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Incremental backups are the true backbone of any backup system. Incremental backups build on the initial full backup by saving files that have changed.

Once you have a full image backup of your computer, which includes everything on the hard drive, a series of subsequent backups can be significantly quicker and smaller.

Incremental backups backup only those files that have changed since the immediately preceding backup. Because many of the files on our computers are essentially unchanging, this can represent a significant saving in both time and space.

I'll walk you through creating an incremental image backup using Macrium Reflect.

The backup definition file

When we created our full system image backup, Macrium also created a "backup definition file" that contained all of the settings associated with that backup, including the drives to be backed up, the location in which to place the backup, and any additional configuration settings.

It's that backup definition file that we use now.

Click the Backup Definition File tab in Macrium:

Macrium Backup Definition Files tab

Taking the incremental backup

In the resulting list of backup definition files, right-click the one that represents the full backup that you've already taken.

Then click Run Now in the menu and click Incremental in the drop-down menu that appears.

Macrium Incremental Backup option

The incremental backup will start immediately.

The backup should take less time because fewer files will need to be backed up.

Once complete, you'll have two (or more) files for the backup set:

Macrium image files after an incremental backup

The larger file in this example contains the original full image backup. The smaller file contains the incremental backup just completed. Note that its filename has an incremented counter in it. Additional incremental backups built on this set would continue to produce files with incrementing counters.


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Video Transcript

This is Leo Notenboom for

Creating incremental image backups in Macrium Reflect.

In a previous video, we created a full image backup. Now, based on that image backup, it's time to start creating incremental backups that build on top of it.

To do this, we actually go to these Backup Definition Files. If you recall, when we created that full image backup, in addition to creating the backup itself at the same time, it created a backup definition file in .xml format. That backup definition file is what we use now to define what the backup will be.

Once again, it's a backup of our C: drive and its destination is the D: drive root. We right-click on the file that we're going to do; select Run Now and Incremental - that's it. The incremental backup is underway. This should be significantly quicker than the full backup as it should only copy those files that have changed since the full backup was taken.

As you can see, this time our backup took less than five minutes. If we go take a look at the D: drive where the backup was placed, we'll find there are now two files: One, the original full image backup that we took originally and a second one with the same backup ID number, but an incrementing number next to it. That image is the incremental image of things that changed between the time we that took the original backup and the incremental.

Next Steps

The next video in the series: Macrium Reflect 5: Scheduling Backups.

Article C4990 - November 25, 2011 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

November 29, 2011 7:10 PM

Maybe I missed it, but was it mentioned that the free version does not support incremental backups? Also, I would like to update to the latest free version 5.0 from 4.2. Does anyone know whether you must uninstall the old version before downloading the new, or will it overwrite? (there seems to be no way to update from within the program itself).

Mark J
November 30, 2011 12:34 AM

One of the important differences between the Free and the Pro editions is that the Free edition doesn't do incremental backups. If you install a upgrade version, it will automatically uninstall the older version.
Macrium Knowledge Base

John A.
November 30, 2011 7:30 AM

I wasted 10 minutes trying to do this (this 'tip' was in Leo's Answers #311 emails) only to discover that it's only possible in the pay for version. How about an upfront note to this effect.

November 30, 2011 9:24 AM

Thanks, Mark J.

Cat Tilley
January 14, 2012 11:21 AM

What you can do, is do a full backup monthly (after Update Tuesday is a good day, after installing updates). And before any major software changes.

The best thing one can do is when one buys a new computer, is after updating, and installing you preferred programs, and getting rid of the usual "crapware", is to do a full system image. That way, you can always restore your PC to "like new" condition.

If the backup is old, it may show as "non-genuine" (black screen) at first, but after installing any new updates & rebooting, it'll be OK.

For incremental backups, you can do it for free with the latest Todo Backup (currently version 4.0). It's the only free backup source that I know of that supports incremental backups.


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