Best Free Drive Cloning Software

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Introduction

Notwithstanding claims of others, I cannot pretend to be entirely unbiased in my reviews; indeed, an “unbiased human” is an oxymoron. While I am in the process of preparing a 2011 update, there are two points that I would like to mention: bells and whistles and the availability of reliable customer service.

Whatever else developers claim their programs are capable of, those programs must be able to accomplish their end; the importance of how they get there is most often a matter of personal preference. My bias dictates that, within the parameters chosen by the user, a disk imaging program ought to be able to faithfully create and restore the image. To me, factors like resources consumed, GUI, speed of operations, and others are a matter of personal choice or are influenced by the users’ hardware and operating system. Can we agree that, regardless of its features, if a program cannot consistently create and restore accurate images, it is useless? Simplicity and the conjunction of my and others’ experiences vis-à-vis reliability will greatly influence my reviews; comments are welcome.

Disk imaging has rapidly become a must have tool for most users because of its convenience, speed, and altogether ease of use. With disk imaging software a user can safely recover their computer from a system crash or a bad virus infection without having to worry about reformatting and reinstalling the operating system. With drive imaging there is almost no reason at all to have to reinstall Windows because it offers you the ability to restore an image to your hard drive in a fraction of that time and accomplish the same thing while keeping all of your programs and important data. For many users this has made Windows backup and other file backup solutions redundant.

There are two different types of disk imaging programs, online and offline. Most imaging software nowadays are online programs, meaning that they can run and create images inside of Windows while the operating system is running.

The offline type are the programs that run in an alternative operating system such as MSDOS or Linux, to create and restore backup images while Windows is not running. Although most Windows users' love the normal GUI driven programs, there are advantages to using either type of this software.

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

With the release of Windows 7 in October 2009, Microsoft provided us with some new and improved features. One of the more talked about features is the new enhanced Windows Backup and Restore application which now has the ability to create disk images. I myself do not use the built in backup because it does not have all of the features and extras that I require, but I have tested it thoroughly and have gotten to know how it handles for this review. I have to say that it is a very solid backup solution that is reliable and is able to create and restore backups in a reasonable time and faster than some of the other free options around. The program will create an image of any partition on the hard drive if it is formatted to use the NTFS file system but it always includes the system partition and does not let you opt out. The drive that you are saving the backup on must also be formatted to use the NTFS file system. The new Window 7 backup is much improved and while it does not include some of the bells and whistles that other programs may have, it is a solid and simple solution to drive imaging, although not quite as comprehensive as some other choices.

ToolTip: For any of you devoted disk imagers, there are two tools that you must have, and yes, I will be checking up on you! I can't devote the space I would like to here to discuss them, so if you have questions, please comment below, or go to the forums for more involved issues. First is EasyBCD (free for non-commercial use), a GUI editor for the BCD store, the file that controls the overall booting process in Windows Vista and 7 (sorry XPers, this only works with the newer OS), but it can do so much more. For example, boot CD image files, the '.iso' files, stored on your HD, floppy images, '.img' raw format, it gives a GRUB/GRUB2 choice for multibooters, it can fix many boot errors/problems that plague so many while imaging/partitioning, and on and on - the website has extensive documentation to help get you going.

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

 
Discussion

 

Because Macrium has incrementally been improving their newest 5.0 release since it came out, ironing out a few bugs, making their recovery media adequately install drivers, I have gone back to them for the top spot, especially after finding out you can clone a working, running system with it, I think that is very new, and don’t recall anyone else doing that.

 


 

Macrium Reflect Free Edition is a very solid application that is great at what it does. The free version lacks some key features others have, notably differential/incremental and file/network file support.  

With Macrium you can create an XML definition file and save it to your desktop so that all you have to do anytime you want to create a backup is double click the file and the operation will start without anymore user input. You can also start a backup through the context menu when you right click on a partition in Windows Explorer. The application offers a convenient and easy way to schedule backups with the XML definitions files via the GUI.  

