Good posts in your thread .
I'll offer my experiences with 2 of the Backup tools mentioned as well as an additional tool:
Acronis (2011 ver):
I've been using it for about 3 years on my Desktop & Laptop PC's with no issues as yet. I mainly use it for Cloning my HDD's. For reasons unknown to me, I've never encountered any issues with Acronis cloning but I'm also a basic cloner. I'm cloning my PC's in "auto" mode (no custom partitioning or cloning options, etc).
My Desktop PC is a component-built PC with the default Win 7x64 2-partition install.
My Laptop is a Toshiba with an OEM install with 3 partitions, the "recovery" boot partition, the "C" partition, and another "recovery" partition to recover to factory conditions.
I've also recently begun periodic cloning my Mom's Win XP Desktop PC which is an HP Pavillion model with the recovery partitions, similar to my Toshiba Laptop.
I'm not certain why other PC users seem to encounter difficulties with cloning with the target HDD not booting, etc. I've read some things about the topic and some users have had problems due to the way that they are prepping their Target HDD.
For example, I don't assign a driver letter to a Target HDD prior to starting the cloning process. I read elsewhere where some PC users were encountering non-bootable Target HDD's after cloning as a result of assigning drive letters to their Target HDD's before cloning.
The only thing that I do prior to cloning is to delete the partitions on my Target HDD's before cloning. It's not necessary but it makes it easy for me to select the Target HDD in the cloning program's setup screens as the Target HDD will appear as the blank (unallocated) HDD.
Acronis automatically selects my Source & Target HDD's this way, since it detects the unallocated HDD and knows logically that this will be the Target HDD.
I've not yet encountered an unbootable cloned HDD with these 3 PC's. I clone my Desktop PC every 2 weeks and the other PC's less frequently.
For this reason, I don't verify (boot up on the Target HDD) after each cloning process is completed. I usually test the Target HDD once every 4-5 clones on my PC's.
I'm cloning for different reasons than most, I guess, from reading posts here and elsewhere. I use cloning to compliment occasional full-HDD Imaging since cloning provides me with a faster plug-play recovery method from malicious intrusions or user mistakes (bad downloads, etc), and for various reasons to roll back the HDD to an earlier point in time.
Having a cloned HDD on the shelf also provides me with an instant HDD replacement in the event of my Source HDD failure.
I use Macrium Reflect (Free ver) for most of my full-HDD Imaging processes. I agree with some of the other members here that use it for the same reasons. I like the user-friendly user interface layouts with Macrium.
I have cloned with Macrium but for some reason it's a slower process than Acronis.
I don't Image as often as I clone since the Imaging process takes a longer time vs cloning with my Desktop PC's setup since I'm cloning with Sata III transfer speeds in my tower vs USB 2.0 speeds to an external storage HDD when Imaging.
I usually Image every 6-8 weeks on my Desktop PC and less frequently on my Laptop PC.
I've also used "Clonezilla" as a 3rd backup tool but I've only used it a couple of times for cloning. It's another freeware that I download (iso file) and burned to a CD. It works good but, my opinion, it's geared to a more advanced user and I wouldn't recommend it to a novice cloner/imager.
Backups in general:
rp88 provides a very good point, in my opinion, regarding backup strategies.
I use both approaches. I have a continuously-connected portable USB HDD to backup a few of my "must-have"
files and items, such as an Outlook *.PST data file, etc. I'm using Acronis for that since it includes an unattended Scheduler that can run twice-daily and backs up selective items to my USB HDD.
I also backup those same items every 5 days to another portable USB HDD that remains disconnected except during manual backups to that HDD. I do that for the same reason as rp88 mentioned, as a protection against one of the encryption-ransomware malicious intrusions (ie, "Cryptolocker", etc).
I also backup the same items to a Flash Drive stick, usually daily or every couple of days. The stick is connected only during the backup process.
I'm using a script file to backup up manually to shorten the time that my drives are connected to my Desktop PC. It also is faster with a script routine since it eliminates the "drag/drop" time or copy/paste times, etc.
My bottom line about cloning & imaging:
I don't see it as an "either/or" choice. I like to use both processes to compliment each other for reasons I mentioned earlier.