Best Free Drive Cloning Software


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What I consider to be two of the most important factors when choosing drive imaging software is Ease of Use and Reliable Image Creation and Restoration. Quite simply the software has to be able to do its intended task without fail every time as if it can not then it defeats the whole objective of creating an image backup in the first place and believe it or not there is software out there that is great at performing the actual backup images and providing the ability to mount and explore them without problems, but lacking in any easy way to actually perform a recovery with said images. If the software is capable of reliably performing those tasks in a timely manor then all the better, if not then personally I have no problems with waiting a while longer and knowing for a fact that the backup or recovery process is going to be a success.

Drive / Disk imaging has now become a must have tool for the majority of users both novice and advanced alike mainly because of it's ease of use in most circumstances and the convenience it provides. For example a user can safely recover their computer from a system crash or a bad virus infection without having to worry about reformatting and reinstalling the operating system. With drive imaging there is almost no reason at all to have to reinstall Windows because it offers you the ability to restore an image to your hard drive in a fraction of the time it takes to reinstall your operating system along with all your programs and settings.

There are two different types of disk imaging programs, Online and Offline. Most imaging software nowadays are online programs, meaning that they can run and create images inside of Windows while the operating system is running. The offline type are the programs that run in alternative environments such as MSDOS, WinPE or Linux, to create and restore backup images while Windows is not running. Although most Windows users' love the normal GUI driven programs, there are advantages to using either type of this software.

Most applications offer different options for creating images. You have the option to back up only the used sectors on the disk, which will create an image of only those sectors on the hard disk that are in use by the file system. This option will make the backup much smaller than if you were to create a clone of the drive. A clone is exactly what it sounds like, an exact sector by sector mirror copy of the entire drive including the unused sectors. These images can be saved to an external hard drive, a USB flash drive, a separate partition on your internal hard drive, burned to a CD/DVD for safe keeping, or saved to a network share. Some applications can use image backups as a file backup and mount images to a drive in explorer so individual files can be restored. There are several other options that can be found within the different free programs available, but for most users the default options provided with any of the applications below should suffice.

Windows 7 now provides us a new enhanced Windows Backup and Restore application which now has the ability to create disk images, the program will create an image of any partition on the hard drive if it is formatted to use the NTFS file system but it always includes the system partition and does not let you opt out. The drive that you are saving the backup on must also be formatted to use the NTFS file system. However one interesting quirk is if you are unable to boot into Windows normally and having to use the recovery CD / DVD and the start up repair process fails to find an existing Windows installation then you will not be able to restore your created backup image ! at times in this scenario even rebuilding the MBR / BCD etc from the command prompt can fail miserably all depending on how badly messed up your drive is you may or may not be able to recover it using the Windows Restore.

ToolTip: My advice pertaining to the above is if you are not into experimenting with multi boot systems or doing things that could potentially mess up your system drive then the new Windows Image Backup is a good solid solution... Now if you are like me and love to experiment with such things until its totally broken then you need to be looking to use one of the programs reviewed here along with adding either of these two essential tools to your arsenal. First is EasyBCD (free for non-commercial use), a GUI editor for the BCD store, the file that controls the overall booting process in Windows Vista and 7 (note this is not compatible with XP), but it can do so much more. For example, boot CD image files, the '.iso' files, stored on your HD, floppy images, '.img' raw format, it gives a GRUB/GRUB2 choice for multibooters, it can fix many boot errors/problems that plague so many while imaging/partitioning, and on and on - the website has extensive documentation to help get you going.

The second tool is Super GRUB2 Disk {SGD}, and though it sounds of interest to only Linux types, that isn't the case. If you do run into booting problems, and YOU WILL, booting into this CD/floppy/USB (yes all in one image file!), brings up a choice, the first is 'Detect any OS', which can often save you from even serious MBR/boot issues, and this does work for XP!!. The third menu item is to detect any bootable iso files in the folder 'boot-isos', where you can store your EasyBCD boot files, too. Booting isos is iffy, so it's good to have two methods to work with. But with EasyBCD you can have an image of the SGD, along with full access to a number of full LiveCD Linux distros, giving you the ability to boot a wide range of rescue and other boot environments without needing the CD.