The program now has the capability, possibly unique feature amoung free imagers, of cloning your working and running system; very, very handy, and it's already made my life easier. Macrium didn’t include the file backup option in the free version, but the software can mount any backup image that you have created so you can explore and restore any individual files if the need arises.

Now in the new version 5.0, Macrium includes a PE recovery, eliminating  a major objection. The new PE recovery is quite nice, offering the same functionality as the installed version, most of their driver problems in creating the recovery media appear fixed. These improvements have lead me to place it just ahead of Paragon, by a small but not insignificant margin.

 

It was very hard to choose a top pick for this category. Any of the top three here should satisfy most,  the new Paragon Backup and Recovery (Advanced) Free edition now falls a bit behind Macrium.

This is a program that is very much improved over some of their older Drive Backup editions. Backup and Recovery 11 has some notable extras over some other free programs such as the ability to carry out some very basic partition editing, as well as full support for ext2, 3, and 4 Linux file systems. It was very fast in creating an image of an 8 GB partition, taking just over nine minutes and creating an image that was just over half the size of the partition with the default option for compression.

It is the only program that I reviewed with the option to create differential backups which will save a lot of time and space by backing up only the changes that have occurred since a full image was created. It restores seamlessly to smaller partitions, a very welcome, and sometimes desperately needed, ability few other free packages offer. 

The application also has a Linux based bootable CD that you can build in case something happens and your computer will not boot. It can schedule predefined backups to run automatically and the program also gives you the option to password protect your backup archives. Of note, is the ability to virtualize systems disks to facilitate migration to such an environment, though this only worked with Windows systems, and with Paragon offering the best support for Linux file systems, this oversight perplexes. 

An untested but interesting feature is its 'Backup Capsule' concept, where the backup is a hidden full system mirror that can take over should the original become damaged. 

Overall, Paragon Backup and Recovery Free is a reliable program with some great features that is well suited to handle the needs of most users.

Drive Image XML is another great free utility for drive imaging. I had only used this software one time before and it was a few years ago and other than the very long 28:30 minutes that it took to create an image of that same 8 GB partition, I thought the program was very solid.

I still do not like the GUI very much, but the program is easy enough to use. Runtime didn’t give very many options for creating an image mostly just the essentials, you can create a raw sector by sector image (clone), and you have two options for compression and neither are any good by default, but you can tweak them to be better via preferences.

The program also has a feature called ‘Drive to Drive’ which will create an image and restore it directly to a second drive without saving the image first. You can also explore backup archives and restore files from the archives in a similar fashion as is available with Macrium Reflect. You can also schedule backups but you have to manually set that up with task scheduler, just the same the program has support for Bart PE/Win PE and has plug-ins available on the website. But building the bootable media and installing the plug-in is left entirely up to the user even if they do include a short tutorial on the site about creating the Bart PE boot CD.

Drive Image XML feels is a little different than the other software in this category but it is certainly a reliable imaging program that has a very good feature set capable of covering the needs of most users.

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

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

(New editors note:  With all due deference to my very able predecessor, the choices offered as you step through the procedure may easily confuse with nomenclature and concepts not used in typical Windows systems and environments.)  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Related Products and Links
 
Quick Selection Guide

Macrium Reflect Free
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very easy to use and fast. can restore individual files, works with linux files systems, ability to clone hard drives--including the working system partition, schedule backups easily, very stable and reliable, great compression of backup images, can convert to vhd virtual format, includes WindowsPE recovery. Best of category in frequency of updates.
No incremental or differential backups, no file/network support-only in non-free edition.
5.2.6433
2.2 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP/Vista /7 /8

v5.2.6427 released 22 October, 2013
View release notes here

Backup & Recovery 2013 Free
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Fast backup and restore, differential backups, basic partitioning capabilities, can restore individual files, cyclic backup, good compression options, can clone hard drives.  Recovery media is full-featured, can do most of what the installed application can. Works with Windows 8 including Storage Spaces.
Some compatibility problems with Linux recovery media, no PE environment recovery, program requires registration for download.
10.1.19.16240
102MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7/8

