IMHO Acronis is probably the best, it is not expensive and when it comes to system imaging and backup it's best not to cut corners and you can get a full working trial copy for a month. There are however some free packages about:
I have always just the Windows Backup and Restore to make images. It is reliable, but it does not have certain options some of the others do, such as having more control over partition selection and size during a restore.
But whatever you get, make sure you image the primary OS plus any boot partitions. Windows does this automatically, but the others may not unless told to do so.
I use Acronis 2011 for my PC and Acronis 2010 for wife's. Had to restore my PC many times (I play a lot and tend to fudge things a lot) and never had a restore fail. I also believe Acronis is worth the expense. For free Macrium Reflect is good but the free version is missing some key features. I would lean toward the pay edition of Macrium as well.
Acronis here, too. I have moved along with subsequent releases. 2011 now. It has saved my butt more times than I can count. A very speedy way to get rid of suspect malware and, with thought and care, still one of the fastest ways to get rid of, and, in many cases, track down Bsods - 15 minutes as opposed to, somtimes, 15 days or more!
I like to do my backups by making a clone of the system HDD. Then if I have a hard disk failure of any kind, I can use the clone in place of the failed drive. Or if the system drive is just "messed up" I can use the clone as the source and the "messed up" system drive as the destination.
Acronis users, a couple of questions:
Does the clone function reboot to a DOS like environment to do the clone?
What drive letter does it assign the clone? (Assume you have a "C" system drive as clone source and a "D" drive as clone destination.)
Can you boot the clone while the original "C" is still installed?
I downloaded a trial copy, but the clone feature is disabled in the trial version, so I can't do any testing of the clone feature.
An Image can do the same thing as a clone, except you have to spend about 10 minutes restoring to the new HD. Plus an Image allows you to keep multiple backups at different phases of your PC. With a clone, you have just one copy when the clone was made. With an Image, I make a new Image when I make a change on my HD. This way I can keep as many of these Images as I want. Plus the Image file can include any and all partitions on my PC. For example when I create an Image I include my Win 7 partition, my Win 8 DP partition, and my data partition. I can then restore any of the partitions I wish from this one file.
I agree that is why I do a full image back up of my C drive to a different internal HD on a weekly basis using Macrium Reflect, I do a scheduled full back up using the W7 backup feature to a external HD. I keep 3 weeks worth of images on hand for both backups in case of a major failure. I have 4 internal Hard drives so getting going again would be no problem.
Yes I believe in redundancy for images
I have done a lot more research on clones. It seems that Acronis requires that the clone be installed in place of the original if you want to boot it as a test. And Acronis boots to a Linux system to do the clone. Reason is to prevent Windows from making a change while the clone process is underway.
Macrium Reflect 5.0 takes a "snapshot" of the original and makes the clone from the snapshot. Windows continues to run. I cloned my "C" boot drive to a second HDD "G". Then I changed the HDD boot order in the BIOS to boot the "G" HDD. The "G" drive booted. Windows Disk Manager showed "C" drive still there but the drive was no longer marked as "System" or "Boot". The original "G" clone was marked "System" and "Boot" and drive letters assigned as "H" for System Reserved and "D" as the Windows partition. And when I changed the boot back to the "C" drive, "C" booted and all drive letters and "System" and "Boot" marks were changed back to original values.
PERFECT!! Just what I want. An exact clone of my system disk that I can boot to test, without having to remove and replace any hardware.