Genie Backup Manager has been up there with the best for years. Its wizard-based approach, support for a range of back-up media and expandability thanks to hundreds of plug-ins has always made it worth considering, but there have been question marks.

One of these was reliability. Genie used to struggle with backing up open files, and we found it kept failing to complete scheduled backups. Version 8 tweaks the back-up engine for better support for files that may be open (email is a typical culprit here).

It also throws in a new Disaster Recovery module, which enables you to back up and restore your PC, even if you can't load Windows. It's not image-based like TrueImage or Ghost, but it's simple to use and effective.

This is a timely new feature: although Windows Vista Business and Ultimate Edition users have this functionality built-in, other Vista editions merely back up files and settings, so Genie has ensured that it doesn't become obsolete for Vista users.

Simple to use

Genie employs a wizard-based approach. You can split your backups into separate categories, so email is handled separately from your documents folder, for instance. This enables you to schedule Genie to back these up at different times, depending on how often you need the backup updated.

Many back-up tools only support a limited number of back-up devices, but Genie scores points for supporting CD, DVD and online backup. In the latter case, you can use the spare capacity on your own Web space, or sign up for online storage with Genie. Prices start at £2.50 per month for 1GB of space.

What you choose to back up is split into three tabs: My Profile contains key folders and settings, including Outlook and Outlook Express email; media files; and Registry settings. My Folders makes it possible to hand-pick any folders or files on your hard drive.

Back-up options a-plenty

What gives Genie the edge over many of its rivals is the third option: My Plugins. Each plugin supports a different program, and a number are included with Genie. Click "Download New Free Plugins", though, and you'll be whisked off to the Genie Web site where you'll find nearly 400 more, including Firefox, Nero and a decent collection of games.

Armed with this, you can ensure all those carefully crafted program settings won't go to waste when you next reinstall Windows.

Once this is done, you'll find plenty of other options from encryption to compression levels and then it's time to back up. Genie is bursting with options, and the only slight letdown is that each back-up job can only be backed up to one location.

Although it's now possible to alternate between full and incremental backups within the same back-up job using the scheduler, you still can't instruct Genie to back up to alternate locations for greater data security. Instead, you'll have to create a separate back-up job.

This niggle aside, the fact remains that Genie is still an essential tool for anyone serious about backing up their data and settings.

Version 8 is a giant leap forward, and Genie has ensured that it remains viable in the face of Vista's improved back-up tool, while 2000 and XP users should consider it an essential purchase.