v10.1.19.16240 released 18 March, 2013
View the changelog here

Drive Image XML
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Drive to Drive image copy, restore individual files from images, ability to restore images to different drives. Provisions for incorporation into WinPE environments via plug-ins. Simple, basic, reliable.
No incremental or differential backup, backup process is very slow compared to others, not many options for creating backups, almost no default compression, has no recovery media included and users have to create their own XP-only based disk, users also have to schedule tasks manually with Windows Task Manager.
2.5
1.78 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP/2003/Vista/7
Clonezilla
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Supports a huge array of file systems, very reliable and stable, available on several different boot CD packages with many extra tools, and as a standalone liveCD, a very popular program
Offline only, can be difficult to use or complicated on first use, no incremental or differential backups, can not explore or restore files from images, not very fast
http://clonezilla.org/
2.2.0-29
133.2 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
All Windows and Linux, Intel based Mac OS

v2.2.0-16 released 29/10/2013

PING (PartImage Is Not Ghost)
2.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Can create incremental backups, possibility to blank local admin password, can backup and restore the BIOS, can create bootable restoration CD, some basic partition editing available. Many rescue utilities included
Is an offline program, not many options for creating images, rescue utilities not nearly as extensive as PartedMagic.
http://ping.windowsdream.com/
3.02
33.8MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
All Windows and Linux

 
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Tags

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

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Comments

by crank on 24. March 2012 - 15:52  (91066)

"What does it all mean", the eternal question, sorry, this isn't a philosophy forum, but then, that question would be easier to answer than what Paragon goes on about. Now, on to something completely different, this ballooning C: drive image, I don't know, is it possible, you may have left additional drives/partitions checked when selecting the source for your image? Even if that were the case, 15 hours is way out of line. System disk images should come out substantially smaller than the disk itself, this due to compression, not copying unused space, and omitting various unneeded files, most especially the pagefile and hibernation file.

I have had similar things occur, inexplicably usually, it is possible, I suspect, there was interference with another program, like anti-virus or indexing, that sent Paragon off into the ozone regions. I'm sure this will gladden your heart, but try another image, ensure only the C partition is selected, turn off any anti-virus and indexing [go to control panel and either deselect everything, turning indexing off, or try 'pause', but sometimes that doesn't work[???? talk to the MS gods to figure that one out]]. You might want to look at the ResourceMonitor and see if you can find anything that may appear to be wrestling Paragon for disk and cpu control [try 'resmon' in the run box.]

AND, as I annoy all with repeated admonishing to use more than one backup program, these things are free, are pretty easy to use, and don't take up too much of your time once you get them going. Your chances of successfully restoring your PC having 2 independent options are significantly higher, trust me on this, from personal experience, numerous times.

As to dealing with new/changed files, Paragon will do an incremental/differential backup, which you can schedule to automatically run at your level of paranoia, an incremental will save what has changed since the last incremental backup, a differential always goes back to the base full image and backs up what has changed. A given incremental will be smaller than a differential, except for the first incremental, but restoring is a bit more problematic as the software has to 'walk back' the data, accommodating each change recorded in the string of incrementals, the differential is always 'one step' away from the base. Hope that makes sense [there's always a first!!!, [as opposed to confusing others, which I am good at, very good, it's nice to be good at something]]]

Oh, BTW, the answer to the general question of what does it all mean is '42', I thought everyone knew this???

by George.J on 23. March 2012 - 12:39  (91016)

The top pick isn't a surprise, I have been using Macrium Reflect Free for 2 years and definitely impressed with it. It's also a small download.

by Sool (not verified) on 23. March 2012 - 10:20  (91008)

I have struggled with Macrium Reflect Free ever since version 5 was released.

The program runs OK, but the Linux Rescue CD sucks, whereas this worked perfectly under version 4.

