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.

 

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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

I have used Macrium Free, and it is OK. BUT, NO differential or incremental backups.
I have tried Paragon Free as well, now this one I NEVER had any compatibility problems with the Linux boot abl restore CD, and at least this one gives you differential backup capabilities.
Right now am trying AOMEI Backupper, and so far I love it the most. Fast, efficient, AND above all of the other freebies, it has BOTH differential and incremental as well. ALL this in a FREE package.

AOMEI Backupper is now my goto freeware imaging software after using Acronis as my primary imaging tool. I've tested several restores in Win 8.0 and 8.1 and they work flawlessly. I tried most of the others and found them to be too slow or the recovery media doesn't work properly. I use both "just in case". I have a TB of software to protect!!!!

Aomei have spammed the site and forum in the past, and they have been pretty consistent at it. Considering that, don't think we will give space to them on the site. Sorry, had to delete out the link, and other content on account of this.

I've settled on Easis Cloning Free. Extremely simple program without without bells and whistles, most importantly it doesn't save the image as a proprietary format.

An Easeus by any other name! Is that Easeus, or is there a homonym on the loose?
I don't see anything that stands out, the free version won't compress, the only appeal, unfortunately. Plus, why is the company name a homonym of a major player in such programs? That's a great way to irk potential customers who may get confused, and why Easeus? Shoulda gone with Macriom.

I'm not making a case for it having advanced features. I settled on it cause it lets me create the backup on a running system and be able to restore using any linux Live OS, since it produces a non-proprietary image file. This is unlike the programs above which will let you do either but not both.

Just because the capability is there to make a backup on a live system, does not mean you should.
If you were going to Mars, and you could backup the Shuttle's OS whilst you are asleep (and the OS can be turned off) OR you could back it up whilst dodging the comets, etc. Which would you choose ?
That was why Nasa 'invented' 'KISS'

The Volume Shadow Copy service used to make live 'snapshots' really is a quite mature method, it's widely used and robust. On a percentage basis, you would be far safer with your system making automatic, unattended backups than if you only backed up offline, that extra effort will be enough annoyance for most users to frequently skip backups. I've used these programs online far more often than the offline, and haven't noticed more problems with them.

Are you referring to File/Folder backups OR imaging the whole partition ?
If it is imaging the whole partition, then Shirley ('Airplane') simple is the best ?
Also I ALWAYS verify my image after creating it.
He who does not verify will . . . . .

In an ideal world, where everyone is relaxed and unhurried, unharried, and unharassed, your method has a slight edge, but for most of us, taking the system down, booting into whatever, taking an image, then making sure it verifies, and then bringing the system back up, well, let's just say that 'between the cracks' is grossly over-populated. So, I'll agree with your assessment, but only grant it affords a quite slight margin of safety, and I still believe, for most users, it isn't the best practical, day to day solution. And thanks, we appreciate user input, especially with opposing viewpoints, multi-core cpus are generally better than singles.

Could you show any examples of live system backup failing?

Great analogy. :) MC = Site Manager.

Update on Macrium Reflect free:
I found an older disk, a Linux disk from ver 5.0.4995 of about one year ago. It boots and fully runs fine!

Customer Support stated the Free and paid versions of the Rescue disk is the same, that it might be a problem with my system, clearly not the case.

It seems that one needs to verify that their Rescue disk fully works. Just stop, unless you have another image app to use if Macrium does not actually restore an image, before the Rescue disk actually goes to work. That point is easy to discern. If others have the same/similar problem I am experiencing, of course this product is not useable. If Macrium fixes this issue or I find a way to get it to work, this will be communicated here.

