MiniTool ShadowMaker Pro is a powerful suite of backup and disk utility tools available for Windows PCs. Whilst backup is clearly the main focus of this suite, functionality such as file/folder synchronisation, disk cloning and PC recovery help to compliment the core backup tool and make this a comprehensive backup application.
I tested the free version of MiniTool ShadowMaker a couple of years ago (click here to read) and was impressed at how far MiniTool had gone with a free version of their software. Of course, this Pro version builds much further than the free version bringing more backup types (including full and differential) into use, more scheduling and encryption options and, crucially, much higher version retention options, ideal for power users such as myself!
With all of these improvements and new features in mind, let’s go and see what this latest version of ShadowMaker Pro can do!
Key Features of ShadowMaker Pro
- Well designed and easy to use interface
- Supports full, incremental and differential backups
- Support for full disk and partition imaging
- Support for multiple backup sets
- Good scheduling engine (although minimum 1 hour interval!)
- Email status warnings (required SMTP credentials be supplied)
- Good versioning retention support (up to 99 versions)
- PC rescue media builder
- PC file & folder synchronisation tool
- Built-in zero-knowledge encryption (128bit AES)
- Lacks built-in cloud storage support
- Very reasonable, lifetime licence pricing ($158 for up to 3 PCs)
ShadowMaker Pro Usability
In this section of the review I will be looking at ShadowMaker Pro in more detail, starting off with the installation process and then using ShadowMaker Pro for backing up a PC in more depth.
Installing MiniTool ShadowMaker Pro 3.6
Installing ShadowMaker Pro begins by visiting the MiniTool website where a 30 day free trial version can be downloaded. At just over 2MB this was a very quick download (although the installer does download more data during the install).
Very little user intervention was required during the install, just a couple of clicks and then the application was asking for registration details. A 30 day free trial is available simply by requesting it from the registration screen or, alternatively, a full licence key can be entered here to activate the full version of the application.
With the licencing confirmed or the 30 day free trial activated, the ShadowMaker Pro application itself will now be ready to use!
Backing-up with ShadowMaker Pro
Now we have ShadowMaker Pro installed, we are ready to start making our first backup, we can begin by clicking on the “Backup” tab on the main menu which will open up the initial backup creation screen.
On the left of this screen we see the “Source” box, here we can initially specify whether we want to create a file or image based backup and then, in turn, which disks, files or folders are to be included in the new backup set.
For the purposes of my testing I will create a file based backup, this involves now selecting all of the individual files and folders to be included in the backup set (or simply selecting the user profile if this helps in selecting all files for a particular PC user).
Next, with all files selected for backup, we can specify the location (or target) to save our backup data onto, this could be an external hard drive, a flash drive or a shared file or network drive mapped on to the PC. Unfortunately, as of time of reviewing, ShadowMaker still does not provide formal support for cloud based backups, this means popular cloud storage service such as Amazon AWS S3, Google Drive and OneDrive amongst others are not available as backup targets within the application itself!
With the source and destination of this new backup set configured, we can now specify any advanced options using the “options” menu which is opened from the button of the same name at the bottom of the backup screen.
Once in the options screen we have multiple choices as to the specifics of how our new backup set will work, this includes the image creation mode (when using image based backups), the max file size (useful when backing up up to fixed size media such as DVDs), and the compression level (which can be zero, medium or high).
Moving on, we also have options here to set-up email alerts for this backup (which required SMTP credentials to be entered), exclude unnecessary Windows system files, shutdown the PC on completion and verify the backup after it has completed. Finally, we also have a tab allowing us to apply user-defined AES encryption to the backup set (but be sure to remember your password when using this feature as it can be reset if forgotten).
Whilst it is indeed great to see the options for user-defined encryption available here, it is slightly disappointing MiniTool, as of writing this review, only offer up to 128-bit AES encryption. Whilst this will be absolutely fine for many backup use cases, it is something to be aware of if you prefer 256-bit encryption!
Next, having specified the files and folders to be backed up, the target location and any advanced options (including compression and password protection), all that remains before running our new backup set is to specify a backup scheme and schedule (again, both have buttons for opening the respective configuration windows at the bottom of the backup set configuration screen as is shown below).
Starting with the “Backup Scheme” page first, here we can choose between full, incremental and differential backup methods being used with this set. The best type of backup scheme to use will, of course, depend upon your own circumstances, but for my backup I will choose the incremental option given this will usually produce the fastest backup times once the initial (full) backup has been completed.
As well as setting the backup scheme to be used, we can also set the number of versions of our backup files we wish to keep (in other words, how far back we would like to recover files from). This can be set between 1 and 99 versions meaning, for example, if we set it to 30 and do a daily backup, then we will have 30 days of history to recover any modified files from (this box is pointed out in the previous image).
