Instant Recovery / Snapshot Software Review and Guide: Rollback RX

Why go into all the trouble of troubleshooting and repairing software problems when you can just undo them all in mere seconds at the next reboot? Let's discuss Rollback RX.

@Tasos_Laurent
Published Sun, Apr 28 2013 6:16 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:00 PM CST
Rating: 98%Manufacturer: Horizon DataSys

Introduction

In one of our recent articles we explored the benefits of

Instant Recovery Software (IRS). This is a technology that is related to Light Virtualization (LV), but the actual implementation varies between the two technologies.

Within this review, I will reiterate some basic functionality and backup principles that were first mentioned within the LV/IRS introduction article. This is for the benefit of our readers who haven't had the chance to read the original LV/IRS article.

As I noted on that article, the protection offered by Light Virtualization programs works on per-Windows session basis only. All changes to protected volumes are kept strictly within the LV program's cache. The cache is emptied by default upon rebooting and no changes actually stick to the real disk - unless of course the user chooses to explicitly commit the changes before rebooting.

This essentially means that LV apps will not automatically save changes for software installations which require a reboot in order to become functional. When LV protection is activated, the user has to manually commit any changes they want to keep for the next Windows session. If a program has been installed while LV protection is active, and that program needs a reboot in order for it to work, the user must commit all disk changes before rebooting. If the user simply reboots the system, then the new installation will be completely undone, along with any other changes that may have occurred in the meantime.

It is important to understand that committing changes to the real disk with Light Virtualization apps is a one-way-street. Once changes have been committed in this manner, the only way to go back to a previous disk state will be by restoring a conventional backup, assuming of course that a full backup of the disk has already been performed in advance. Or you can use Instant Recovery/Snapshot software for super-fast recoveries, and that's where Rollback RX comes in to play here today.

There aren't many such programs around. Instant Recovery software is a very rare breed of program indeed, and Rollback RX is currently the best developed and most stable amongst them. The greatest benefit of Rollback RX is that it allows users to accumulate changes to the system across several reboots, something that Light Virtualization apps cannot do. With Rollback RX users can create different software setups, which can then be saved as new snapshots at any time. Any of these snapshots can be restored in mere seconds, as and when needed. This enables users to go backwards and forwards in the time-line of their systems, switching between saved snapshots at will.

Program Functionality Analysis

Rollback RX should automatically pre-select the system disk/partition (C:) during installation. Once installation completes, the system must be restarted. RX will then take a snapshot of the system disk/partition before Windows loads. This first snapshot is called a baseline snapshot, the common base on which all future snapshots will be branching out from.

RX also adds a boot sector driver to the system. This driver enables users to press the HOME key upon system start-up, in order to access the RX recovery console, before Windows loads. From this interface users can save a new snapshot, restore an existing one, defragment or delete previously created snapshots, or even uninstall the program.

One of the greatest benefits of this technology is the fact that when you save or restore a snapshot, there is no actual data transfer taking place - as opposed to traditional backup methods, where data is being copied over to a different location when backing up/restoring. The inactive snapshots are still there on the same disk, saved on sectors that Windows and every other software deem as empty space; so there is no data transfer and no waiting time when creating or restoring a snapshot, it all happens in a few seconds. Rollback RX keeps a sector map, which enables it to see what data is common to one or more snapshots. This way there is no data replication among snapshots. Every new snapshot will only include the disk sectors that have been changed since its parent snapshot was taken.

After Windows has loaded, RX utilizes a driver which protects those inactive snapshots from being overwritten by the OS. This driver intercepts all writes addressed to sectors that contain inactive snapshot data and redirects such writes to truly empty sectors. This is seamless; there is no noticeable overhead even on older and less powerful computer systems. Of course the more changes that have taken place since the parent snapshot was taken, the more disk space a new snapshot will occupy. Saving or loading huge snapshots still takes mere seconds though, all thanks to the fact that the data is still there on the same disk.

Instant Recovery / Snapshot Software Review and Guide: Rollback RX 1 | TweakTown.com
VIEW GALLERY - 9 IMAGES

The above image is a visual representation of the way snapshots work. The specific links between the snapshots in the picture are for indicative purposes only. Users can actually return to any snapshot at any time, add or remove new software or make any other changes to the system, then save the new setup as a new snapshot.