Most of these programs now include both WinPE and Linux recovery environments the difference being in WinPE you usually have a GUI that looks the same and has all the same features and options you would see whilst running the program from within Windows itself. The Linux environment is somewhat limited whilst it looks the same generally you only have the backup and restore options available and in most cases in the event of HDD failure that is all you need.

AOMEI Backupper

Is ideal for both the novice and advanced user alike, with a very clean user friendly GUI. The primary backup options are Disk Backup, Partition Backup, System Backup and File and Folder Backup. We are also presented with some good options for all the backup modes, like the ability to create comments about the backup, select levels of compression, whether or not to encrypt, the ability to split large backups, whether or not to optimize sectors during backup and the option for Shadow Copying aka VSS,  support for UEFI boot and GPT disks, along with Incremental and Differential backup modes. 

The type of compression or encryption which uses AES is not optional but in my opinion that is not an important factor, unless you are extremely short on drive space or work for some Government Agency.

Many of the essential functions that are missing in the free versions of other programs are included in AOMEI Backupper free edition without any "nag" screens to upgrade to pro either. Within a few clicks of the mouse you can have your system backup in progress, it is intuitive and detected my 100MB System Reserved partition no problem and offered to include it into the system backup, now that makes a refreshing change unlike some of the others that take it for granted you know what you are doing.

Image Creation and Recovery

Both the backup and recovery process are very fast taking only about 9mins for my 8GB system partition ! the options are there also for where you want to recover the image to, NAS (network storage) is also supported, however there are no options pertaining to reinstating the MBR that could cause some major problems in a multi boot environment but this can be overcome by selecting not to do a system restore and just restore the actual partition that contains Windows itself, obviously I am thinking in terms of the more advanced user here. In my opinion AOMEI does not need those options as it handles them perfectly well by itself without user interaction in normal situations.

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Macrium Reflect Free Edition

After installation you will be presented with a registration pop up box that contains a serial key specific to your machine upon clicking "ok" an internet connection is required to authorize the serial before you can start using the program, also the WinPE recovery disk will not function correctly if the software is not registered... Now those are two major negative factors for me that can present problems if you come to do an emergency recovery and the software is not pre-installed.

Macrium also installs an Image Mounting Service set to Automatic run upon Windows start-up (like most others do) this can be safely set to "Manual" as the program itself will start this service if your intending to mount and explore an existing image you have created, there is no reason this should run on start up.

Image Creation

Creating a backup is pretty straightforward, Select the partition and click the icon with the folder and drive above it, you will then be presented with a pop up window where you can select backup location, now this can be another hard drive (or even the same hard drive but different partition other than the one you intend to back up for obvious reasons) across a Network or straight onto a CD/DVD burner. If you click on the advanced button you will then have the option to set compression level, Intelligent sector copy (This uses the Windows VSS) or an exact copy (clone) and also split file size.
Lastly there are check boxes to run the backup now and also create an XML file for scheduled or on-demand backups... On a 15GB partition with 8GB used for Windows 7 the backup process took 12mins to complete.

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Paragon Backup and Recovery (Advanced) Free

In this latest release 2014 they have gone for the "Metro" Windows 8 look for the GUI and you are presented with a series of little boxes that link straight to a wizard for the task you would like to perform along with thankfully a link to load up a more traditional GUI showing your hard drives.

It seems that they have now removed what little partitioning support there was in the previous free versions in favor of including what looks to be a full partitioning suite, though all these buttons are greyed out in the free version with a button stating "Unlock disabled features" and there is a lot of disabled features!, However the important items are still there such as Back Up, Restore, Differential Backup, and Check Archive Integrity. Interestingly there is options to back up to a Virtual Disk, Restore from a VD and also Incremental Backup to a VD, I can see that this would have it's uses in some corporate environments but for the average user if you use Virtual Disks at all then most of those programs have their own "System Snapshot" tools already.

