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 tried both Macrium Reflect Free and Backup & Recovery 2013 Free (and a giveaway version from Paragon Backup & Recovery 12 Compact) and sadly Paragon is not able to access encrypted partitions correctly. It will show them as raw or "Other FS" instead of NTFS from within Windows. That is probably a downside for everyone with encrypted drives. Macrium shows them as NTFS.

By the way Macrium Reflect Free is at version 5.2.6314.

Thanks for the heads-up, this is an area I know little about, so please indulge me and help me see what is happening. When you say an encrypted drive, is that a drive encrypted with Windows, or DiskCryptor? I have no experience with either, but have played around with TrueCrypt. If you encrypt a partition, how could any program know it was ntfs underneath? behind? the encryption? It should just be a string of 1's and 0's even though the partition table will tell the system it is ntfs, the system won't see anything but gibberish and tell you it is raw and needs formatting. Am I missing something here? Similarly, if you encrypt the whole disk, the system won't even see partitions, it would say the disk needs initializing. Thanks for any education in this regard, it's something I'm interested in but haven't yet gotten too.

Sorry for the Late answer. I am Backing the System from inside Windows up. My Hard Disks are encrypted with DiskCryptor. Acronis and Macrium see the Partitions as NTFS from within Windows. So they will normally back the up in an unencrypted State, as they do Not know they were encrypted. So far only Acronis was able to back my Partitions up and restore them on another System. Though to be bootable, you have to use a Windows DVD and do fix Boot and fix mbr to be able to use the System After a restore. Or you Need the DiskCryptor CD with the installed Boot loader.

Everyone who encrypts drives, and external 2.5" drives will at some stage get even bigger 'downsides'
Don't do it.

Maybe, but have never had any problems with DiskCryptor. Using it for 3 or so years now and if I want to I can restore the Acronis Backup and just use the system again. Because after the restore the system is unencrypted. The same should count for Macrium Reflect Free as it sees the data unencrypted.

OK, Macrium cannot backup them. It supports BitLocker and TrueCrypt only. Let's see what Paragon will tell me, if they will tell anything at all.

Paragon told me, that they do not support encrypted Drives at all.

Maybe you could also try Redo Backup & Recovery. It is an offline imager like CloneZilla.

http://redobackup.org/

Thanks for your suggestion, Redo looks promising, I had a similar request back in Dec 2011 see here, and my thoughts are the same. It doesn't offer much, although it seems dead simple. I think you's be much better off with a copy of PartedMagic, which I tout up above ^^ in at the bottom of the review section. I can't overly extol the utility and versatility of that little linux distro For a taste of the goodies, from their sweb site: "The Parted Magic OS employs core programs of GParted and Parted to handle partitioning tasks with ease, while featuring other useful software (e.g. Partimage, TestDisk, Truecrypt, Clonezilla, G4L, SuperGrubDisk, ddrescue, etc…) and an excellent set of info to benefit the user. Parted Magic is licensed under the GPL, so an extensive collection of file system tools are also included, as Parted Magic supports the following: btrfs, exfat, ext2, ext3, ext4, fat16, fat32, hfs, hfs+, jfs, linux-swap, ntfs, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, and zfs. " Thanks again for your input, it's always appreciated. I don't have the time to really check out how well Redo does what it does, how compatible it is with various systems and disk formats etc, but it looks like a quick and very easy program, if you give it a whirl, check back with us and tell us how it worked for you.

Backing up my Fedora machine worked fine. The only thing I find somewhat confusing is, when the program wants you to tell it what to backup it shows the computer name. You than have to choose the hard disk, otherwise it will give errors while running the backup.

Thank you for reporting back with us. Most of the Linux LiveCD-based backup programs, and linux distros in general, are not as 'easy' as windows, and disk/partition nomenclature can be quite confusing, especially to anyone not already familiar with how it does things. If you have multiple disks, and they have multiple partitions, with some in roughly the same sizes, you have to be very careful to make sure you are working with the correct partition. It is easier if all are labeled, but sometimes labels are not shown, so proceed with caution. Thanks again for reporting back.

Macrium Relect has one BIG HUGE problem. It would mke sense that you would back up you Windows on an external hard drive. But this software does not see USB! Therefore you're up a gum tree like I am at present trying to restore your windows. So if you are t hinking about using this software and going to use a USB - Think again and use something else

Are you running it from a bootable CD ?
If so which one ?

Have you tried it with the others -
- From a running Windows (which I avoid)
- WinPE CD
- Linux CD

Rob
PS If I have gotten confused (I am 71), and some of those options do not exist, be gentle on me.

Macrium does support backing up to an external USB, and you're correct, without that support, I wouldn't have it in the lineup at all. I don't know what your configuration is, so as my first guess, are you trying to back up to a USB that is formatted in FAT, vFAT, FAT32 or some such? Those formats support maximum file size of 4GB, and few windows systems disks are going to image below that. Format to NTFS, and try again. If that isn't the problem, please get back with me with more info on your system. Good luck.

