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

 
Editor

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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 10. June 2012 - 10:15  (94632)

Well Simms, your question simms to ring a bell, anni didn't have to look very far:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-drive-imaging-program.htm?page...

And I'm still trying to put together a bit of a reboot to the page, if the gremlins and etc will give me some breathing room.

by DLC50 on 8. June 2012 - 6:04  (94555)

Just read the all exclusive headline about no Easeus TODO Free and had to comment. I used to be the author of this topic and a die hard Macrium Reflect user. Until 5.0. Anyways I was converted to a Easeus fan by the new author and have been using the free version for a while now. I read this and went to their website to make sure but they do still offer a free version and it is a great piece of software. They do not offer downloads from there site for the free version but link to the download page on CNET. I could find no news of its being cancelled or loss of support. At least I hope that I am right, I don't like to have to switch Drive Imaging programs. Anyway on their website all that they offer as evidence of the free version still being around is a comparison between it and the professional versions. It is on this page ( http://www.todo-backup.com/products/home/free-backup-software.htm ) and you can find the link to the download at CNET at the bottom of the comparison under the free side column. Here is that link to CNET. http://download.cnet.com/Easeus-Todo-Backup-Free/9241-2242_4-12550964.ht...

Thanks

by crank on 9. June 2012 - 16:36  (94611)

Thank you for your concern and info, the decision to eliminate ToDo wasn't easy, and there continue to be objections from viewers, but 3 things make me rather adament about this, first is how they eliminated any mention from their site about availability of a free version, then that they had started crippling the free version, e.g., taking back the free winPE recovery disk, and third, and possibly most galling, was blocking non-paid users from using their forums. So I doubt you will see Easeus here in the Drive Imaging page again, possibly if we see some serious grovelling from them.

We really appreciate you taking this time to give us your thoughts, we're always open to our visitors ideas, opinions, news, etc. Have a good day.

by puterfx (not verified) on 11. July 2012 - 3:24  (96024)

I just downloaded Macrium Free and tried to image a dual boot hdd ... no joy. When I went to their forum, I could not post there for help either because I had not purchased the program. Just an FYI. Looks like Paragon and Clonezilla for me and thank you for your reviews. Good stuff!

by crank on 11. July 2012 - 7:18  (96029)

Thanks for taking the time to comment on your recent experience, I am sorry Macrium didn't work out for you, it really should have had no problem with a dual-boot, the handling of the MBR after a restore is another matter, one that can get confusing very quickly. Can you tell me what configuration you had, e.g., how many physical disks, how many partitions on what disks, how the boot-loader{s} was set up and which boot-loader(s) was being used?

I really don't like that they won't let non-buyers use the forums, it only cheapens their reputation, it's almost punitive, and is most likely counterproductive. The costs involved in letting in more folk (non-buyers) are minimal and how many more will be turned off by this than will decide to buy the product just to get the help form the forum? I for one would be far more inclined to not buy their premium product knowing this. It's also really bad because the free version really is very nice.

by herbie72 (not verified) on 23. July 2012 - 23:38  (96562)

Sadly, it also appears as if Macrium is no longer offering differential/incremental backups as part of the free version. You now have to purchase the standard version to get that feature, at least according to their feature chart.

This was the one feature which drew me to this program, plus it's speed. Looks like I'll need to go with Paragon. While differential backups are larger than incremental, at least the former appears to still be available in their free version.

Can't tell you how much I appreciate this site and all the good info here. Thanks for everything.

by MidnightCowboy on 10. June 2012 - 5:31  (94624)

There have also been more concerted efforts to spam Easeus in both our main site comments and forum posts than any other product. This we don't need and are happy to do without. :)

by steveo (not verified) on 9. June 2012 - 6:14  (94591)

Just had to comment on the situation with Easeus TODO Backup free. Version 4.0.0.2 is the last free version to be free for both personal AND BUSINESS use. To install version 4.0.0.5 You even have to specify that it's being installed for home use.
This may put a crimp in the use of it by those who have been using it for small businesses.

by ManyThx (not verified) on 26. June 2012 - 0:17  (95377)