Backup Image Creation

Another feature is the "Backup Capsule" this creates a reserved partition solely for the storage of backups managed by Paragon, now in the previous version this feature worked well but I found that if you removed an old backup you could not remove its entry in the backup capsule and eventually this could get messy if you are working with lots of backups coupled with the fact it was difficult to figure out exactly what backup was the most recent one especially if you were working with differential one's rather then full. I was not able to test this aspect again in the new version due to the fact the program refused to install on my own virtual system. So any informative comments concerning the backup capsule in this new version would be welcomed, until such time I have the resources to test it again for myself.

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Drive Image XML

First impressions the GUI reminds me of some of the old MSDOS interfaces having said that don't be fooled this can be a very powerful program though it is very slow 34 mins to backup my test system of 8GB used space.

Image Creation

You have two options for creating a backup image Drive to Drive as they call it (raw sector by sector clone in other words) or the standard backup that then gives you the option to either use "Volume Locking" or the "Volume Shadow Service" since it is the system drive I'm backing up from within Windows the default selection Volume Locking is not a good idea in this case, as it does what it say's "locks the volume" aka drive.

The process creates two files an XML that contains the drive info and a DAT file containing the actual binary data. After that you do have the ability to load the XML file and browse the backed up data much the same as the other programs offer, however in theory this XML file can be manipulated using other software, some of the Linux based imaging programs for example and in extreme cases that could very well have its uses.

Image Recovery

Now actually doing a system restore is the tricky part as it can not be performed within Windows (other drives and partitions can just not the system one) and the program does not offer to boot into a recovery environment for you to perform this task, what you need to do is create a BartPE boot CD and install the plugins for Drive Image XML and then boot from that, the only help for doing this can be found on the BartPE website, obviously this is quite a hurdle for the novice user and anyone else looking for an all in one recovery / backup solution for that matter.

There is support to run backups as scheduled tasks but you have to set this up yourself also using Windows task scheduler and command line parameters, they do provide you with an example though and a list of the valid command line parameters that can be used... then again if your not familiar with all this then it may as well be written in Chinese.


Despite those two.... "inconveniences" the program is very solid and in personal experience not so long ago it was the only program that was able to create an image of a failing 500GB HDD that had many bad sectors coupled with read/write arms that were "sticking", Windows refused to copy any data from it, the end result was 90% of the data contained in the image was usable after Drive Image XML completed its task... I won't tell you how long that took I will leave that to your imagination, but like I say it was the only program out of many that could work with that drive... So if you have a situation like that this is the software you need.

There are a few different options for users that are looking for a good free drive imaging solution and some of the most reliable options are offline programs. The choice that stands out above the rest for me is PING (PartImage Is Not Ghost).

Most offline solutions can be kind of intimidating and hard to figure out at first but PING is almost too easy as it leads you through the steps needed to create an image one by one and offers a short explanation of some of the options available.

The program can create incremental backup images and will save you significant time in doing so. It can also backup and restore the BIOS and it can create a bootable restoration disk to make restoring your backups that much easier. The software was developed to offer a free alternative to the very popular Norton Ghost and over the years it has gained a better set of features than Ghost making it a great choice for anybody.

Clonezilla is the other free offline software that stands out to me. Although it can be complicated upon first use it is a very good program and probably the most popular offline free drive imaging application.

It contains a beginners mode with all of the advanced options selected for you and all you have to choose is the partition or disk to backup and the location to save it which can be a USB drive, CD/DVD, or network share. The expert mode can be really confusing if you are not sure of what you are doing and generally the beginners mode should suffice for most users. The program can perform a disk to disk copy or just the regular disk or partition image backup but it is slow in doing this taking almost thirty minutes to create an image of an 8 GB partition.

However, Clonezilla does come in different packages, you can get it with the G-Parted boot CD or with UBCD (Ultimate Boot CD) which contains several other programs on one CD making the possibilities even greater.

Some hard drive manufacturers offer free software utilities to owners of their products to aid them in such tasks as diagnostics, disk management, and installing new hard drives. Of those tools made available a couple of manufacturers are offering free disk imaging software for users of their drives to use as long as they own the drive.

