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By | Chris Mellor 22nd June 2010 16:28

Windows 7 Backup gets users' backs up

Worst. Thing. Ever.

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?

System image workaround

Fok posted again on the forum thread on Christmas Eve, 2009, saying: "Thanks for all the comments and responses regarding the performance on Windows Backup. The issue has been identified to occur on systems with large data set size. Please refer to the following post for further details and workaround."

The Technet post starts: "Windows Backup is optimised to help home users protect their important data on their PCs and this is typically expected to be 200GB of data on average. On a PC that contains significantly larger data size, Windows Backup’s performance may degrade. If you need to back up more than 400GB of data, we recommend that you backup your PC using a system image."

It then provides details on how to run a system image backup. Windows 7 renamed the Complete PC Backup feature of Windows Vista to System Image in Windows 7, and this confused and irritated users. The System Image backup process doesn't display a progress bar as the Windows Backup facility does, which further annoys users.

Also, SriramB said system image backup "is meant for a one-time/infrequent use to take a backup of the system volumes plus other volumes you are interested in. The scheduled backup is what is meant for taking automatic/regular backups of your valuable data."

This recommendation to use system image backup did not damp down the furore on the thread; it continued unabated. Rei Miyasaka posted on October 12, 2009: "VHD backup is a great technology, but the UI made it very awkward in Windows Vista, and the UI made it completely unusable and dangerous in Windows 7. With all due respect, you people are not doing your job right. At all."

He also said: "System image is still excruciatingly slow, and that's not doing compression. System image took only a few hours on Windows Vista with the same amount of data. Now it takes a day."

Poster Donny wrote: "System image cannot solve my problems because I don't want to backup entire C:\ drive as often as I want to back up my other data (once a week)," and it can't do an incremental backup."

What the users want is a proper fix and not a workaround.

It has not been forthcoming. On January 9, 2010, Stuardad posted:

Windows 7 Backup IS A DISASTER. Now, it is time to stop trying to find workarounds. When is the Product Manager from Microsoft who is accountable for the Windows 7 Backup Program going to address this? Who at Microsoft is accountable for this? It is not acceptable that Windows users have had a Windows backup solution that worked until Windows 7 and nobody from Microsoft is fessing up to accountability for this.

My name is Stuart Curley. I am the Chief Technical Architect at Royal Mail and I find this unacceptable.

He posted again on February 10, addressing Christine Fok directly:

Hi Christine

… It is now 6 months since this problem was raised on this forum. You acknowledged almost 4 months later that this problem was real. Windows 7 has been in RTM and Beta for much longer and either your team never did any load testing on the new Backup solution or Microsoft decided to let it out of the gate knowing the problem. So, please, when is Microsoft going to own up that this is a problem that needs to be fixed by Microsoft and when will a patch be released.

Please be straight with us.

As of the last post on the thread, dated June 19, ten months after the problem was first highlighted, Microsoft has still not offered any response other than the system image workaround. Poster CodeSlinger wrote: "Windows 7 backup is a total piece of ____ because it is way too slow! Your excuses are totally pathetic and disgusting. Just fix the damn thing!!!" ®

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