THANK YOU! I thought I was losing my mind as I remembered this product being free for both home and business use, but when I revisited the site the licensing statement had changed. A Google search for the specific version you mention will yield viable links to a download for the older, unrestricted version 4.0.0.2 that is free for commercial use (hint: not CNET). Many thanks.

by innn on 6. June 2012 - 7:34  (94478)

hi all, i just tried DriveXML imaging my c:\ drive with a size 126GB from which 29GB only used, it took 11 minutes
i'm pretty satisfied but I have still to try a restore
I will come back with a success or failure verdict when I get to that

by crank on 6. June 2012 - 14:51  (94501)

Maybe I am psychic, but I feel you are nto n, nteresting. N case you are still reading this, thanks for the nput, yes, please do tell us how it went, DriveImage isn't the speediest of the lot, but it's a solid performer, I've not had ny problems. Yes ndeed, I am annnoying to the nth degree.

by Anupam on 5. June 2012 - 6:42  (94420)

ODIN : Open source disk imager in development. Still in beta.

http://odin-win.sourceforge.net/

by crank on 5. June 2012 - 19:05  (94452)

Thanks for the info, Anupam, it looks very promising, and it's open source, a big positive to my way of thinking. I'll get to it before too long and see what I think, have a good one.

by Anupam on 5. June 2012 - 19:11  (94455)

My pleasure :). I hope they develop it into a good program. Open source is indeed a positive.

by EVM (not verified) on 16. May 2012 - 22:50  (93568)

Easeus Disk Copy Home Edition 2.3.1 is FREE. Did you check the "CLONABILITY" of it?

by crank on 25. May 2012 - 18:22  (93954)

This page is more for Imaging software as opposed to basic disk copying, most imaging software will also clone, as will the partition managers on that page. As cloning is copying, this package doesn't really fit here, but thank you for your suggestions.

by greg101 (not verified) on 8. May 2012 - 6:15  (93198)

Where to start?

Grrrlgeek suggested Easeus 2.5.1 as it had 'universal restore' included. Could not find this version, but did find (and d/l) version 2.5.

Ran it and copied (imaged) my external xp drive to a partition on my ntfs laptop. Not sure what I got, as I have the shortcut for it, but no file; AND my original xp drive is now in raw data state.

Easeus know about this, as this is what is on their "Troubleshooting" page
5. Why does the NTFS partition displayed as RAW after clone, and I cannot access it?
We think your original NTFS partition is written protected, please remove this attribute and then try again.

To compound their ignorance, how can the drive be "write-protected" if it managed to RE-WRITE the ID, or mbr, or or partition table?

I don't know how old this (useless info)is, so I don't know if they have become enlightened or not.

I have had testdisk suggested, but from what you said in another thread, it looks dicey, if I don't know what I am doing.

As for some feedback/questions about some of the other products

With Macrium Reflect, I cannot see how to image my external disk to a partition I created on my active drive. It ONLY wants to "clone" it to the 1st partition, where the system files are - and I had this confirmed by Macrium. In the "clone" option, it asks me if "I want to select another source" - such as the external drive, but in the "image" option, it does not give me that choice. Have I missed something?

I have a trial of Acronis, but the "image" option is disabled.
Do you know if this is also the case with the Paragon free edition.

Will PartedMagic be able to what i want; and can it be mounted in a VM, or should I go the Paragon route with their P2V?

Thanks

by crank on 9. May 2012 - 6:07  (93243)

greg, if only all the questions were so short and uncomplicated. That is sure a long list of glitches, do you have a cat working on your PCs while you aren't looking-LOLz. Easeus is on version 4.5, I can't begin to help with such an old version, and on XP, which isn't a system I've had for my main PC. If it trashed the disk it was working on, that is not at all good.

First off, you say 'copied (imaged)' but these are not the same, a copy is the same as a clone, but an image is something different.

You can try MiniTools free partition recovery software here:
http://www.minitool-partitionrecovery.com/recoverymore.html
It works very well and it sounds like you only trashed the partition table, which should be easy to fix. Test disk will do very well, it only gets confusing if you have extended partitions and maybe repartitioned the disk recently, leaving some bits around triggering a false partition detection.