The original version 5 CD would boot my PC, but then couldn't see my hard drives. The latest version (dated 21 March v5.0.4353) now initially sees my hard drives, and lets me select an image file to restore from, but the following destination window is an empty white box that contains no target drive information; hence I can go no further. Selecting the image file was also weird, because these are listed in a completely random order, as opposed to the newest image file being first.

In addition to my own PC I see the same outcome on two dissimilar PCs and my laptop half boots, but then hangs.

Macrium's response to restoration issues is to use the PE Rescue CD, but that entails a 1.7GB download from Microsoft, and the Macrium forums suggest that it doesn't fix many problems.

So, once again, I have used my old Macrium Rescue CD to restore my system back to using v4.2.4093

by crank on 23. March 2012 - 17:01  (91030)

I'm sorry you haven't been able to get it to work, recovery disks have always been touchy. The first 5.0 release PE media did not work well for me, but the latest works well. I haven't perused their forums, I need to, but I would encourage you to try the AIK/PE media build, the large download isn't needed after the install of AIK, and most of the download isn't ever used, it is other programs and documentation. Maybe you could get a friend to DL: it for you and then install, or even download to a DVD-RW? I don't know what could work for you, but I can guarantee that what you read in forums may have little to no relevance to your own situation.

Personally, I can't fathom this universal difficulty these software manufacturers have providing a near-universally usable recovery disk, there are numerous OpenSourced linux distros with fully functioning OSs they could use, with their application added in. The PE versions are somewhat the same thing, the drivers are on the system as they make the disk, why can't they find them? You can use Double Driver:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-windows-driver-backup.htm
a great thing to use in general, to back up, and also of near equal importance, collect the drivers in one spot. Then, if the PE disk asks for drivers, they are easy to locate. Good luck, and thank you for discussing your situration.

by Sool (not verified) on 25. March 2012 - 18:38  (91144)

Hi Crank

For now, I am more than happy to stick with version 4. It works, the Recovery CD works, and I use them both to backup and restore my system partition with alarming regularity. I was just a little gutted when version 5 came along and broke things that were previously working perfectly.

I am given to understand that the version 4 Recovery CD will restore images created under version 5, so Macrium could include the older ISO as an alternative option.

I have also discovered that a Macrium Reflect 5 script has been released for Winbuilder, and having incorporated this into my LiveXP, this gives me the fully working version 5, including its restore function, all within the PE environment.

What worries me, is that I get the impression that not everybody gets to check out the restore function with imaging software. They see the images being made, and assume that they'll be able to restore them if required, but they never get to actually try it until they're up the creek, when it may be too late.

by big-red (not verified) on 21. March 2012 - 1:21  (90901)

Easeus seem to be weaning us off the free edition. They claim 'improvements' with their new releases, but seem to be chopping out features. I've just upgraded from 4.0.0.2 to 4.0.0.5 and there seems to be no more encrypted backup option. I've also read that 'monthly' backup scheduling has been removed (?). It's a pity, as this software has been a great imaging option. Think I'll revert to version 3.

enjoying these software discussions - Nick

by crank on 22. March 2012 - 20:32  (90991)

Nick, thanks for calling that to my attention, I definitely hadn't noticed. I REALLY didn't notice that there is no more free edition, I was looking to download a later version, mine is 4.0.0.1, and I can't find one. I will look around a little bit more, but I think they only offer a 2-week demo now, and you can't get the PE recover from there [sometimes these companies will hide the free edition, so maybe I missed it, I must dig around a bit more]. Hold on to your old versions folks, if you like the product. More to come. Thanks again for your comments, I was going to argue a bit with you, they may be whittling away at some of the features, but they've been really improving them, offering more capabilities with every new version. Now the latest feature is partitioning your wallet.

by uktech (not verified) on 17. March 2012 - 11:13  (90745)

Hi, just thought I should mention that there are a couple of points that I feel need some clarification. According to their website, Easeus Free version does not perform incremental imaging. Moreover, there is no exclusion filter for data backup - as far as I can tell - which is not good, when you want to exclude that huge file from your backup.

