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

Don't use enclosed external drive.
Get a couple of Docks (the type where you shove a 3.5" drive vertically into it). They are very cheap, and you can get one that has eSata or USB3 connectors.
The 3.5" Seagate 2TB now appears to be the 'sweet spot' for price versus capacity.
Ensure that your docks can handle 2TB as some only take 1.5TB
I have multiple docks, so that I am not frequently inserting/removing drives into the docks.

Rob
PS Don't get docks with additional USB Docks, card readers, etc.
Just keep it simple.

And @Anupam Thank you and Anupam for the comments. The sheer size of drives these days is daunting, it's really hard to imagine how massive an amount of data we're dealing with. The increasing 'areal density', how many bits packed per surface area, has necessitated vertical packing of bits, an increasing complexity in read/write functions with a concomitant decrease in margin of error for the machinery. Just a thought. Anupam, one level of data safety with identical drives like your 1TBs is to mirror them, a RAID 1 basically, that windows [7 or 8 i think] will do for you without having to deal with RAID. It's a really simple way to stay backed up, but doesn't help with, say, a meteor taking out your PC. I think the cloud is the inevitable direction everyone will come to, but there are still issues with that now, with privacy/security worries, and the time for restores at current net speeds. crombierob, what is a crombie? I'm a rob, what type of rob I'm still working on that. If you look back over the last almost 2 years of my comments, you'll find I've recommended such enclosures, I have 3 and they can be so so handy, just be mindful of heat, get some airflow on them if you're going to use for a significant amount of time. I have 2 eSATA and a USB 3, the eSATA will perform somewhat better, but I would still go with the USB 3, even though that spec isn't near as robust yet as USB2. USB 2 is at the 'toaster' level, whereas my experience with USB3 is mixed, with performance, and even functionality, all over the place when using a given drive on different PCs. Thanks again for the comments, I'm blithering incessantly again, so I'm going to cessant now.
Thanks for the suggestion crank, I will look into that option. But, I think it will require purchasing another 1 TB disk, but I can't afford that now :). I have external 1 TB hard drive, and I will be relying on that now, for the backups. I wouldn't consider cloud as an alternative, ever, I think. First, with my slow internet speed, it would be crazy to upload the data... plus, and most importantly, I wouldn't trust a third party ever with my personal files. Thanks for the suggestion about docks, will find out if it's available in the market here, and if it is, costs how much. I have had excellent experience with USB 3.0. It's definitely noticeably faster than USB 2.0.

Looks like Paragon Backup & Recovery 2013 Free is available now. It claims to have a new, faster engine. Does anyone have an opinion on if its an improvement or how its different?

Sorry for this post.

'I had to make a post in order to quit receiving updates on this thread.'

I have been getting email notifications for a year and a half (since March 2013) every time someone posts to this thread/review, which was great at first, but I have been trying to stop it for over a year. I have tried everything I could find. Finally, I saw that I was not the only one having the issue, as per this forum thread:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/freeware-forum/comments-suggestions-and-...

The solution there, as of Sept 2014, is to edit your original post and un-check the "Notify me when new comments are posted".

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any way to edit my original post. I tried logging on from Firefox and from IE, but there is no edit button anywhere on the page that I could find.

So now I am trying to create a new post and make sure the "Notify me when new comments are posted" checkbox is un-checked. Sorry for the extra "noise".

Thanks for the heads-up, I'll give it a lookover. Lately, I've noticed an awful lot of 'new features' that are 'compatible' or 'ready' or 'supports' etc, and the same 'new' features pop up on a number of subsequent editions, and none really support what they say they do, at least not fully. We'll see how Paragon has done with this major new release. Just as a warning, with the new UEFI BIOS, with the GUID disk partitioning, with the new booting system(s) in win8, the range of possible combinations of motherboard/BIOS, windows version, and hard-drive implementations, as in HD/SSD, hybrids, RAIDs, advanced format or old school, it becomes ever more difficult to get test results meaningful, or even relevant, to a wide range of users. I will do my best to give these programs a good workout on a range of systems, but the CYA-caveat 'your mileage may vary' applies more and more these days. So reader, please, as Anupam requests [thanks Anupam], send us feedback on your experiences, the more infos we can gather and share, the better.
OK, here's my experience with the installation, and it hasn't been good. I started the installation, entered the serial etc, and proceeded with it, everything was normal. But, towards the end, when the progress bar showed that the installation was just about to be over, it just stuck there, and kept moving. I waited for many minutes, but it just stuck there. After my patience limit was over, I tried to cancel the setup. It asked if I was sure, and I clicked on yes, but even after that, nothing. I then killed the installer from the task manager. And after that, my computer went crazy. When I opened My Computer, out of my several hard drives, only two were showing, and one was partially showing, means, just the icon, but no size :/ ... I tried to shut down the computer, but no response. And after a few more tries, everything just started to sort of hang. Ultimately, I had to hard reboot the computer. Thankfully, after the hard reboot, everything was normal. Phew! Otherwise, I had thought that, that's it, either I will lose data, or maybe I will have to reinstall Windows 8 :/. Thankfully, all returned to normal. Paragon icon was there on the desktop, but not there in Add/Remove. I decided to install again. Started the installation, and it behaved weirdly... where it shows how much space it would occupy, it showed only 12kb, whereas before it had showed in several MBs. Also, some stuff previously seen on screens was not seen. Weird really. The installation was also pretty fast after that. Thankfully, it now appears to be installed fine. It shows in Add/Remove, and is also able to run normally from the shortcut. So, I think it's installed fine. Really gave me a scare though. From the interface, it does not look like anything has changed from the previous version. Looks all same to me. Will make an image of the system later to see how it goes. Right now, I will just recover from the scare it gave me :D. BTW, during installation, apart from the main program, it also shows to install hot core driver. It was unselected by default, but I had selected that option, since it said it was used to image locked volumes. It also said, it was needed for Windows 2000. Don't know if it's required for other versions of Windows too. Was it required for Windows 8?