Next, the Schedule tool allows us to run our new backup set on a fixed schedule, for example, every hour, once per day, 3 days per week or on a specified day of the month. This tool is easy to use and specify a schedule within, however, the most frequent time interval is just 1 hour meaning real-time backups (every 15 minutes or less) are not available, which is a little bit disappointing for a “Pro” version of such a tool (and hopefully something MiniTool address in the near future).
With everything now configured we can choose to run the backup immediately at this point or start off the scheduling process and await the tool to start the next backup itself, the progress of any backup set can be monitored from the “Manage” screen as is seen below:
This backup management screen (above) is also where we can see all of the other backup sets we have configured on our PC (we can have as many sets as we like) and where each one can be edited, turned on / off, deleted or verified for integrity amongst other things if and when required.
Restoring within MiniTool ShadowMaker Pro
Now we have a backup set configured and running, we can look at restoring files from it whilst also making use of the previously mentioned file versioning functionality. Restoring starts from the “Restore” tab within the main application where we will be able to see all backups sets we are able to restore from.
Clicking “Restore” next to any of the available sets will start the file restore wizard, first job of which will be to select the date to restore from to ensure we have the correct version of our recovered data.
Next, with the correct file version selected, we can choose the files to recover using the file picking tool and then a location on our PC to restore them to (although, interestingly, the option to restore to the original location seems to be missing?).
With these options set, ShadowMaker Pro will then go about recovering these files and saving them in the specified recovery location.
Other Tools within ShadowMaker Pro
Now we have looked at the main backup functionality within ShadowMaker Pro, we can look at some of the other tools we have available within this application. Starting off with the Sync tool which is available form the main app menu, this is a tool that can be used to keep two folders or network shares in synchronisation with each other automatically!
As can be seen above, similar to when we created a backup set, we must specify the two folders or network shares to be kept in sync and then set a schedule for the synchronisation to take place upon. Unfortunately, as with backing data up earlier on, this scheduling seems to have a limitation of a 1 hour minimal interval which is not ideal here, especially if you are looking for real-time synchronisation!
Moving on and we also see a “Tools” entry on the main app menu, form here we can see many of the other supplementary tools available within ShadowMaker Pro:
As can be seen above, we have access to a disk cloning tool (which will support migrating to an SSD drive), a boot menu builder (allows booting to recovery environment without a boot disk) and tools for mounting and dismounting image based backup sets as drives within Windows itself (ideal for easily browsing files in a backup set prior to recovery).
We also have access to a recovery media building tool, this is an important addition as, with a copy of a full image backup, will allow a non-booting PC (or a new or replacement PC) to be booted and then recovered to the state of the image backup which is being used (this means all data and applications should be preserved and protected in such cases).
ShadowMaker Pro Security
One of the most important features within any backup software is the ability to apply strong, user-defined encryption to any backup sets created with the software. ShadowMaker Pro does feature built-in zero knowledge encryption which can easily be set for any given backup set via the options page.
Unfortunately, at time of writing this review, MiniTool only offer up to 128-bit AES encryption on such backup sets. Whilst this is still secure and acceptable in many use cases, AES 256-bit encryption is better and is becoming much more available else ware, something to bear in mind if your backup requirements need such protection!
MiniTool have very good user documentation which is available on their support website and is supplemented by multiple FAQ sections. Further support can be obtained via their dedicated support email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via the live chat system available on their support pages.
ShadowMaker Pro Pricing
MiniTool ShadowMaker Pro is priced as follows:
- $20 per month for 1 PC
- $10 per month (annual subscription) for 2 PCs
- $158 Lifetime licence for 3PCs
At $158 for a lifetime licence for up to 3PCs this is, in my opinion at least, the best value here! Should you want to try ShadowMaker Pro for yourself a 30 day free trial is available by clicking here.
MiniTool ShadowMaker Pro (version 3.6) is a solid backup tool which features many other useful additions such as disk cloning tools, PC recovery media and file synchronisation abilities amongst others. It is also great to see full support for disk imaging backups as well as just file level backups which make this tool very useful, not only just for backing up, but also for easily recovering from hardware failures and the like as well.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest disappointments with ShadowMaker Pro is that cloud storage options (such as Google Drive and OneDrive) are not built directly into this tool, although it should be said there is good support for using either external drives or shared drives (NAS systems) making it ideal for performing locally stored PC backups.
Another slightly disappointing element to ShadowMaker Pro is the scheduling tool which only allows a minimal interval between automatic backups of just 1 hour, for someone who works a lot in 1 hour this could be too long of a time between backups (I would like to see a 15 min option at a minimum here). Furthermore, this same scheduling tool is also used with the synchronisation tool meaning the most you can synchronise two folders with such a tool is again, once per hour, probably too infrequent for many people including myself!
Having said all of this, I do like ShadowMaker Pro, it is probably more suited to making local backups or working with a locally installed NAS device but, with these few omissions aside, it does work well and is very easy to use which is a key component MiniTool have managed to get right.
Overall, a solid backup tool, particularly suited to those wanting easy to manage local backups – a good job MiniTool!