The Importance of Multi-Layered System Protection

Rollback RX should not be used as the sole protection for your system. Multi-layered protection is the best approach in all cases. It is important to understand that RX is not an anti-malware program and as such it does not protect from infections or differentiate between malicious and non-malicious system changes. RX's purpose is to provide damage control, and it does this superbly. By restoring a clean RX snapshot, users can instantly undo unwanted program installations, system crashes, incompatible or botched installs, or user configuration mistakes. Basically most non-malicious software-related problems will be instantly gone, like they never even happened. RX can also undo non-sophisticated malware infections in this manner, but it will not be able to contain and undo sophisticated malware attacks like the TDSS/TDL family of rootkits. Fortunately, such malware are quite rare.

For best overall protection you should always use Rollback RX alongside a decent Firewall/Antivirus suite with HIPS/anti-execution features, plus anti-keylogging software in order to cover yourself against most eventualities. Such programs should be your first line of defence against malware. Top it all up with a robust Light Virtualization program like

Shadow Defender.

With Shadow Defender (SD) in the mix, most sturdy infections will never actually have the chance to reach the real system. If sturdy malware manages to somehow breach your other defences, they will still have to deal with the ultimate safety net of Shadow Defender. SD will keep all changes (including most sturdy infections and their effects) contained solely within its buffer and completely isolated from the real system. The buffer will then be flushed at the next reboot and any malware contained within will instantly be removed.

We have to remember here that this is not about repairing or cleaning up software damage. This is about being able to fully undo all damage in mere seconds with no leftovers whatsoever, like it never happened in the first place. Shadow Defender is able to contain and undo strong malware that Rollback RX alone wouldn't be able to handle. RX works very well with SD; these two programs complement each other perfectly.

Of course no single program can ever be 100% infallible. New malware strains appear online all the time. Shadow Defender is currently the best against sophisticated threats, but it would be foolish to take this ability for granted, and think that it will always be able to contain everything in the future.

We also have to remember that Rollback RX and Shadow Defender cannot safeguard against hardware failure. If your disk suddenly dies, you'll lose everything, including all Rollback RX snapshots. That's why it is crucial to always have a clean recent backup of your Windows disk/partition at the ready, along with a tested start-up disc or USB stick that contains a bootable version of your favourite backup program. This start-up disc/stick is essential in cases where the computer is unbootable, as it will allow you to boot directly into your favourite backup program and be able to recover your system from the backup.

If your system contains Rollback RX then your backups have to be raw (a raw backup is also known as a sector-by-sector backup). This kind of backup will be considerably larger in size, but it will also include and preserve all RX snapshots. Make sure to always verify your backups for possible corruption after they are created. Remember, an unverified backup is like having no backup at all.

Also don't forget to keep updating your backup as the setup of your system evolves. For example, it's no good to have a backup that is three years old. When you restore it, you will have a lot of work in your hands updating everything to the latest versions. It's best to update your backup every time you make any important system changes that you want to preserve (e.g. updating drivers, installing Windows updates, or adding new software that you want to keep).

After the backup has been updated with the latest legitimate changes, you should always make a second copy of it stored at a different medium from the original, and re-verify both copies for corruption. Keep the second copy stored away from the computer, this will cover you if the medium that holds the original copy is lost or damaged.

Always backup and protect all your valuable data against most eventualities. You don't have to wait until you actually lose stuff and learn the hard way. A clean and recent double backup along with a couple of bootable start-up discs or USB sticks that contain a bootable version of your backup program will cover you in cases of hardware failure, or when Windows has been damaged beyond repair and the computer cannot boot normally.

System Requirements and Main Features

Minimum System Requirements

Operating System: Windows 2000 / XP / Vista / Windows 7 / Windows 8 (both 32 bit and 64 bit versions).

Main Features

It takes just seconds to save or restore a snapshot.

Doesn't impact computer performance even on older or slower systems.

Can be remotely managed and deployed (Enterprise console).

Upon reboot you can switch between saved snapshots at will, essentially bringing your system back and forth in time.

