and vice versa automatically. Read all the online help, all the text displayed on the user interface (especially in the configuration dialogs), and all supplied documentation. Failure to do so may foul up your backup and restore efforts. Dantz could really help itself and its users by doing a complete UI and workflow review of Retrospect.

Pros: The UI aside - it's a utility after all - once you get to know it Retrospect Express works quickly with a wide range of tape backup devices and CD-R/RW drives. Backup speed is limited only by the bus and drive speed for the media being used. We couldn't get it to fail except when we forced a problem with the CD-RW by using some old 1x CD-R media - not a Retrospect issue. Restoration of data - the true test of backup software - was also flawless. Recommended.




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