It is unfortunate, that the one area that people should learn about, if they use computers at all, is complicated by three words that are very often misunderstood by the novice: backup, imaging and synchronization.

Easeus ToDo Backup is one of those products that while very good, blur the boundaries between imaging and backup.

Fantastic site and most comprehensive disk imaging articles - we're all better off for the information and effort you have generously provided.

Many Thanks.

by crank on 18. March 2012 - 9:11  (90786)

Hello uktech, thanks for taking the time to give us your thoughts and ideas. I am curious where you found this information about Easeus, I am at their page:
http://www.todo-backup.com/products/features/incremental-backup.htm
describing how to do [:)] either an incremental or a differential backup, has "Incremental backup software - EaseUS Todo Backup, not only supports full backup and incremental backup, but also supports differential backup." I have used this myself.

The blurring, I understand, but welcome the extra capability, but I am not sure what you would mean by an image, would a real image be sector by sector, or only code for zeroes, or then thee is the hibernation file and the page file, a strict image would include these and now you are talking significant waste of time and disk real estate. I'm easy, you can call it anything you want if it will take my broken PC and return it to a fully functioning condition with no loss of data.

Syncing data is very handy, but for me has always proved problematic, it's my general state of chaotic PC usage that makes it difficult--there can be directories full of data where older data is newer data, deleted data is 'to keep' data, installed programs uninstall themselves, removed programs keep reappearing, etc. ;) Don't try to understand, if you did they'd want to study you too. Shhhh

by Bundy (not verified) on 15. March 2012 - 16:46  (90658)

Like your page, keep up the good work.

update to Clonezilla:

You can use the tool partclone-utils to mount the image directly, and extract single files from image.

by crank on 18. March 2012 - 10:18  (90788)

Thanks for your comments, and the heads-up. It's amazing what one simple comment reply can lead to, somewhere over 2 hours to get back to this response, everything from one distro not being able to meet dependencies, to my router going rogue, and an urgent desire to get a new mouse and keyboard, and now I can say that partclone looks very promising, very simple to use from linux. I thought maybe I could image the partition my system is on [one partition for '/' which is the only partition other than swap, but no luck, it errored out. Is it possible to do this with this program, telling it to clone the /dev/disk of the working system? I have it installed now so I will try to give it more of a workout later, it's 0517 and I need a nap. Thanks again for your inputs.

by DanielF (not verified) on 10. March 2012 - 4:25  (90161)

Crank,
I have a RAID5 array that requires special drivers (which I have) to access the partitions.
I bought [commercial program edited out] to do image backups and restores, but it requires WinPE to create a recovery CD, which I don't have and don't want (for various reasons). Despite what it says in the manual, Acronis no longer support BartPE (which I have) or Linux bootable CDs.
Your reviews don't mention whether any of the free options can create a boot CD that handles RAID5 access (with the drivers I have), possibly because your system isn't RAID5 so you haven't tested this feature!
But do you know of any that might be able to do this?
Rgds,
Daniel
(Gerroa, Australia)

by GeoffE (not verified) on 24. March 2012 - 1:14  (91045)

A bit off topic ...

Daniel ... Gerroa? ..lol.. I am in Figtree! I bet no-one else here knows what a tiny (and beautiful) little place Gerroa is. I was down there in Headland Drive just a couple of weeks back. Check it out on GoogleEarth the rest of you!

Now, just to bring this comment back on topic ... I have been using DriveImage XML for a few years now and using it with BartPE as my recovery tool. It has been flawless but I am always ready to check out new software. Thanks for the review Crank.

Gerroa??? ..lmbo..

Geoff
Figtree Australia (not far from Gerroa ..lol..)

by crank on 24. March 2012 - 16:33  (91067)

What, do we look like a travel blog? Sorry, I'm basically an obnoxious sarcastic pig, but hey, it's something. Actually, thanks for commenting, it always gives me 'wow' feelings when I get comments form people from all over the world, these tubez, cool ain't they? I'm sure Figtree and Gerroa are lovely settings for the numerous deadly critters rife in your inverted lands.

