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Windows 7 Backup gets users' backs up

Worst. Thing. Ever.

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Windows 7 Backup is getting trashed in a Microsoft forum for being unbelievably bad and stupefyingly slow.

Users are posting stories that should defy belief. Jon Hell posted on April 23 that he is backing up 900GB of data on a quad core PC with 7GB of RAM; "After twenty four hours Windows Backup had managed to complete 18 per cent of the backup, but after forty eight hours, it had got even slower, and had only reached 23 per cent of the full backup."

He gave up and changed to Acronis True Image Home which completed the backup in six hours. His conclusion about Windows Backup? "It is an insult."

This backup thread started in August 2009 with the Windows 7 RTM (Release To Manufacturing) code. John Dougrez-Lewis was the first poster, and wrote that he could use file copy to move 250GB of file data to an external eSATA drive in an hour at a speed of 72MB/sec. When he did the same job using Windows 7 RTM Backup it took 14 hours, roughly 5MB/sec - more than 14 times slower.

Windows 7 Backup does compressed backups, which extends backup time compared to file copying, and the first backup is a full one, necessarily taking longer than the subsequent incremental backups. It does not try to compress already compressed files, though. The surprising thing is that this is a disk-to-disk backup and Microsoft has produced a disk-based backup that is slower than some tape backup jobs, and slower than Vista backup.

A Microsoft person, SriramB, responded to the first post, saying:

Thanks for trying out Windows Backup. We have made significant changes in the backup application since Vista to address major customer pain-points. Hope you find the Windows7 backup/restore solution meeting all your needs.

We are committed to continue engaging with customers like you, listening to valuable feedback and addressing them in future releases.

But more complaints flooded in on the thread, and Microsoft continued to say it was doing something about it. For example, MS program manager Christine Fok replied to user Cathode on September 22, 2009, saying: "We hear your concern and … we're looking into this issue."

SriramB responded to another thread poster in October, saying:

In Windows7 we simplified the confusion around when users should take a file backup and when users should take a system image backup. Now both these can be scheduled as part of same backup configuration.

However... it has the side-effect of backing up data potentially twice (depending on what is selected for file backup). System image backup includes all the critical volumes (boot volume, system volume, volume where any Windows service is installed). It would backup the entire volume (all the used space on the volume) as VHD files (one per volume). File backup backups up the folders included in backup. It would backup the files inside them as ZIP files. The amount of duplication depends on whether the folders selected as part of file backup are present on any of the critical volumes.

Note that the slowness is expected only for the full backups. The subsequent incremental backups should be faster as only the changes are backed up.

We hear your feedback and will definitely try to address this in future release.

Posters noted that if Windows 7 is shut down during backup then backup starts afresh next time it is run. If the PC is shut down each day before backup is complete, it will never be protected. There is apparently no warning in the shutdown window to leave your PC on if backup is still running.

Christine Fok responded: "I agree that a warning prior to shutdown and/or a mechanism to automatically continue with the backup afterwards should be considered. We'll attempt to improve this experience in future releases."

Poster mcb offered this thought on December 16:

I confirm this problem. I have a 1 TB system partition and a 2 TB data/work partition, and the initial backup is so slow that I ended up finding this thread. It is doing about 2-5% per day, and the status indicator is a generic "Copying files to F:\" most of the time (only occasionally do you see the file that is being copied). Not sure it is a compression issue: the four CPU cores are mostly idle. Does Microsoft really expect customers to wait weeks for a backup to complete, with not even a decent progress indicator?

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