Thanks for keeping us informed. Are you saying that a rescue disk from a year ago works, but that one made with the latest version won't? That is a puzzler. And you are right about trying out the rescue media, it seems this is some kind of black art, you never know for sure until you try it. In your case, I can only assume there is some driver in your system that is no longer supported in the distro used by Macrium. I don't know how much you are interested, but do you ever run linux on your system? Grabbing a copy of knoppix and seeing what drivers it comes up with might lead to understanding what is going on. Good luck.
crank, what do you think about this one, from MiniTool? http://www.minitool-drivecopy.com/drivecopy.html Suggested on the forum by sicknero. Take a look at your convenience though. I know you are busy with other matters now.
Thanks for the heads-up, I will take a look at some point It would not have been considered earlier because it isn't really an 'imaging' program, there are some subtle differences compared to a basic cloning application. Most any disk partition software will clone, either partitions or whole disks, but they won't have the sophisticated data-exclusion provisions, the system-aware, live-cloning ability, etc. It says it can handle GPT disks, so it is probably fine with even Win8, but it needs some looking into. I'm still needing to get a handle on UEFI, it's difficult, and it's in-flux-vendor specific, and not all that easy to play around with. But I'm working on it slowly. Since I will be getting some new PCs, I should have more up-to-date hardware as examples to study soon.
Thanks for your views. And take your time :). UEFI, GPT, AHCI, man.. all these things are just over my head... what all they keep coming up with :D.
Hasn't been updated since May 2010 :\ Is it dead?
Where did you get the date from? Screenshot? It says it works on Windows 8, so I don't think it last updated that long ago?
Softpedia and CNET
Ah, OK. Maybe that's why it isn't known that well?

Errata regarding my 15 July 2013 post about Clonezilla: It does indeed create a folder, after asking you to input your own name. It defaults to the current date-time-img, example being 2013-07-16-14-img. An undocumented feature is a warning screen comes up if you enter an already existing folder name, and asks if you want to overwrite it. The overwrite works fine. If no, it asks again for a name, defaulting again to the current date-time-img.

Paragon is clunky regarding folder naming, defaulting to an obscure and very long name, such as arc_100713031548958. I enter a shorter, dated folder name, whereupon the long folder name is created in my folder name, then the file(s) in it, with the same name, plus adding more onto the name, such as: _0001p.000, .001 etc if you split the image. At least for the Windows app.

Replying to both posts: YeOldOne, a thorny name for lovers of old, neglected, sadly discarded letters. I agree about the 'verify on completion', petty to leave out. And I still have no idea why Paragon does it's default naming scheme the way it does, maybe it facilitates automatic diffferetnial backups, ensuring unique naming, I always change it to something that is informative of what the file is. The long download you can do yourself, it is going to get WindowsAIK, primarily to get the wim image file to use as basis for adding their software. I don't have a clue how to help you with all the vearious issues raised in that first paragraph of first post, driver issues are rife with recovery media, sometimes you just have to keep playing with it until you find something that works. With a custom-build, you may have an easier time, not having to wonder if the OEM did anything proprietary to mess your PC life up. I'm so glad to hear you recommending multiple backup programs, it's something I harp on all the time. BUT, and this should be noted by everyone, there are situations where all the backups in the world will not help you, and sadly I can attest to nearly having this happen to me a month ago. I had 3 PCs melt on me, no, it wasn't over-zealous overclocking, just the natural result of the bedroom they were in burning. Which also began to melt stuff in the rest of the house as the hallway walls were scorched halfway down. The rest of my PCs were badly smoke infiltrated, and I'm waiting for them to be cleaned. I pulled all the drives to test myself, not trusting someone else to have access, and these have all my main data, yeah!!!! They all tested fine, and I think at least a couple that were in the burnt room may be OK, need to do more testing. And here is the 'BUT', if the fire had gone on just a bit more before the firemen got there, the whole house would have completely burned, all my data gone, backups of course included. I have most everything backed up online, so that is the real 'BUT'. For your data to be really safe, you should keep some kind of backup off-site, like online. I'm here in a hotel, using a caseless MOBO, with it and a power supply sitting out next to the keyboard I'm typing on, using one monitor I pulled out and cleaned myself, along with the hotel TV as a 2nd, and for it's sound. Maybe I'll post some photos somewhere of the cool, Dali-esque PC corpses, and the surprising lack of damage to many of the components. The ram in this MOBO was taken from the worst-burned PC, where the cpu fan blades are all drooping down like rabbit ears and the wiring looks like shiny burnt syrup. I wiped the soot off the 4 RAM sticks with alcohol, though there was still some bad discloloration, stuck them in, and they're fine! There's all these little objects I keep funning across I can't even identify. Oh well, stuff happens, I'm still sucking air, happy imaging!
Sorry to know about the fire at your home, crank. Good thing it was contained. And also good to know it did not burn out your spirits in any way, and you are still going good and strong as ever. I hope not too much was lost for you, and I hope you recover soon :).. good luck! We are with you!
Thank you Anupam, it has not exactly been fun, but far from the end of the world. On a surprisingly positive note, it looks like even the most cooked HDs are still working, and they would have been on at the time of the fire. I did not expect that at all. How long they keep working is another question, but I did not hear any unusually weird or ominous sounds as they spun up and then continued to operate. The SMART data indicated no problems either. Tough little guys I guess.
That's really good to know, crank, and yes, really surprising too :). Tough, surely, yes. I do hope they keep on working... if they survived the fire, and are still working, they just might carry on. Well, atleast you will be able to get data out of them to a more safe and reliable drive. Good luck! :).

