Best Free Drive Cloning Software

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Introduction

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 or disk imaging has now become a must-have tool for the majority of users both novice and advanced alike mainly because of its ease of use in most circumstances and the convenience it provides.

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Rated Products

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  

A fast and easy way to perform backups on a regular basis or on the fly.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free (Limited features)

If you're looking for a fast and easy way to perform backups on a regular basis or even on the fly then AOMEI Backupper offers exactly that. If you like to get in and configure every setting possible pertaining to creating a drive image then you are better off choosing and alternative imaging program. May I say this is actually my imaging program of choice after using all the others off and on for years. Not that there is anything wrong with the others, it's just that with AOMEI I am not bombarded with multiple questions. I can just click a few times and be confident that it is going to do what I expect it to do without the possibility of me accidentally selecting the wrong crucial option during recovery (yes I have done that a few times in the past and even invited some new cuss words post broken system restore).

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Macrium Reflect Free  

Offer nearly complete control over how you wish to re-instate your backup images.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Limited features)

Overall the program does its intended job efficiently, however running into licensing validation issues can leave you with some serious problems in an emergency... The software on the face of it is user friendly enough but as I also stated in my test unless you fully understand what you are doing you may think you have a working system image but later come to find out you do not! Macirum in my opinion is for the more advanced user rather than the novice as it does offer you more or less complete control over how you wish to re-instate your backup images whilst still being user friendly.

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Paragon Backup & Recovery Free Edition  

A user-friendly backup solution with wizards and fully featured recovery media.


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Private/Educational use)

Overall Paragon does its intended job differently to the others and left me kind of wondering what the outcome was going to be during the recovery process, having said that yes it completed without a hitch in a timely fashion. There is so many features in this program that you can see yet are unable to use in the free version, to me that just makes it all feel bloated. Is this for the novice or the advanced user? It is easy enough to use and the wizards provide plenty of instruction if needed, so yes it does appear to be novice user friendly. I do feel though that the more advanced user would get a little frustrated with having to use said wizards all the time.

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DriveImage XML  

An easy to use and reliable program for imaging and backing up partitions and logical drives.


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Private/Educational use)

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 that 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.

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Other Options

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.

  • PING (PartImage Is Not Ghost) is the choice that stands out above the rest for me. 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

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Editor

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.

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Comments

AOMEI Backupper is (was) great but for me it doesn't work anymore under Windows 8.1 to restore an image because the utility won't start automatically like it did before on Windows startup; it used to backup and restore my system partition (12 GB) in less than 1 minute.
Then the bootable media doesn't work either anymore, I get a "boot error" on my main machine (though it works on another).
And finally I made a bootable USB with AOMEI PE Builder which includes Backupper but restoring an image takes 45 minutes (vs 1min from Windows - when it was still working) this way !!!

Hi GoustiFruit, Thank you for your information, funny you should mention it as I have just finished repairing a Gateway laptop (10 years old)and installed Win 8 on it more so out of curiosity to see if it would take it... and yes it did working perfectly... Now I always create a recovery partition in conjunction with my own scripts in order to initiate a "recovery boot process" if the user so needs it said image is always made with AOMEI though on this occasion after running the recovery process the image deployment started and yes it took about 30 minutes plus ! my thoughts were something is not right here... it should take 6 mins max normally... the result was a broken operating system once it did finally boot after looping several times during the POST (Power On Self Test) 100's of corrupted files, I was not happy to say the least, time is money after all... I have contacted AOMEI concerning this problem with Windows 8 the actual problem lies within their boot loader and I have suggested a fix for it although my workaround would have to include a GRUB loader so its not actually a true Windows PE environment... I am quite sure AOMEI will fix this problem ASAP and when they do I shall update this post to reflect that fact :-)

I'd like to download an older version (2.0.3 for example) to check if the problem was introduced in the latest one, but it's nowhere to be found :-\
Also another problem I noticed is that my system (Windows 8.1) will freeze for 30s after startup, on the desktop, after AOMEI Backupper is installed. The solution is to disable "AOMEI Backupper Scheduler Service" (in msconfig for example, or Windows Services manager).

It works fine (Windows 7) they have a new software out called OneKey it is aimed at the novice user as a replacement for a factory recovery environment, however it is full of bugs and stands a good chance to (fubar)your HDD... hence the reason why I have not written a review for it as yet... Backupper though is a solid program.

Just cloned 56gb of a 64gb ssd drive with win 7 to a 256gb ssd using macrium free in 11 minutes,everything working perfectly brilliant tool,definatly worth your 5 stars,unable to using Acronis which was freebie from Crucial(ssd maker).