Owners of Seagate hard drives are eligible to download and use the Seagate Disk Wizard tools. Disk Wizard is essentially a slimmed down version of Acronis True Image that is available for free.

Owners of Western Digital hard drives also have a great option for disk imaging. Western Digital offers the Acronis True Image WD Edition which is much the same as what Seagate offers to its users.

Related Products and Links
Quick Selection Guide


Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Lots of features, supports GPT, System Restore, Incremental and Differential backup, AES Encryption
No user editable options for reinstating the MBR or not.
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

v3.5 Released 11th July 2016 View change log here

Macrium Reflect Free

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very easy to use and fast. can restore individual files, works with linux files systems, ability to clone hard drives including the working system partition, schedule backups easily, very stable and reliable, great compression of backup images, can convert to vhd virtual format, includes WindowsPE recovery.
Recovery options can be confusing for the novice user.
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

V6.1.1366 Released 30 June 2016

Windows XP/Vista /7 /8

Backup & Recovery 2014 Free

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Differential backups, can restore individual files, cyclic backup, good compression options, can clone hard drives. Recovery media is full-featured, can do most of what the installed application can. Works with Windows 8 including Storage Spaces.
Some compatibility problems with Linux recovery media, program requires registration for download, many features disabled in the free version making it feel bloated.
32 and 64 bit versions available
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
v2014 released 17 February, 2014 View the changelog here
Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7/8

Drive Image XML

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Drive to Drive image copy, restore individual files from images, ability to restore images to different drives. Provisions for incorporation into WinPE environments via plug-ins. Simple, basic, reliable.
No incremental or differential backup, backup process is very slow compared to others, not many options for creating backups, almost no default compression, has no recovery media included and users have to create their own XP-only based disk, users also have to schedule tasks manually with Windows Task Manager.
1.78 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP/2003/Vista/7


Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Supports a huge array of file systems, very reliable and stable, available on several different boot CD packages with many extra tools, and as a standalone liveCD, a very popular program
Offline only, can be difficult to use or complicated on first use, no incremental or differential backups, can not explore or restore files from images, not very fast
133.2 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
v2.3.2-22 released 17th Feb 2015 View release notes here
All Windows and Linux, Intel based Mac OS

PING (PartImage Is Not Ghost)

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Can create incremental backups, possibility to blank local admin password, can backup and restore the BIOS, can create bootable restoration CD, some basic partition editing available. Many rescue utilities included
Is an offline program, not many options for creating images, rescue utilities not nearly as extensive as PartedMagic.
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
All Windows and Linux

This software review is maintained by volunteer editor AndyR. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.


drive imaging, disk imaging, cloning, clone hard drives, copy hard drive, differential imaging, incremental imaging, hard drive imaging, image backups, drive backup.

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hi all

Could someone advise why EaseUS hasn't been reviewed here?

It claims to do system backups and disk cloning, as well as migrating systems to SSDs.

Btw, I'm not posting to promote EaseUS - I'm actually a licensed macrium reflect user but am looking to select an (ideally) free, appropriately reliable backup solution for a friend.



Are any of you procrastinating on downloading the free Aomei (and also the PE builder) ?
(I was)
Now might be a good time to 'snap out of it' (the procrastinating)
(I did)
The biggest give away site is trying to give away the Pro version today, and is having a horrible time getting the license keys to the members.
At least one member has posted advice to all the other members, pointing out what we know - the free version meets all of our (and their) needs.
If I were Aomei, I would be telling my developers to be crippling the free version a bit more
And perhaps remove the access to the free PE builder.

Subject: W10 running when imaging
Some will remember in my comments, how I like WIndows closed when imaging, most of you don't mind Windows running.
If I were you (the Windows is running people), I would be somewhat wary of W10's nasty habit of "updating whenever it feels like it"

Just sayin',

Hi Rob, Yes I agree imaging a system when the actual OS is running is a risk... My current knowlage of Win10 is vcery minimal at the moment I will admit, however I plan to buy a new laptop soon and that will have Win10 no doubt... so yes your point is very vaild in that respect and thank you for the heads up on it !