I have used Reflect Free for at least 4 years, lamented the loss of the verify upon creation. The latest version includes WinPE along with the Linux restore boot disk. However, the WinPE at first went to a large download but fails to complete the creation, both 3 and 4 versions. The Linux version creates OK, boots OK, runs OK until I select an image to restore. Then the screen goes blank except for “acpiphp_ibm_init: acpi_walk_namespace failed” and hangs. Several tries were made, including a Microsoft uninstall then download and install a fresh version. Note that the Macrium folder with a few sub-folders and files do not get removed and do not remove manually. Win7 x64 SP1 Device Manager is totally clean, in my home-built computer. However, to format any CD, the quick format now is grayed out, tbd as to why, how to fix. But this should not have any effect on the Recovery process.

At this time, Free owners cannot register into any forum, so we can only see past forum posts which only have a tiny amount of free content. Future posts will only be from paid owners. So, no help for any issues, such as inability to use the boot disk, which is 19.4 MB. Since this site is so excellent, perhaps it can fill in if/until Macrium allows Free owners to communicate at their Forums? With the problem I am experiencing, and if others (who should check their boot disks up to the point just short of the actual restore) do too, Macrium should no longer be recommended at all, at least for the Free version. I used to buy paid image apps, until I came across this website. Sometimes, though, it 'pays' to get a paid version for the support. I have spent many hours so far with the Reflect problem; how much is your time worth?

We all should have redundant partition backup, ie image creation tools. I also use the highly rated Paragon Free. It is not as smooth or clear, but gets the job done. One advantage is its recovery disk does both image creation and restore. For my SSD OS plus apps drive, the latest Paragon is only slightly slower than Macrium, making images slightly larger. To create the drive image, 48 G, takes less than 3 minutes when using the Windows app, longer of course when using the boot disk.

Due to the Reflect problem, I just obtained Clonezilla, thanks to your great reviews. Using the boot disk, it is surprisingly fast, taking about 5 1/2 minutes but another 7 1/2 minutes to verify. Thankfully, when selecting this option ahead of time, it goes to verify unattended. So, take a coffee break for 15 minutes, and find the entire image plus verify operation completed, except for a few more steps to end the program. Note that there is a confusing sentence at the Clonezilla-live.php website: It states “Though the image size is limited by the boot media's storage capacity...” The boot disk allows the image to be created onto any drive partition, even external USB3 HDDs (at least for my rig) such as my 2 Gig WD HDD in a Vantec HX case, which has a great, quiet fan. Also note: You can only go down one level of a sub-folder (second below root, ie D:\folder1\folder2\imagefile), and only if there are no spaces in the folder names, and the folder structure has to exist, cannot be created when running the app, unlike all the others I have used. So, plan ahead.

Image software has come a long way, such as my still-working Drive Image 5.01 (2 floppies, circa 2002) for a still-running NT4 SP6B laptop, especially with numerous free versions, both commercial and open source types.

I recently built a WinPE rescue disk using Macrium Reflect, and it was successful, without any problems. I also booted the computer with that disc, and it successfully detected my hard drives, which were not detected with the Linux rescue disc from Paragon. So, maybe there is some problem at your end. Macrium has been working fine for me.

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