By restoring a previously saved snapshot you can essentially undo system crashes within seconds, even if Windows can't start.

Test different software without the need to uninstall them after testing - just reboot and restore a previous snapshot at boot time. By doing so you will be instantly undoing everything that happened in the meantime. Software testing installs, system crashes, botched or incompatible installations, user configuration errors, they will all be completely gone in seconds just by restoring a healthy snapshot. This is not just a clean-up; it's a complete undo so there will be no leftovers left behind.

It can fully undo the most common non-sophisticated malware infections out there.

Snapshots can be created from within Windows, without having to restart the system. The system has to be restarted in order to restore a previously created snapshot.

It supports an astonishing number of 60000 snapshots.

Works with VMWare and Virtual Machines, both as a host or within the virtual machine as a client.

Supports Multi-boot, Multi OS workstations.

Snapshots can be locked to prevent accidental deletion.

Explore, browse and retrieve files and folders from any snapshot. Just drag and drop them into your active system.

Access control - manage levels of multiple user and administrative privileges.

Automatically schedule snapshots to be taken on a fixed schedule, or upon execution of specific files (i.e. setup.exe).

256-bit AES snapshot encryption. Prevents unauthorized data theft in case of stolen computer.

Group Management and Enterprise Network Administration Control (FREE utility).

Stealth Mode - You can hide the Rollback Rx tray icon and boot time splash screen.

You can change the hot-key that opens the RX recovery console at boot time (the default key is HOME).

Built-in snapshot defragmenter optimizes system resources and recovers free space.

Option to keep files and folders unchanged when you roll-back to a previously saved snapshot.

Advanced setup configuration wizard for system administrators. You can set deployment options and predefine Rollback RX settings. Offers detailed program operation logging.

Supports all industry standard deployment options including silent installations and pre-installation configuration.

Dynamic disk space management - disk space is recovered upon snapshot deletion.

Intelligent disk space monitoring - informing users of disk space usage of each snapshot.

Installation and Activation

First things first. If you haven't already performed a full backup of your Windows partition recently, then I would strongly recommend for you to do so before installing Rollback RX (or any other software for that matter). There is always the risk that a new program may be incompatible with your individual configuration. Backing up could save you from having to troubleshoot problems later on. Basic backup tips have also been provided within our

LV/IRS technology introduction article.

There are some very important notes on Snapshot Software usage featured on page 5 of the LV/IRS article, linked above. Those notes are fully applicable to Rollback RX. Those tips are there to help you configure a clean, lean and streamlined system partition that is free of unnecessary stuff and clutter. I would recommend for you to read at least that section of the LV/IRS article first, before proceeding with the RX installation.

At this point I assume that you have applied the aforementioned tips and your system partition is now clean, streamlined and optimized, ready for Rollback RX. Start the installation and you will be asked to provide the installer with a serial number. If you have already bought the program, enter your serial there, otherwise use the trial/demo option.

Your system disk will be automatically pre-selected by the installer. If your system disk has multiple partitions, only the primary one will be preselected. It's up to you to enable or disable protection for the other partitions of the same disk. If you want RX to protect them as well, just put a tick next to them. Personally I have only enabled RX for my system partition (C:), leaving the secondary logical partition of the disk unticked.

When the installation completes, you will be asked to restart your computer. Don't do it just yet. The baseline snapshot will be created when you reboot and you want that snapshot to be as clean and junk-free as possible; so just exit the installer and then make sure you run some disk cleaning app (like CCleaner) in order to get rid of any junk files, before rebooting manually.

Upon rebooting RX will create the baseline snapshot before Windows kicks in. When back in Windows, a small configuration screen will pop up with some self-explanatory options related to conditional automatic snapshot taking. Configure the options to your liking and move on to the next screen, where the program will ask you to activate. There are two ways to activate, online and offline. At this point you can also skip activation altogether and use the demo/trial option if you want to.

Activation is pretty straight forward. Depending on the activation method you choose you may eventually be asked to reboot the system in order to verify the activation process.