Please, might someone help? The unresolved issue whiich I haved with AOMEI Backupper Standard is that it doesn't see my 2 TB Samsung USB connected external drive during an attempted restore operation. Macrium Reflect Free sees it. EaseUS Todo Backup Free also sees it. QILING Disk Master Free is another soft that doesn't see/recognize/find the external drive. Except for that issue with AOMEI I think AOMEI is fantastic and feature rich for free, I also like the very tasteful looking and easily navigated GUI.

Are you running it from within Windows, or are you doing it from a bootable CD, the way God intended ?

Is your 2TB Samsung drive -
- a portable (2.5") in it's own pocket size case
- An external 3.5" drive in a Samsung case
- a 3.5" drive in a dock(or similar)

If it is the latter what is the brand of the Dock ?
I have a few, and one cheap brand (of flat docker) is not seen by my bootable Seagate DiskWizard program

I don't know if anyone else has mentioned this but Macrium Reflect software free edition does NOT include incremental backups. I would think this is important so only the files that have changed need to be backed up from time to time. Or, is "differential" enough? I have heard good things about this backup program from other tech gurus but I want to use the best "free" backup program that I can. Thanks.

If you are talking about a full image, then do not be stuffing around with your image, by doing incremental changes to your image.
Regarding the W10 upgrade, this is what I did -
- Used free Seagate DiskWizard (bootable CD, Windows NOT running) to create image.
- Verify image
- Remove drive, and store somewhere safe
- Replace drive, and restore image into it
- Do the upgrade to W10 (preferably using a burned ISO)

You now have two OS's you can run by swapping the drive.

Good idea. That's been done by the Win 10 forum users as well. I haven't upgraded to W10 yet but if I do, I'll do the same, just with Cloning. I have 2 SATA Hot-swap Trays in my Desktop tower for quick HDD access which makes Cloning (& Image testing) convenient.

The "best" for you depends upon how each program meets your requirements.

For me, Macrium Reflect is the best because the user interface has the sort of information that I use and I generally backup entire partitions/disks for simplicity. I rarely use incremental/differential backups because I don't want dependencies between the various backup images. Disk space and online file storage are so cheap nowadays that I keep a copy of each document and use OneDrive to synchronize changed files between two computers.

Incremental is simpler and more logical for most users because it copies entire files. This means that each changed file can be restored from one backup image.

Differential is more efficient for backup but restoring any changed file becomes more complicated because you need to restore the file from at least two images.

The ease of use benefit of incremental backups is probably why it is a paid feature that is not included in Macrium Reflect Free version 6.

Well the one with the most features in the free version is AOMEI, but like you say the majority of gurus stay faithful to Macrium... both are good programs I think the way to choose in this case is dependent on how many features you need to be honest.

Thank you. I want to make a system image before I upgrade to Windows 10. Again, all the tech gurus recommend making a system image (and saving it to an external hard drive) prior to upgrading "just in case". Makes sense to me. What I am unclear about is if I make a system image, is it just the Windows 7 program files or is it ALL my files? I want to protect everything. :)

Hi. if you do a full-HDD System Image, that will backup everything on the HDD. It's essentially the same thing as Cloning the HDD. The end results are the same; the 2 processes just do it in different ways.

Cloning requires a 2nd HDD as the "target" HDD and Imaging doesn't require the 2nd HDD (unless you're Imaging to restore the PC from a failed HDD or some malware variants).

If you're using Macrium for example, just select the entire "source" (ie 'C' Drive in almost all PC's) drive for the contents that you want to Image to the target (sometimes referred to as the "destination") HDD.

I use both Imaging and Cloning for my routine HDD backups since I have a couple of spare HDD's that I rotate every 2 weeks for full-HDD backups. I Image occasionally for HDD backup redundancy.

Thank you for the info. When you image and/or clone, does it also include the unused portions of the partitions? I have a 1T drive that I partitioned just for organizing my stuff. Most are less than half used. It seems kind of a waste to copy all the unused part. Is there a way to get around that or not? Thanks in advance. I am sure you can tell I am a newbie at this. I have done a system image (just my operating system stuff) but from what I have read, the "experts" recommend copying all your files before upgrading to Windows 10.