Now, about Macrium, this really confuses me, I never have problems such as you describe. Macrium won't clone to a smaller partition (clone with resize), and I don't think it will restore to a smaller available space either. Paragon can do this however. But for imaging, as long as there is space for the image, Macrium shouldn't have a problem with that. You mention the 'active disk', do you mean you are attempting to clone to the system drive? No product can do that, it's your working system. And the free version of Acronis images, that is it's main purpose, free or not, so I can't imagine what is happening there either. Are you somehow mixing up 'cloning' and 'imaging' in all of this?

I am sorry I can't give you more and better advice, but your system seems possessed by by multiple weirdnesses, maybe if you can give me more details, such as disk/partition/file system types/sizes which partition on which disk you are trying to do what with, and your blood type, then I may be able to give better advice [I don't really need your blood type, just testing if you were still awake] Good luck, and I'll try to help more if I can get more info.

by greg101 (not verified) on 11. May 2012 - 6:04  (93340)

Hi Crank,
Firstly; where on my hard drive can I find my blood type.......?

It does sound complicated; probably because I am trying to do several different things, which I have not clearly separated or explained. And they overlap. And I am a bit confused too.

I want to backup my external (old laptop) xp drive, in case it got corrupted whilst creating an image of it. Lol. I will keep backing it up (cloning) until I can get an image of it that will work in a vm. I already have a hd copy - done with Macrium - but that is 1000 k's away; and needs a psu to use it

As I understand it a clone will give me an exact copy of my drive which would boot up and work - if I put it back into my old machine. An image is the whole drive in a file format - such as iso, or xml. Am I correct so far?

The issue with Macrium, is that it would NOT allow me to "select a different source" - such as my external hd - so it gave me NO option to image it at all. IF I want to clone it, which I did - reason given above - then I COULD choose "select another source", BUT (big but) it would then NOT allow me to clone it to a drive partition of my choice - e.g H: drive; which btw was bigger than the source drive. It would ONLY choose to write it to the 1st partition it saw, which is of course the system files partition; which - of course - I do not want to overwrite.

I did check this with Macrium, who confirmed that this is what would happen. So, as I said, it makes this option useless; unless of course I have missed, or misunderstood how to use it, OR that Macrium misunderstood what I asked them.
If someone can enlighten me about this, I would be very grateful.

So I tried Easeus 2.5, because grrrlgeek (below) said it had far more options, such as universal restore, which the current (even paid) version does not have.
ALSO Easeus is well aware of this problem (turning the source into RAW data) because they have it on their troubleshooting page!! As I showed. Now, I do not know when - or for which version - this was written, and it may well be that it is no longer an issue with the current version; but the page IS still there, AND I did get this problem with it. I don't wish to try it again.

I hope this has clarified what I was saying, and what I am trying to achieve.

Thanks for your input and suggestions to correct it, but since writing to you I had the thought to check it in "Computer" before I did anything, and it is now back to normal. Somehow it seems to have righted itself. Finally some good news. If I do have any further issue, I will use Testdisk. As you said, it was most likely a partition table error.

Since Macrium cannot do it it seems, and I don't want to use Easeus (any version) again - maybe it should be called Erroneus - I am back to square 1.

What then would you then recommend as the best backup program? Paragon? PartedMagic?
And as I want to set up a vhd, which image program would you suggest I use to create an image to mount in a VM. I will use either VM Player or Virtualbox.
Is an iso image any better an option than xml or vmdk?
.
Greg

2 minor corections

by crank on 11. May 2012 - 9:22  (93351)

First off, I recommend Paragon if you prefer the 'online' type programs, Partedmagic is a marvelous test/rescue disk and LiveCD operating system, it includes gParted-gnome Partition manager, and Clonezilla, these are excellent programs, but you of course need to use these in 'off line' mode'. Or, maybe better for what you are trying to do is to get the SystemInternals program, disk2vhd, which is extremely easy to use, and will work on your system disk in place. From the microsoft page:
"Disk2vhd is a utility that creates VHD (Virtual Hard Disk - Microsoft's Virtual Machine disk format) versions of physical disks for use in Microsoft Virtual PC or Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines (VMs). " You can find it here:
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/ee656415