Software Usage

The program is very easy to use with most of its options being very straight forward and self-explanatory, as we can see from the following screens:

Instant Recovery / Snapshot Software Review and Guide: Rollback RX 2 | TweakTown.com
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Instant Recovery / Snapshot Software Review and Guide: Rollback RX 5 | TweakTown.com
Instant Recovery / Snapshot Software Review and Guide: Rollback RX 6 | TweakTown.com

Under the Tools & Settings header there are some more options like Access Control, System Security, Baseline Manager, Snapshot Defragmenter and Settings. Once again these options are very easy to understand and configure. Personally I prefer to manage the snapshots completely manually, and only when I need to do so. As a result I have disabled all automatic snapshoting options. I have also disabled all conditional snapshot deletion options by removing the check marks from the boxes as seen below:

Instant Recovery / Snapshot Software Review and Guide: Rollback RX 7 | TweakTown.com

The above settings reflect what I find suitable for my own usage. Make sure to change any of those settings to your liking before proceeding further.

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE HERE, regarding the RX Snapshot Defragmenter option: The very way that RX works makes it completely incompatible with ALL conventional disk defragmentation applications. Make sure to NEVER defrag any RX-protected disks/partitions with Windows Disk Defrag or with any other conventional disk defragging tool. You must only use RX's own snapshot defragmenter for all RX-managed disks/partitions. It does the job very well and it is also much faster than conventional defrag tools.

It is also very important to completely disable Windows auto-defrag scheduling for all RX-managed disks/partitions. If you have any third-party defrag apps installed as well, make sure to disable automatic defrag scheduling with those, too. Some defrag apps may also include stealth defrag modules that kick-in automatically and optimize disks the background. It is very important to fully disable all such modules. You can still use your defrag apps to optimize your non-RX disks manually, when you need to.

Instant Recovery / Snapshot Software Review and Guide: Rollback RX 8 | TweakTown.com

It is also preferable to run the RX defrag tool outside Windows, through the RX recovery console. Doing it before Windows loads provides a more thorough snapshot defragging. To access the console, you should restart the computer, and press the HOME key when the RX boot screen comes up. You will then be presented with the screen above.

The above screenshot is from a previous version of RX, so the background picture will be different in the latest version. The options are still the same, though. The snapshot defragging tool is under the Advanced Options heading. Once you select it you will be asked if you want to delete any snapshots before defragging. If you choose to do so you will then be presented with a list of your snapshots. Make sure to select the ones you don't need and delete them one by one. Be very careful not to select any useful snapshots by mistake. Remember that once you delete snapshots in this manner, they will be gone forever. After the snapshots have been deleted, proceed with the defragging. Unlike a conventional disk defrag which can take ages, snapshot defragging is very fast. The process should complete within just a few seconds.

The RX recovery console also gives you more options. You can save new snapshots, restore one of your previously saved ones, you can even uninstall RX from there. When you select a snapshot for restoration, RX renders it active, and the computer can boot from it.

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PARENTS HERE: If the computer is also used by youngsters, I would strongly recommend for you to protect RX with a password. A password will stop the kids from possibly messing with the snapshots and RX settings. Make sure you select a strong password that your children won't be able to guess. Don't write the password down or save it as a text file - it has to be something that only you will know and remember.

An issue with SSD's and TRIM

There is one potential issue that should be mentioned. Horizon DataSys claims that the latest versions of RX have been fully compatible tested with SSDs and the TRIM command. The problem is that the developers refuse to release any details on how this is being accomplished.

This has led to some controversy, with some SDD users claiming that Rollback RX actually disables TRIM in order to achieve SSD compatibility. SSD users have been carrying out tests using the

TRIM Check application that we looked at recently, as well as the hex editor method. The purpose of such testing is to determine whether TRIM actually works under RX or not. The results consistently show that TRIM is most certainly non-functioning on RX-protected SSDs.

While writing this review, I contacted the Horizon DataSys developers directly regarding this issue. They assured me that TRIM works fine with RX and refused to discuss it further, citing proprietary concerns as the reason for not disclosing more information on how RX handles TRIM. The fact of the matter is that the actual tests go against what they are saying.

