If you want to back up a computer, there’s nothing more direct than making a copy of the contents. It’s the easiest way to go, and often the fastest.

We used Acronis True Image (www.acronis.com) to back up over 100 gigabytes from our laptop onto a Maxtor One Touch external drive. It took more

than 24 hours using a USB-1 connection for the transfer. Using USB-2 could have cut that to less than an hour. But it was an old laptop and didn’t have USB-2; such is life.

As with Norton Ghost, a disk image copier we reviewed last year, you can make either a full or partial restoration from Acronis True Image. You can also use it for partial backups. Once you’ve made a copy of your whole hard drive, you can add to that copy by backing up changes you’ve made to files. This can all go on in the background while you continue to work with your computer.

While we backed up the laptop to a large external drive, you can also use CDs, DVDs or tape for backups. The True Image interface is clean and very easy to use, and it gives you choices for the backup media. The list price is only $50 (we remember when image programs used to cost hundreds), and we found it for just $33 with a search at froogle.com.

NOTE: When you do searches for discount prices, you will often find that prices change even from one day to the next, so don’t hold us to that $33.

The image problem

Universal Imaging Utility is a program from Binary Research that solves the problem of cloning a system onto hundreds or thousands of computers in a large business. Binary Research, by the way, is the company that used to provide tech support for the imaging program Ghost.

Cloning systems is a problem for large businesses because of all the different computers used by their employees. Having heard and solved lots of disk image problems, the Binary’s Universal Imaging Utility contains drivers for more than 25,000 hardware components. That hits just about every piece of equipment there is.

The utility works only with Windows XP or 2000. Pricing runs about $19 per computer for up to 100 and drops off for larger sets. More info is available at www.binaryresearch.net.

Hail Britannica

We reviewed Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia a few weeks back; now let’s turn to the Britannica. This is the gold standard among encyclopedias, and the one we’re looking at is the Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2005.

Encyclopedia publishers usually come out with updated versions in mid- to late summer so they can catch the back-to-school buying season. So expect to see the 2006 version soon. Pricing on the 2005 is only $50 after a $20 rebate, whether you buy it directly from the publisher (http://store.britannica.com) or from a discounter.

They pack an amazing amount of information into this suite: 100,000 reference articles, 17,000 images, 2,500 maps, 650 audio and video clips, Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, and the whole kit fits on one DVD.

OK, so it’s awesome. But what are the good parts? We’re glad you asked. The most interesting new feature is the “”Brainstormer,”” a kind of free association tool that lets you create links to related topics, sort of like browsing the shelves in a library.

We started with “”technology,”” which then immediately opened dozens of links to articles and images on energy, food processing, glass making, electronics, transportation, weapons, etc. Clicking any of these opened more links. Hovering the mouse pointer over any search topic produces a brief summary, often with a picture.

The links to courses and learning games are kind of overwhelming, both in number and learning level. That’s because most of them take the reader outside the encyclopedia to university and museum sites. This is a treasure trove of hundreds of courses and lectures on chemistry, mathematics, music, geography, art history and on into the night. In fact, I think we kept browsing right on into the night; it’s quite addictive.

A little music, maestro, please

Version 2 of Project5 is Cakewalk’s sound studio in a box. Cakewalk is the leading software company for digital music composition.

This is everything you need to create and perform professional-quality music. It runs on Windows 2000 or XP, and you’d better have plenty of memory, a gigabyte of RAM would be good, and a fast CPU. If you don’t understand the tech talk, you probably shouldn’t have this package; Project5 is aimed at professional musicians who are computer savvy.

The word from professional musicians is that this is the cat’s meow, and you can make it sound like a real cat. After all, the program has high-quality digital sound sampling and even comes with 3 gigabytes of samples on board.

What professional musicians seem to like best in this new version is an easy, even fun-to-use, interface. We have found over many years that the creation of a friendly interface between the user and the computer is probably the most important reason for the success or failure of a program.

Project5 has a list price of $429 from Cakewalk (www.cakewalk.com), but we suggest you do a Web search for best prices. We found it for $299 at www.robotspeakstore.com. This program is a real hummer, and we kind of meant that pun.

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