I installed the program (Paragon Backup & Recovery 2013 Free). It also did the hanging behavior you mentioned, Anupam. I let it sit for a few minutes. It resolved itself and seemed to install OK. I have an old XP machine so hanging is a bit of a fact of life sometimes.

I saw the hot core/2000 (or whatever it was) reference, but did not understand it and skipped it. Anyone have an explanation?

Also, did they drop the "Advanced" from the title, and if so, does that mean anything?

Well, I have a new machine with Intel i-3 and 4GB RAM... I think those are enough resources for a program not to hang like this. Maybe it was doing something, but it was stuck for about 15 mins or so. Maybe it was waiting for some resource to be released or something, don't know. Maybe it was because of the hot core driver? Don't know. Maybe I will uninstall it, and give a go at installation again.

1. I have been using Paragon Backup & Recovery 2013 Free for several months. I have made several images off several computers / drives. All worked fine. I have restored 2 computers (1 twice) off these images, and all worked well. (Only surprise was after booting, windows noticed new hardware (the new drive it just booted off of--LOL) and installed a new driver automatically and asked me to reboot. Which i did, without incident. One computer was WXP SP3 one was WIN7.

2. I read about the Hot Core on the Paragon site (or in help, or somewhere). It is for Windows 2000 only and is a paragon solution for the equivalent of Volume Shadow Copy Service (also known as Volume Snapshot Service, or VSS). It is only used for W2K which does not have VSS. It should not be used for WXP, W7, W8 cuz all those have VSS.

Thanks for your feedback :)
crank, were you able to locate the changelog for Paragon 2013? I could not. Would be good to read the changelog to see what they changed, or fixed, or what's new. I also wanted to ask, since the newer hard drives have now different sector layout, how will this affect the imaging? I mean, will these imaging software will be able to image in accordance with the new sector layout? Also, if someone images an old hard drive and installs it over a newer hard drive, will it be OK, or will it cause problems because of the new sector layout in the newer hard drives? Thanks for any enlightenment on this subject. Have been wondering about it since long. I may give a test ride to Paragaon 2013 soon, since I have to install Windows XP on my older hard drive, for testing purposes, and it will require imaging. I don't think I will be trying imaging for Windows 8 any soon, but I may, after I finish up with Windows XP. Will share my experiences :).
Well, y'all have been busy. One can confidently assert that if your imaging software hasn't sometimes done weird things, confused you, wanted to take 10 hours to image a 5 GB disk, made a differential backup 10 times the size of the whole disk, destroyed the disk you're trying to protect, or other baffling behavior, then you haven't done a lot of imaging. The new version additions, as stated by Paragon, is the support for win8 and including its 'Storage Spaces' [wiki: Storage Spaces is a storage virtualization technology which succeeds Logical Disk Manager and allows the organization of physical disks into logical volumes similar to Logical Volume Manager (Linux), RAID1 or RAID5, but at a higher abstraction level." If this means nothing to you, it's a way to take space from any available disks/partitions and combine to create a virtual drive, with ability to include various speed and redundancy features as you may want to choose. I can see why this is a challenge to an imaging system. I could find only 'Release History"s of the paid versions of the imaging suite. I'm glad you were able to get the new version installed properly, I don't know what to tell you about the glitches, maybe it was sending all the data on your disk to DHS :). I didn't notice anything like the hot-core driver issue mentioned, but I wasn't watching too close when I installed the software, which I put on two PCs and had no glitches that I am aware of. The later releases of these programs are supposed to take care of alignment issues, and some drives themselves have built-in work-arounds/fixes. I saw such anomalous behavior early on with advanced format drives like higher performance when NOT aligned, that I quit worrying about it, I think the vast majority of newer software/hardware has it taken care of, I am always on the alert for such issues and have not noticed anything lately. If anyone thinks they may have a problem related to this, I'd love to hear about it. Restoring an old system to a new drive could be a problem, you have to check how the MBR and first partition were handled, if it starts at the typical sector 63, there is an aliggnment problem, whether this will affect your performance to any significant degree, that is up in the air. Anupam, ith a new machine and win8, have you looked at any of the UEFI issues? I'm just beginning to look into, my recent laptop has some very strange stuff going on in the interaction of the BIOS, Intel Rapid Storage Technology/SSD hybrid RAID drives. The boot-menu choices I an only now beginning to try to figure out what all is going on there, it ain't pretty! I managed to get Ubuntu installed, but broke the SSD hybrid cache thinggie and I want to understand what I am doing before I try to 'fix' it. i had to do some rework after upgrading to win8 right after I got the thing, and HP hasn't had the level of support I think it should. Too much info, I've been typing at this for hours as I'm trying to figure things out, and try out various programs etc. Good luck to all, happy imaging folks.
crank, the hot core driver is disabled by default, and you will have to check it to install it. If you installed with all default, then I don't think you would have noticed it. I am thinking that somehow it might have to do something with the issue. I can only guess. About alignment in newer drives, Seagate have some kind of working by which you do not have to align the drive manually, it takes care of that by itself. It's one of the reasons I bought a Seagate drive. Because, in WD, if you are installing Windows XP, then you have to manually align the drive first, by running their software. And I was unsure, whether I would be installing Win XP, or not. So, to avoid all that trouble with this alignment issue, I just bought Seagate. It's not an issue with the modern Windows like Vista and 7/8, but for XP, it is, atleast with WD drives. I don't know about UEFI issue. I will have to check if my motherboard supports BIOS, or UEFI :D. I don't use RAID, or SSD anyways, so I think I won't be running into the issues that you did? Hopefully so :P.
Thanks a lot for this notification :). Will download it soon. Will let you know if I install it, and give it a run. Can be a while. It comes with full Windows 8 support, and that's a good thing for me, as I am on Windows 8.