Hi it is formatted to NTFS. Just done the Windows download as I can't see C drive and hoping it will resolve my problem. I shan't be using MR again. has changed since I used it two years ago and more complicated. Will look at your other alternatives

I have been using Easeus Todo Backup free for a short while but I do not see any comments on this software here. Have you ever tried it and if so I would like to here some reviews on it thanks.

There were issues with Easeus and ToDo, foremost being their removing any link to their free software versions for anyone going to the site, and the removal of WinPE for the free version. While it's a fine product, the frequent spamming we got on their behalf gave the final impetus for removal and unlikely return anytime soon. Most comments we get similar to this one are ignored due to the volume, but since it's slacked off considerably, I decided to leave this one as a heads-up/FYI to help lessen any confusion for our visitors. Thank you for the comment, and I'm sorry I can't be more accommodating at this time.

i think you need to edit about Con's on Macrium Reflect Free coz the latest version support GPT now http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx

jango, thank you for the heads-up, I was aware of this, but I have to say that I've become, well, jaded and down-right cranky about these claims, on a number of occasions, the developers of many of these programs have, for a series of updates, claimed 'GPT support', 'advanced format' support, etc, without having real, full support. I haven't fully tested all of these claims across all the various combinations, but I'm trying. There are difficulties in this, issues of hardware/software/BIOS/system interactions, with the added complication of the newness of these standards leading to an unfortunate, uh, fluidity let's say, in how they are handled. But again, I'm trying to get a handle on it all, please give me some time, the UEFI BIOS technical details have about lead me to test how well windows8 PCs work after getting chucked out of an 8th floor window. But, I haven't any issues with Macrium and will change that 'con'. They update their product regularly, much more than any of the others, and the update process is utterly simple, seamless, and quick. Kudos to Macrium on that, and one of the reasons they're #1. Thanks again for your comments, they are much appreciated.
Having problems with recovery media of Paragon Backup & Recovery 2013. When I reboot using the recovery media, it boots up fine, but it fails to detect any of the hard disks. I have two. One is 1TB Seagate, and the other is 160GB Seagate... both SATA. The same happens with recovery media of version 2012, which worked fine earlier with my older system. The current SATA mode as I checked in BIOS is IDE. Do I need to change to AHCI? Can that be the cause of the problem? I don't have much knowledge of AHCI mode, or, what effect will it have on changing to it. Also, during recovery media creation, it said about being able to create WinPE boot disk, but I did not see that in the options. Only creates a Linux based disk. I was able to create the image for the 160 GB HDD using Paragon BAR installed on the 1TB HDD. But, I want to be able to do that using the recovery media too. I have XP on the 160 GB HDD, and I intend to use it for testing, which will require putting the base image on it again after one round of test and that's better done with 1 TB HDD disconnected, and image restored via the pen drive, with recovery media running from the CD. I think it's time to try Macrium Reflect? :D
Hi Anupam, First off, you should most definitely be in AHCI mode, I'm a little rusty on setting a system to that that has been in IDE, you may need to change the msahci registry entry, google for details, I'm running late for something important or I would get the info together for you, sorry. AHCI has many many benefits, it's a system-disk-controller thing, has nothing to do with the bits on the disk. Paragon only offers the linux recovery, you have to get the paid version for winPE. Get this switched, then try building the recovery again, you may have to help with drivers if that doesn't work, but I think it should, it's worked fine for me. The linux version of the recovery is very good once you get it ggoing, pretty much exactly like the online windows environment, and it should do whatever you need from there. Good luck, if you still have issues, get back with me, I'll have more time before too long. Just a quick hint, this info is all over the tubez: Locate and then click one of the following registry subkeys: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\Msahci HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\IastorV In the pane on the right side, right-click Start in the Name column, and then click Modify. In the Value data box, type 0, and then click OK.
An update on the issue. Sorry to post late, but I got around to address this issue recently only. I haven't yet got around to changing to AHCI via registry entry. I haven't got the confidence yet. I will backup my data, and then try later. In case it turns out to be messy, I don't wanna try that right now. BTW, the registry entry for Windows 8 is different.. its storahci, and not msahci. About imaging issue, I installed Macrium Reflect, and found out that it can build a WinPE disc. I tried that, and the disc is able to see the drives on the computer. So, I think I will go with Macrium Reflect now, for my computer. For my old laptop though, which has a bad optical drive... I found that Paragon has the option to create a bootable rescue USB drive, whereas Macrium does not have any such option. So, I used Paragon B&R to make a bootable rescue flash drive, and then made an image of the laptop hard drive. So, both of them were useful in different situations. Thanks for all your help :). BTW, I noticed you changed the title of the review from imaging to cloning :D. When did that happen?
He didn't change the name but we (as in the Planning Group) did as part of our efforts to improve how Google the Great sees our pages for search results. MC
Ah! So, that's the reason. And here I was searching for the Best Free Drive Imaging :D.
Thanks for the reply crank :). I will try switching over to AHCI, it can be done via BIOS. I hope nothing breaks :D. I have worked with the Linux based recovery media before, and it works great. Have built image, and also restored using the recovery media. It's just that on this computer, it's not working. I think it's because of the current IDE mode. Thanks again :).