DriveImageXML is a fine product, basically a barebones, get the job done offering, and it does this well. I tend to enjoy, and very much use, a lot if the 'frillier' capabilities offered by our top picks. The reliance on BartsPE can be problematic for users with later systems. The creation of a Barts is beyond a lot of casual users abilities, or desires, to deal with. This includes me, Barts hasn't worked well for me on most of my systems, though I'm sure I could deal with it with enough tweaking, I just haven't had the time or inclination to, especially now with the Win7 based PE environment options becoming more prevalent.

So have a good one, thanks for adding your comments here, we appreciate all, even those from Figtree, a huge city no doubt.

by crank on 11. March 2012 - 10:27  (90220)

I used a RAID0 for a while a number of years ago, but you are correct, I don't have RAID at the moment unless you count the mirrored volume I used windows to create less than a week ago. The program I mentioned on the Partition page may work for you, "Äomei Dynamic Disk Manager Home Edition", at http://www.dynamic-disk.com/ddm/aomei-dynamic-disk-manager-home.html, it is free, but the limitations of the free edition are not made obvious. It works with all kinds of RAID, but most of it is as a front-end to what Windows Vista & 7 will do, and it is primarily a Partition tool, but will create virtual disks.

ToDo handles dynamic volumes, as does Paragon, and Macrium Reflect says this: "Support for Dynamic disks is available in the Macrium Reflect Professional and Server editions.

Important Note: Dynamic volumes are cloned/restored not disks." It works with volumes, but not disks, I don't know how this pertains to your situation, and need to give it more thought myself.

One last idea, maybe because I think it is really cool, is a tool out of MS SysInternals, disk2vhd, it is so easy to use, with one command in a command processor window, will create virtual disks of every disk in your system, these can be used as quick backups, can be mounted giving file-level access, and even used as is in virtual machines. I don't know what it would do with a RAID though, but you might want to check it out. Good luck, I hope this has helped out.

by quitenew (not verified) on 6. March 2012 - 23:53  (90030)

Hello. I consider myself as not much more than a noobie when it comes to cloning my hard drive. What I want to do use simply make a full, exact copy of my hard drive so in the event of the worst I can simply reinstall from this instead of the laborious task of installing everything one by one. What is best suggested? And easiest to use?

by crank on 9. March 2012 - 4:40  (90118)

That is what this category is for, any of the programs can do this, but it is better to not make an 'exact' copy, this would include copying all the unused space, all the tmp files, and especially the hibernate and page files, gigabytes of space wasted, and time spent laying down billions and billions of nothing. Probably the easiest one for most people would be Easeus ToDo, with it's near one-click 'System' backup. Paragon is best for it's versatility, and Reflect is just a great all-around program missing a couple of the bells and whistles. Hope this helps.

by quitenew (not verified) on 9. March 2012 - 15:31  (90143)

Thanks for the reply Crank. With the EaseUs program can it be used in case I needed to reinstall all my software on the laptop? In other words and just to confirm-it would eliminate having to reinstall Vista as well as my software applications?

by crank on 11. March 2012 - 12:16  (90224)

It will return your system to exactly how it was when the image was made, system, applications, data, and viruses too unfortunately. That is one of the main reasons people use this software, I try to burn a few separate images as I install a new system, including one right after first boot. This gives a margin of safety and also a range of starting points to choose from if you end up having to restore a system. a good method is to go to the Ninite site, they allow you to download one file that can install a huge range of popular software, and then install all the really basic stuff you always want to have, then burn that as your starting point for a system re-install. With the scheduling offered by ToDo and Paragon, you can make sure you always have a current image around.

by DonsEars (not verified) on 6. March 2012 - 22:59  (90027)

Can any program other than EaseUS Todo Backup open a .PBD file? I get nervous with my backups when the files can only be opened with one program. And what will happen when a new version of Todo comes out? Will I have to install an old version to recover or even browse my files?

by crank on 9. March 2012 - 4:35  (90117)

They all want to save in proprietary formats, it's the nature of the business, so I doubt any other program could open those. On the positive side, I have had no problem with any of these opening old images, 2-3 year old ones, and that is ancient.

