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Editor's Note: This review was originally written in September of 2007. It was recently updated to fix typos alone and none of the original content was changed.
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Alcohol 120%, which began strictly as a disk-image emulator, has been a part of the DVD scene since the advent of DVD burners. Initially, it gained a bad reputation for primarily being used for piracy, but over time Alcohol 120% has proven it's a legitimate player. Its makers continue to improve on the product's technology to keep in step with the changes movie and game makers continue to make in their copy-protection schemes. Alcohol 120% has evolved into a complete DVD imaging, backup, and copying solution, all while continuing to make strides in its emulation capabilities.
Make no mistake about it, Alcohol 120% is a powerful, comprehensive DVD/CD copying software application. It doesn’t disguise itself with a flashy graphical interface; instead it uses its workspace to offer absolute customizability. There wasn’t a game or movie I threw at it that it wasn’t able to successfully back up. Indeed, if you fear losing or damaging the original copies of your software or movies, or if you want to store all of the images on your hard drive instead of in a huge CD binder, this is the software for you.
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Help & SupportRating
Being a smaller, reasonably priced application, I was pleasantly surprised to see not only an FAQ, but also a support forum, a registered members forum, and a technical support email form. Those are pretty nice available options, and from what I could tell, response time on the forum was very quick.
As with most smaller companies, phone support is not available, nor could I find any phone number on the Alcohol website. Fortunately, there are a variety of available support options, which hopefully you won’t have to use, as this is a very well refined piece of software.
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Installation & SetupRating
Alcohol 120% is extremely comprehensive, yet still simple enough for new users. While Alcohol 120% offers the full imaging and copying software, the authors have seen enough demand to help consumers who only require the image backup capability by developing Alcohol 52%. Users cautious of system requirements need not cringe when they see the specs, as the only minimums are any Intel- or AMD-based PC and 32 MB of RAM. As Alcohol mentions on its website, the heftiest requirement definitely comes down to hard drive space, as each DVD disk can contain around 4 GB of data. Storing images on your hard drive or copying them to another disk will require more or less space, respectively.
One of the problems with the way the technology behind Alcohol 120% works is that it requires a reboot before even getting halfway through the installation. While easy enough, it is an interruption nonetheless, which I would have preferred to see at the end of the installation versus the beginning.
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Personally, I love the type of interface that Alcohol 120% provides--it’s clean, it’s simple, yet still gives me all the power under each setting if I so choose. There are icons next to the main commands, making it easy to follow what does what. The three-pane interface also makes it easy if you are a user with many images, and it's modifiable. So if you have many more virtual drives than you do actual images, you can increase or decrease the size of one of your panes. This type of control over an interface is something advanced users really enjoy.
That same power will undoubtedly make some new users cringe as well. Accessing the simple General settings brings up a box full of options, with 14 different pages within it. Again, it’s something advanced users crave, but definitely overwhelming. The benefit in how Alcohol brings its interface to users is that the application works great from the simplest level.
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Features are definitely not lacking in the full Alcohol 120% program. At its core, Alcohol 120% is an advanced CD/DVD backup utility, designed to protect your original copies of any CDs or DVDs. But it’s known for much more. In addition to standard copying, Alcohol 120% allows you to not just copy to another CD or DVD, but also to copy the complete image directly to your hard drive.
The program also includes a virtual drive emulator. What that does is allow the software to create a fake CD/DVD drive, which can then load the CD/DVD image file you backed up and then treat it as if you had the actual CD/DVD in the drive. While there are other software titles available that do this, Alcohol 120% allows for an unprecedented number of virtual drives--31! That means that you could backup 31 game disks, load a virtual drive for each one, and then switch among all your games without having to get up to find the CD binder where you left them. It’s an extreme convenience, especially as you consider the games that contain multiple CDs or DVDs, which interrupt your gameplay.
You can create or delete the images as you need, and can of course back them up on disk as well, if you are running out of space. You can also access those image files across your network, which comes in handy for teachers or employers, or anyone who is tired of remembering to take an installation CD from computer to computer.
The only current limitation I could find with Alcohol 120% is the inability to image or copy high definition disks, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Although there are no other software titles I am aware of that allow you to image these types of disks, there are applications available that allow for copying them.
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Performance for this type of CD/DVD copying or imaging software is very much dependent on the user's particular configuration—system specs as well as the model of DVD/CD-ROM drive they are using. In my experience, Alcohol 120% performed as well as any imaging software I have used, and not once did it crash. The buffer underrun indicator during a burning session is useful if you are a big multitasker. As the system requirements showed, however, unless you’re using a significantly older machine, you should have no problems using this program to its full capabilities.
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Price to ValueRating
The complete Alcohol 120% costs $39, and that includes one year of free upgrades. If you want a lifetime of free upgrades, then that will cost $79. If all you need are the emulation abilities of Alcohol, then Alcohol 52% offers all those features for only $27. Considering that $40 is less the cost than some standalone DVD copiers, Alcohol 120% is very fairly priced.
Indeed, there’s an option for all users, and all seem very reasonably priced. The benefit of the lifetime of upgrades comes as newer disk titles come out, using newer copy protection schemes. That being said, however, the lifetime upgrade option does cost twice as much as the standalone version. And while Alcohol 120% has been around for years, there’s nothing to say they can’t fold one day, and then thus no more upgrades; so buyer beware.
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Suggested FeaturesBelieve it or not, I actually would have enjoyed a much simpler interface when it came to the wizard configuration. The wizard for tasks was as text-heavy as the rest of the application. While that’s not a problem on its own, I think if Alcohol simplified at least the wizard, they would be able to attract the type of audience that cringes at large boxes of text (and thus prevent errors from fast clicking without reading). Also, eventually, the need for high-definition DVD support will be required as more and more users spend valuable dollars on those types of disks. The more expensive the disk, the more users would want to protect their investments.
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ConclusionThe interface in Alcohol 120% has been trimmed and refined through the years and works flawlessly. You may think some of its features aren't necessary, but once you get a taste of the power you will have when you begin using virtual drives to store your media, you will be a doubter no more. Indeed, for what you get, this software is a bargain at only $40. When a software program stands the test of time, and not only continues improving, but stays reasonably priced, that’s usually proof of a quality product and business model. Alcohol 120% has the proof.
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Related ProductsDaemon Tools, DVD Copy Platinum