C'mon people, something as important as an image backup should be as simple as possible ('KISS').

Don't mess with Incremental backups.
Don't Create an image whilst Windows is running.
The reviews should boldly discuss (emphasize) the availability of bootable CD's, as any reader with any caution should be using that (CD) to -
- Create images,
- To verify images (important),
- And to restore images.

Up until now, I have been using the free Seagate DiscWizard (Acronis). You can install it, but you should then only use the installed program to create the bootable CD. If you choose to keep the program installed, it comes in handy if you ever wish to browse Folders or Files within your images.
I prefer the earlier versions of the DiscWizard, as the 'Verify' option is much easier to find.
However I have had poor success with Windows 7.
I don't like Windows 7, so don't use it much. That is why I have not rolled up my sleeves to get my Win 7 imaging reliable. In fact, that is why I am reading this article, to find an alternate program to image Win 7.

Which program (that has a bootable CD) have the readers found reliable for imaging Win 7 ?

Oh pshaw! That's too easy, the answer is 'none' if you are looking for a bullet-proof, never-fail solution. I've used all of these, some a lot more than others, and they all get 'throwed-off' at one time or another. That is why I keep emphasizing everyone should use two imaging programs and keep their images up to date and also to keep an old, early image in case they want to 'reinstall' without re-installing. Imaging a system off-line as you recommend might buy you a modicum of extra-assurance of getting a good image, but volume shadow copy is a very mature and robust technology, used widely in commercial environments, and it's unlikely to be the cause of an image going bad. For your concerns, I would get Partition Magic, a great all-around linux rescue system, it includes gParted, possibly the most reliable partitioning software. It wont give you the benefit of imaging software's capability of leaving out unneeded data like pagefiles, but for rock-steady results, that might be the way to go. Here, all of the non-off-line programs offer bootable media with a more or less complete version of the main program's features. I can say I've used Macrium to live-clone my system partition and had very good results, with the only problem being the very strange way windows uses it's BCD store/GUIDs/disk IDing etc, which can drive one to despair with any imaging system. If this happens, and it will believe me, the bootable winPE recovery-bootable CD/USB, supplied with even the free version, has an option 'Fix Windows boot problems' that fixes the problem, at least it has for me the 3 times I needed it. Hope this helps a little, good luck.

Thanks crank,
I downloaded the latest Seagate DiscWizard (free). After installing, I created it's bootable CD, and then booted into that.
Used it to create an image (into an external dock with a 3.5" Seagate drive in it), and then verified it.
Removed the main drive (the one with Win 7 in it) from the PC, and replaced it with a blank (formatted) drive. Restored the image into it, and it worked.
Looks like the DiscWizard can (simply) handle Win 7 now.
Rob
PS One review I found of Macrium, said the free version could not make a bootable CD. That was an earlier version, so perhaps they have relented and allowed it, in their more recent versions.

crombierob, thanks for the info, I like Acronis, the software used by Seagate, but since it requires you to own a particular piece of equipment, it isn't really free. I think the Western Digital version is identical, haven't really compared them in a long time. One FYI, if you have even one Seagate, or one WD, you can use that version on any drive. Macrium has had a very good winPE bootable media for a year at least, I'm really hoping they don't take it back like Easeus did. I just downloaded the Western Digital imaging app, thought I'd see how it's evolved of late. I was at their site due to a 3TB drive that is about a year old dying an ugly death. It ate a few files, but not too bad, there were backups. The 3TB was the first of a string of 3 drives dying in less than a month, stuff happens, but give me a break! Too many failures in a short time, especially for storage, and especially as TWO of them were SSDs, aren't they supposed to be MORE reliable? I put all that here to hopefully get folks to realize their drives need backing up, if they value their data.
I know and understand the situation you are in crank. I have been there. A failing hard disk is a nightmare, and add to that more and in quick succession, it's just unimaginable. Am glad you had backups and you were able to salvage most of the data... sometimes things are not so lucky. Lately, hard drives have become really unreliable. Maybe with the increase in demand, the quality has gone down? Maybe larger drives are more susceptible to early damage? Don't know. Problem is, what to trust, nothing is reliable today. I have now a 1TB Seagate hard drive in the new system. It does not have much of data, but there is still a lot, and to back it all up, I have a 1TB external hard drive. I intend to keep copies of important data on both. But really, even external hard drives are not that reliable, or are they? With so much of data now, it's really hard to maintain, and also backup.

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