Now, this is a HOT find I will get into much more later, but the well known SystemInternals suite by MS has a very handy little command line program, 'disk2vhd, that will image all of your drives and save as 'vhd' files, with one command, a windows standard virtual disk image format, these can be mounted in the disk management console, used in VirtualBox and other virtual machines, and the format will be around for a long time. I just tripped to this app, tried it once on a system, then started it right up in VBox, that was surprising, I have tried similar actions with vhd's created with other programs, and they haven't made nice for me like that.

So, don't worry about those .pdb files, they will be supported long after you won't need the disk-images I would imagine. Good luck.

by ralfy (not verified) on 28. February 2012 - 14:02  (89635)

Is there are free program that does cyclic backups like Paragon, but for files rather than for partitions? It should also be able to back up to network share folders at reasonable speeds and run multiple jobs.

by crank on 9. March 2012 - 4:27  (90115)

Paragon, alone among these freebies, does do file backups, does that not work how you need it too? If you want better file backup, check out the programs specifically for file back up at:

http://www.google.com/url?http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-back...

Hope this helps.

by George.J on 22. February 2012 - 4:01  (89225)

Hi, crank. What do you think about Cobian Backup? This is an open-source program and is getting outstanding rating at CNET, Sourceforge, FreewareFiles, Softonic and Softpedia. The installer is only 14MB and the backup's are very quick. I recently found this software during an ongoing Readers Poll at CNET for BF Backup Program. The other 4 participating in the poll, have been reviewed here.

by crank on 9. March 2012 - 4:23  (90114)

I already replied to this but oh well, it's disappeared, like gmail has been sending all my notifications to SPAM last couple of weeks, the gremlins run amok. I have Cobian installed but have not really had a chance to test it, but I agree, it looks promising, I will have more to say before too long. Please stay tuned.

by little geek (not verified) on 11. February 2012 - 20:13  (88692)

dear editor,

parted magic has clonezilla as well as gparted built-in.
my favorite one cd toolkit for this sort of thing.

thanks to all gizmo's crew for this valuable site.

by crank on 12. February 2012 - 11:52  (88725)

You clearly have a very keen, perspicacious mind, belying the 'little' in your name. I say this for the obvious reason that you echo my own thoughts: I have mentioned PartedMagic as a great tool myself. I highly recommend the tip above, most times I need to use PartedMagic, I don't even need to scrounge up a disk, it's available from the boot menu. Recently, I managed to make the Reflect recovery media by inserting it into this commercial recovery disk, so I can get to both from the windows boot menu. I hope to manage getting all the PE-based recovery media on one disk, but it is slow going with all the other gremlins making my PC-life a tad ugly at the moment [and my dim-wittedness is no big help]

Thanks for the comments, we welcome and appreciate all users reports of their own experience, good or bad, with the products we review and other free offerings we should know about.

by EdP (not verified) on 5. February 2012 - 21:22  (88366)

Do either Macrium or EaseUS ToDo back up the MBR?

If so, and assuming there are multiple partitions on drive 0, is the MBR backed up only if the entire physical hard drive is backed up or also when the C: partition alone is backed up?

EdP
After all the reading I've done here I'm beginning to think sticking with [commercial software] is a good idea.

[moderator's note : edited out commercial software]

by crank on 6. February 2012 - 18:21  (88413)

Usually, you can tell it to be sure to back it up, and on restore, can choose whether to restore this MBR or not. I think it will back it up regardless of what you tell it. Commercial software will get you more functionality, but it won't be easier to use, at least the Imaging software I've used. Most of these are only slightly stripped down versions of a commercial product, so it mostly looks and acts the same, you will have more choices to make, which isn't exactly making it easier.

by Remah on 7. February 2012 - 5:55  (88429)

EaseUS backs up the MBR in the disk image but not in the partition image.

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