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MiniTool ShadowMaker Review (Free Version)

A genuinely useful free tool for those wanting a basic backup and recovery solution.

MiniTool ShadowMaker Review v3.1 (Free Edition)

Features - 86%
Usability - 89%
Security - 85%
Support - 88%
Pricing - 100%

90%

Very Good

A genuinely useful free tool for those wanting a basic backup and recovery solution.

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MiniTool ShadowMaker v3.1 (Free Edition)

Today I am looking at MiniTool’s ShadowMaker Free edition, a free backup application primarily used for performing local PC backups!

As well as performing both image and file level backups ShadowMaker Free also allows synchronising of folders and offers some other useful tools including a good scheduling engine and recovery media console amongst others.

There is a Pro version of ShadowMaker available for $29 which offers additional features including advanced encryption support, universal restore, command line tools and the ability to manage backups through the WinPE based recovery console.

For this review however, I will be focusing on the Free edition!

Features

  • Software appears stable, well built and performs as expected
  • Perform full system Image, partition and file level backups
  • Good Scheduling options (although no real-time option)
  • Limited encryption options (no control over encryption used)
  • Limited compression options (choose off, normal or high)
  • Disk cloning tool included
  • SMTP based backup reporting included
  • Automatic backup verification
  • Limited to only Incremental backups (Full and Differential only in Pro version)
  • Limited version retention period (3 versions)
  • Folder synchronisation (although hourly is most frequent sync time)
  • Good recovery console (WinPE based recovery media)
  • A good set of features on offer for free software!

Usability

Backing Up:

One of the first things which surprised me with ShadowMaker was how quick and easy it was to install! Generally most home software these days is straightforward to install but MiniTool really have gotten this down to just a few seconds and a few clicks on the installer before having the application up and ready to use, a brilliant start!

shadowmaker review install screen

Once the application is running the available tools are all easily accessible via a toolbar at the top of the application, the first backup set can be created by simply clicking on the green “SET UP BACKUP” button in the middle of the screen.

shadowmaker review empty home screen

When configuring the backup the application offers an initial choice of performing an image backup of the entire system (or partition) or alternatively a file and folder level backup. Disappointingly however, it would appear in the Free version we only have the option to have one active backup set at a time meaning a daily file backup coupled with a weekly image backup isn’t possible in this version.

Having chosen the file level backup the next task is to specify which files and folders are to be included. ShadowMaker features its own, bespoke file and folder selection tool which feels a little bit unusual to use at first but actually makes selecting the necessary files easy thanks to the commonly used shortcuts on the left hand side.

shadowmaker backup type selection

Once the necessary file have been selected for backup we will see the backup set ready to run on the main Backup tab, from the Options button just below we can set access some more advanced settings for our new backup set.

shadowmaker backup options screen

In the options screen we have some useful options available including the ability to set basic compression and encryption options and to have the software automatically verify backups for us as they finish.

It is nice to see the compression options available in the free version of this software although the controls over both are lacking meaning if you want more options over the encryption algorithm used for example you would need to upgrade to the ShadowMaker Pro version.

shadowmaker encryption options screen

In the case of image backups we also have some other useful options including the ability to include only used sectors making the backup quicker and more space efficient as well as the option to split up one image into multiple files for storage on flash drives, DVD’s etc.

Finally ShadowMaker Free helpfully allows for email reports to be sent on completed backups, this does however rely on having access to SMTP credentials which must be entered into the application directly.

shadowmaker smtp report options screen

The Backup tab also hosts the button used to enter the scheduling screen where we can specify how frequently our backup should run. The scheduling tool is very easy to use however unfortunately the most frequent interval is hourly meaning this software is potentially not suitable for some use cases!

shadowmaker scheduling options tool

Whilst not available in the Free version it is worth noting the Pro version of ShadowMaker offers event based backup (e.g. trigger the backup when logging in) as well as the option of backing up via the command line allowing potentially unlimited backup schedules to be considered.

Restoring

Restoring with ShadowMaker is a reliability simple process which begins on the Restore tab found on the top menu within the application.

shadowmaker restore screen

Once selected the software will ask for the date / time of the backup to be selected and then the option to browse and select the necessary files will be given.

shadowmaker restore file selection scren

Once files have been selected a target must be selected for the files to be restored to. There doesn’t appear to be a quick option to restore to the original location and overwrite (unless this location is specified manually) but I always prefer to restore to another location so this isn’t an issue for me.

Other Features

In addition to the fundamental backup and restore properties ShadowMaker includes several other useful features which are great to see in a free application.

Firstly the folder synchronisation tool is a very useful addition which allows for two separate folders, potentially over a network to be kept in sync with each other.

shadowmaker sync screen

Disk cloning is also great to see here meaning should you ever upgrade your PCs hard drive your PCs hard drive ShadowMaker can automatically clone your system and configure the new drive ready for use.

There is also an excellent recovery media console which allows for a WinPE based recovery disk / flash drive to be built and booted from in the event your PC wont boot normally for whatever reason. Be aware to make use of this recovery media you must have an image backup completed first!

Security

Whilst it is possible to password protect backups it is simply an on or off solution which can optionally be set via the backup options screen. More advanced users wanting to specify the encryption method used can do by upgrading to the Pro version.

Whilst this is a fairly basic solution it is promising to see MiniTool have at least included something as this is not always the case with free versions so well done for that MiniTool!

Support

MiniTool provide 24/7 support via email and the comment sections on their (very good) product knowledge base. I have not tested support responses but it should be noted they do specify licenced users get priority support which, in all fairness is to be expected!

Pricing

Minitool ShadowMaker Free is free to use!

Summary

When reviewing free software I am always very conscious that the companies behind them have to make money and obviously want to sell upgrades to those who might need them.

Having said this I feel MiniTool have done a good job in keeping enough of the important functionality available within the free version of ShadowMaker and as such have produced a genuinely useful tool for those wanting a basic backup solution.

Well done MiniTool!

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