Hi morring, thanks for your comment. 11mins is impressive though the speed does depend a lot on the CPU and RAM you have installed I would imagine your hardware is quite recent in order achieve that in such a short time. I am curious though as to why you were unable to use Acronis ?

Hi Andy ,not that new motherboard is a GA-H55M-UD2H and first gen i5 so 5 years ,but being having problems the last month have replaced the ram with same spec ones and the 1 terrabyte Seagate drive failed.Seen the Crucial MX100 drive was going for £70 so went for it,formatted the new drive selected the source in Acronis as C selected drive E as destination,it rebooted and started Acronis in Dos showed a page off info with during line a question mark with nothing really stating error with a final trace then a dash then nothing,tried twice,same .Macrium no problems,Bye.

Very sorry for my extremely late reply to your post, I blame it on old age, it has nothing to do with the alcohol consumption that is just a myth... Thank you for the additional information. I think possibly the problem may well lie in the actual BIOS of your system since you have placed a new HDD into an older system it may well not be detecting it correctly until Windows actually boots and loads up the correct drivers for said HDD... that is just an educated guess ! don't hold me to my word on that, as I have seen the same problem myself within some laptops if you place a high speed 7,500 drive into them the BIOS can detect it yes however it does not really know what the heck it is until the drivers are loaded... *shrug* I know your using a desktop system but the same would apply I imagine...

Except that it's slow at doing incremental backups.

^^^ Link fails.

Corrected it now.
With AOMEI doing an incremental backup seemed to take in the region of two mins longer than a full backup for me at least, however as I am sure you guys are aware this is all subject to many different factors, over all system speed, how much data has actually changed in the incremental backup and so on.

Please add Aomei to the list, possibly as the top-ranking one. It outdoes Macrium in every way, offering incremental and differential backups, image mounting, encryption, partition or file selective backups, scheduling and no nagging. :)

AndyR Aomei appears to be in the wrong category here. It's in the file-based backup article when it is a drive imaging/cloning application which would fit in this category. Even the review says so: This program does not allow the user to choose files and folders. It's the only program in this category that isn't a file based backup program. Instead Backupper offers fast methods to backup or clone hard drives and partitions with a couple of easy clicks of the mouse.
Hi Remah, I was thinking that also, however said review is quite dated as Aomei does allow you to select files and folders now for backup, though it is primary an imaging program. I am in the process of rewriting some of the reviews and will more than likely move aforementioned program to the appropriate category, Thank you for pointing this out.
Yes with version 2, AOMEI does allow you to select files/folders for backup.
I think it would then be good for this product to appear in both categories with appropriate descriptions.
I'm with Jojo. Some duplication between categories is inevitable, and indded desirable, to ensure visitors can find what they are searching for. MC - Site Manager.
Ok, rather than duplicate the content I shall make a reference to it in the other section outlining the basics, they actually have another imaging product out now that is in essence a very simplified recovery solution for the novice user that I shall be reviewing once all the beta bugs are ironed out.

The write ups do not much discuss the situation of each program with respect to UEFI, GPT, and secure boot--common on recent machines. I read on other forums that these are real issues with some imaging programs.

There is freeware cloning software called "HDClone" from a german company called miray-software.
Does anyone have experience with this freeware HDClone V4.3?

I've been using the free version of XXClone for about 6 years now,... I'm amazed at how it makes a bootable working copy of my main drive onto a second hard drive. It saved my bacon a few times on the old XP computer and now that I've graduated to W7, I plan to use it again. The only difference between the "paid for" and the free version is that the freebie does not do incremental.
Not a big deal for me... as long as I have a mint condition of my OS, that,s all that matters.

Thank You for your recommendation of XXClone. I will add it to the list of software to take a look at.
I've been pleased with AOMEI Backupper and with version 2.0 it has certainly outdone both Macrium and EaseUS. A quick look at the feature comparison of AOMEI Backupper Free and Macrium Reflect Free and EaseUS Todo Backup will let you know why its extremely good. It allows full file, folder, system, disk and partition backups with automatic, full, incremental and differential backups along with high compression technology. It also supports both WinPE and Linux bootable disc.

Thanks for the 'heads up'
Also that Softpedia page, gives a thorough description, which I will save.
Regarding the choice of getting the Pro vs the Standard (is the Standard the free one ?), Softpedia says this -
The Bad
Compared to the Standard edition, Pro does not bring essential features to the table. Most users would not actually consider to pay [price edited out] just for command-line support, backup disk space management and image merging, knowing that Standard is free (we expected more advanced features from Pro). Besides, this price does not cover free lifetime upgrades (that's an extra [price edited out]).

I don't think I need any of those extra features, so would life be simpler (for my plethora of old PCs), if I just got the free one (considering licensing, etc) ?

Rob

Yup I think the Free version covers most what everyone needs

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