I also had all manner of problems with the two newest versions of Paragon.

Switching back to the 2012 version from June 2012 solved the problems. That version is still available at FileHippo.

I am just beginning to understand the idea of an ISO image backup of an operating system - so pardon my questions:

1 - I have an XP System. Can I use a thumb drive, as opposed to a CD, for a boot drive? (I assume something like this is needed.

2 - Supposing the worst, that my C-drive dies, can I use this image to install the op system on a new C-drive?

3 - Somewhere I have the original Op System CD. Do I need to use the product number (or whatever it is called) from that CD in order to run the re-installed ISO image?

My thanks for your patience.

1-Yes, Cire [I shouldn't have to say that, I'm an American!] booting from thumbdrives is becoming far more popular than just a year or two ago, many systems now come with no optical drive. However, the BIOS will determine if your system can boot that way, it will depend on how old your system is, but by far most have had this capability for many years, a BIOS update may need be done. I have friends with an XP machine that is about 9 or 10 years old and it can boot from a thumb drive. There are ways around this limitation, such as boot-loaders like PLOP, that boot from floppy or HD, then pass on the boot to the USB, etc. Get back with me if you have this problem. 2-Yes, that is one of the main purposes of imaging. This is usually a straightforward operation, much more with the older systems, though due to typical MS SOP, there are a few stumbling blocks involving booting that can make life difficult, which get progressively worse going from XP to Vista, to 7 to 8. {As it happens, I got a couple of new/reffurbed SSDs, so, swap into one system, a win7, making sure to generalize the BCD store[don't ask, this is really need-to-know stuff[as in, you'll likely want to kill yourself if you learn of these things]], but still had a strange problem that seemed like a BCD issue, AND my RAID 1 mirror got killed, still trying to fix that. Second system, win8, very ugly, still has a BCD-GPT-MBR-UEFI-BIOS-aliens ate my dog while he ate my homework-issue, I think, after 3 clonings and an image-restore, but the linux I installed alongside it is working quite well ;). 3-If reinstalled to the same system, there should be no problem, if you move it to a new system, then you will need to re--activate. I've had little experience with XP, so I have no feel for how picky it can be in this area, and from what I have read, Microsoft, to its credit, is really easygoing about these things, often allowing moving of systems that they are under no obligation to allow, you just have to call them and discuss. The product number should be on a sticker stuck to your PC case somewhere, unless it's DYI. then it should be on the original box or packaging. Good luck, I hope this helps, and please get back with me if you have any problems.

I am attempting to use Macrium to create a full working disk image - this is a domestic situation where my harddrive has failed but is working well enough to create an image.
Is there someone prepared to provide me with a step-by-step guide that will be reliable for me?

Thanks, Barry

I haven't seen a post in the forums, so I wanted to give you a wee bit of advice. If the drive is failing, you may want to try some more forensic-style data recovery techniques to up your odds on maximal data recovery. This is in no way my forte, but I'll give it my best shot: you may want to get a copy of PartedMagic, see link above, I really like this LiveCD rescue system, and highly recommend everyone to keep it handy. With it, you can use 'ddrescue', quoting from the manpages: "GNU ddrescue - Data recovery tool. Copies data from one file or block device to another, trying hard to rescue data in case of read errors." It also includes GParted which also clone easily and very reliably. If you need to use Macrium, it is very easy to use, even allowing you to clone the system you are using, very handy and it's worked for me a number of times without a hitch. It's really straight forward, give it a shot and if you run into any problems, get back to me. Good luck.

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