I have owned, used or tried almost every imaging or backup solution that is on the market. I can tell you that StorageCraft Shadow Protect Desktop is without a doubt in my mind the best available solution out there and I do not say this lightly.
One of the great features of SPD is that you can take an SPD image and mount it into Windows Explorer from a USB drive for example, read or read/write to it, so you have immediate access to the data without restoring the image. You can import the image into VMware Workstation VM or a MS Virtual PC VM.
Yes it is not the cheapest out there for a good reason, it actually works. It does have some NUANCES and understanding how to do Hardware Independent Restores (HIR) is one of them along with the machine specific activation of the licensing. Client application licensing is per machine and the license must be registered and de-registered from a machine as required. However none of that affects backups or restores when running SPD from the recovery ISO.
SPD uses it's own VSS provider and therefore does not work along side other backup/imaging utilities that do the same or those that use file system level virtualization or other disk level utilities.
This tool is worth every penny and has not only saved my axx a number of times but allowed me to backup and restore/move my OS image between Tablet PC's and other dissimilar hardware (e.g notebooks/laptops). One thing to be aware of is that HIR may be challenged when moving an OS image between systems with significantly different processor families (e.g. dual to quad core etc). Although in my experience the install media I had may not have had the appropriate HAL required for OS for the quad core processors in the target notebook/laptop and I did not have enough time to do extensive resolution around that specific test.
SPD comes with a WINPE recovery environment and ISO can be burned and run from CD/DVD. In the 3.3 version I was able to burn and run the recovery environment from a USB key too (easier and faster I think). The latest 3.5.2 version is designed for CD/DVD only as far as I know. Once in the recovery environment you can create, format, delete, partitions and restore images to partitions amongst other things. To be successful doing a HIR I always restore the image then run the HIR and point to a source (on an external USB drive) that houses the hardware drivers or OS install folder (e.g. \i386 folder for Windows OS). Image backup/creation and restoration are relatively quick from my experience with 250GB laptop drives (unused space can be eliminated from the image). I always manually defragment the OS and disable defrag before beginning my image to optimize my files ystem and avoid any defrag process messing up the actual disk image creation process.
Whilst SPD is NOT an instant state revert or instant recovery mechanism like some of the virtual file system level tools available, it is a robust image backup, restoration and OS image migration tool with HIR capabilities unlike anything else I have seen out there. Some of those file system software based solutions are great for instant state recovery but can hose you completely if they corrupt their file system (e.g. due to lack of disk space), the OS file system and then are unable revert to their stored snapshots. I know because it has happened to me before I found SPD.
From my personal experience I have observed that StorageCraft (Utah based) have very professional folks who are knowledgeable about and support the SPD product line for both business and retail customers.
FYI I have NO affiliation with this company, I am simply attesting to the product and it's image creation and restoration capabilities. Are there things I think can be improved in the product yes but you will be hard pressed to find a more robust solution for ensuring disaster recovery for any PC, OS and data.