Absolutely agree that AOMEI is outstanding. Simple and fast. The Windows startup disk it creates works great on my machines. Have used others in the past such as Paragon and even Norton back in the day. For creating images this is the best.

Apparently there is a lot of new features in the latest version 3.5 I have not had the time to check them out as yet though.

AOMEI Backupper Standard has been updated to version 3.5 (2016.07.11); the changelog has not been updated as of this post (

Macrium Reflect Free Edition has been updated to version 6.1 Build 1366 (2016.06.30); the changelog listed is:

Automatic deletion of Macrium created network share connections:

-- Authenticated Network connections created by Macrium Reflect at the start of a backup can now be automatically terminated on application exit rather than waiting for the default Windows timeout. This functionality was requested by forum members to help protect against ransomware

$PROMPT$ - Prompt for password:

-- When using $PROMPT$ to prompt for a backup password during execution, this was causing Incremental and Differential backups to fail to start. This has been resolved.

Focus stealing when running a scheduled task:

-- Scheduled tasks running in the background could momentarily steal the Windows focus at the start of execution. This has been resolved.

Program exception on exit:

-- Reflect could occasionally crash on exit if application termination was delayed. This has been resolved.

A cumulative changelog can be found at Softpedia's changelog page for the program - .

Really appreciate the article, it definitely helped me decide on which program to use! The content and layout are effective and I like the "Quick Selection Guide!" Being able to simply scroll through the article directly, without having to find an arrow somewhere to go to the next page, is a good feature as is the availability of a printable version. This article motivated me to sign-up for this site. Thanks Dan

Hi Dan, it is great to hear positive feedback, I can not take credit for the design of layout though I am sure to who it may concern will read that and be appreciative of your kind comment, Thank you Sir.

Macrium reflect free is now at version 6.1 (for some time...) :-)

New in version 6.1 Build 1196
March 9th, 2016

Windows PE 10 Intel Matrix RAID Drivers
The Windows PE rescue media creation process now allows Windows 10 Intel Matrix RAID drivers to be updated.

V6.x is just a 30 day trial though is it not ? Support for V5.x has ended now but you can still download it without it being a trial edition.

Strange, why does it have "free" in the name?
Check here:

Well I did check the new download page and the info page etc and it all says 30 day trail... I do recall reading somewhere when V6 was first released that the last truly free version would be V5.x and they may consider at some stage to do the same with V6.x or words to that effect.

Hi! I added link in the answer above.
There is no link to the free version on the Macrium main page (strange, but have seen it before). One have to manually find the link in google or similar search page. I've found it on Softpedia (or somewhere).

The link on this very page to the free version still works (I checked that also) hence the reason why I have not updated the review since a 30 day trial is not exactly free software... I am just guessing but maybe when it gets to a few more versions down the line the initial V6 might become free, I don't know don't hold me to that I am just going from what was said initially wherever it was that I read it. V.5.x still works very well but I have no idea if it is compatible with Win10 or not. Thank you for the heads up on the version update anyway, appreciated.

Macrium Reflect version 6, is in fact, free with the great features that were not available in the free version 5, such as cloning and incremental imaging and boot menu WinPE recovery environment without the use of usb or cd/dvd. I have been using version 6 free for months. Enjoy! Spread the word!

You're welcome, and keep up the good work.

As regarding to v. 6 beeing free or not - your link is pointing to ver 6.
I've also downloaded and install it, and it says ver 6.and something.

I found that restoring the backup was complicated. Are any easy to restore by a neophyte?

The Seagate DiskWizard bootable CD, has about 4 options on the left -
- Backup
- Recover
- etc
You just click Recover.
Unfortunately it then scours your connected drives, and lists every backup (image) that it can find.
I have learned to live with that, by using an idiot proof (for my sake) naming convention like -
Year month day - 6PM
That way I can choose the image I wish to use for recovery.
You can right click to choose 'Recover', or just select the image, and click a large button top leftish
You then choose where the restored image is to go.