I think that it is very important for the Horizon DataSys developers to finally release an official statement explaining in some meaningful detail on how RX handles TRIM. If TRIM indeed works with RX in some sort of a "roundabout" way that is not detectable with conventional testing, then the developers should come forth with at least some details on how they have achieved this.

Citing proprietary concerns for the lack of publicly available information is not enough, especially when an important feature that is designed to prolong SSD lifespan is at stake. A detailed statement from Horizon DataSys will essentially remove the few remaining doubts that obstruct an otherwise excellent instant recovery utility, and bring peace of mind to the SSD owners who are aware of this issue.

For SSD users with a generous helping of RAM, there is a solution to this TRIM concern. I personally use Shadow Defender alongside Rollback RX. Shadow Defender features a brilliant RAM cache option, which keeps the virtual system always in RAM.

The greatest benefit of Shadow Defender's RAM cache is that when the cache remains in RAM, the whole system is more responsive and there are no write hits to the real disk - until of course the RAM cache is full, or until the users themselves choose to commit data manually to the protected volume.

When the RAM cache is full, Shadow Defender automatically switches to disk buffering mode. I keep a close eye on RAM cache usage (through Shadow Defender's System Status screen), making sure to reboot the system before the cache fills-up completely. This essentially keeps the virtual system always in RAM. Shadow Defender never has the chance to switch into disk buffering mode, and all disks under its protection never get any write hits.

So, if you have a large Shadow Defender RAM cache that is always active, it doesn't really matter whether Rollback RX disables TRIM or not. If you always reboot before the Shadow Defender RAM cache is full, then there will be no actual disk writes/deletions.

The bottom line is this: Assigning a large RAM cache for Shadow Defender can give you long Windows sessions with the virtual system running directly from RAM. This is a very fast, very secure and very responsive setup. The nice extra bonus here is that when used consistently, such an extended RAM cache usage, it can also be very beneficial to overall SSD life expectancy. And with Rollback RX in the mix, such a setup will also save SSDs from a large part of the negative effects caused by RX's apparent lack of TRIM.

A very important note here: If you are still using a hard disk as your system drive then this TRIM issue shouldn't be a worry for you anyway. Hard disks don't support TRIM; this is a potential issue to SSD users only.

Final Thoughts

Rollback RX simplifies software and hardware testing, fully reverses computer crashes, and enables users to instantly undo software-related problems in mere seconds. It doesn't just clean-up software installations or malware infections, it fully reverses them with no leftovers left behind littering your disks. RX can fully undo infections caused by the vast majority of the more conventional malware out there; it has to be noted, however, that it is still vulnerable to certain rare sophisticated malware, like the TDSS/TDL family or rootkits.

That's where the usefulness of a top Light Virtualization program like

Shadow Defender comes into play. The rootkit-isolating capabilities of Shadow Defender perfectly complement Rollback's ultimate degree of control over a system's setup and configuration. On top of that you also get Shadow Defender's RAM cache feature which allows systems to run directly from RAM. This makes systems much more responsive and saves disks from taking any write hits. No write hits also means no disk traces of deleted data left behind. It all stays in RAM and gets flushed at the next reboot, perfect for the more paranoid among us.

While Rollback RX and Shadow Defender are both great programs on their own, when these two programs are used together, they provide a great overall safety net for Windows systems. As far as my experience goes, I think Rollback RX and Shadow Defender are simply a marriage made in software heaven.

But even when used on its own, Rollback RX is still a superb program that offers so much when used properly. It is feature-rich, very stable, and extremely easy to use. Using such a utility for the first time is often a one-way-street. You will soon find yourself used to RX's instant recoveries and just couldn't do without it. I cannot stress enough the superior degree of control that this program provides over the exact setup and configuration of a Windows system. Rollback RX is a quite simply an exceptional instant recovery utility.

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Tasos Laurentiadis was born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, but now lives in London, UK. An avid computer enthusiast with a passion for hardware and software alike, he has been around since the early days of the Commodore 64 and the BBC micro. He later moved on to a 386 PC and never looked back. Tasos loves the buzz of installing and testing new hardware and software, and is a keen gamer. He also loves hard rock, metal, ethnic/folk music, and has been the lead vocalist with numerous rock and metal bands since the mid-eighties.

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