I made a vhd copy of a running system, and then used this vhd in Virtualbox and it booted right up [with a bit of hiccupping, but no crashes!!!] ISO images are for optical media, my preference is for vhd, mostly because you can mount those with windows DiskManager Console. You should check out this page as disk2vhd has a number of very useful features and should be in everyones toolbox [as should the whole SystemInternals suite] There are various programs that can turn image files of various types into vhd disks, and virtualbox, through the commandline virtualboxmanage command, can copy a disk to another format. If you are imaging a non-system disk, I wouldn't, you should just backup the files.

You're essentially correct about cloning and imaging, usually you call it cloning when you copy direct from one disk to another, and imaging when you create an image file that allows you to restore a working copy of a disk. Often, imaging will ignore unused disk space, and also temp files, the hibernation and the Page file, saving very significant space, and also compress the data further saving space.

I'm sorry I can't come up with anything about your Macrium problems, possibilities: problem with too many primary partitions, weirdness with extended partitions,trying to use a disk in GPT vs an MBR disk, ??? You call it an external drive, but is it a system drive from another system, maybe some kind of incompatibility there? Cloning sometimes will only clone to available space-unformatted, it won't overwrite an existing partition. There are too many possible gremlins to better zero in on what could be going on. I hope some of this at least helps, don't hesitate to get back with me if there is something else I've missed or needs clarification. Good luck.

by Selfless Gene (not verified) on 6. May 2012 - 14:21  (93116)

I just gave this article a 5-star rating because it led me to Macrium Reflect and delivered me from Dell Hell.

A word of explanation: "Dell Hell" is the lowest level of the dark underworld you enter when you buy your first Dell computer and try to deal with their software support tribe. As you might know, Dell computers come with a factory-fresh disk image in a seperate partition from which you can use the preinstalled Dell Datasafe Basic to restore your computer to its original state. You can even use it to create recovery USB flashdrives (optical disks aren't even worth mentioning) that hold the same disk image that is in the recovery partition and satisfy the no-brainer requirement that you need to be able to repair a severly crashed hard drive from EXTERNAL media.

So far so good. But, of course, what you really want to be able to do is restore your computer to the state it was in just before that malware took you down. That is, you need to be able to create NEW disk images. In order to accomplish this I shelled out $40 to upgrade to Dell Datasafe Premium which was touted as being able to do "full system backups". I had read in other forums that the problem with this program is that it can only write the new image file to the C: drive. I couldn't believe that anybody would bother to develop software that uses the device that's most likely to be in need of repair as the default location for the recovery file - but that's what they did! Ok, you can also save the disk image to an external hard drive (expensive) or a mile-high stack of DVDs. But the obvious place to put it is on a bootable USB flashdrive. I tried a 16 GB flashdrive and got the meassage that this was "unsuitable external media" so I bought a 32 GB flashdrive. I got the same message. I bought a 64 GB flashdrive. I got the same message.

In desperation I contacted Dell software technical support. I was informed that that for a "nominal fee" they could tell me how to get their program working with a USB flashdrive. I had to listen to a very long sales pitch in broken English. I still don't know how much the software support contract costs because when she said, "two hundred ..." that's when I started screaming.

Realizing that Dell Datasafe was a Dell Deadend I stated looking for an alternative. I found the above article and my life changed. I now have a bootable 64 GB USB flashdrive that on boot loads WinPE and Macrium Reflect. Reflect instantly recognizes that there's a complete disk image sitting right there on the flashdrive and offers to install it. That image not only includes the C: partition with all my installed apps and data but also the recovery partition that holds the factory image. My hard drive could be totally trashed and I could still completely restore it from this flashdrive!

And thus I ascended from Dell Hell to Macrium Heaven. And not for two hundred and something dollars but for free! (I'm not counting the cost of the flashdrive - I love these things.)

by crank on 7. May 2012 - 5:37  (93154)

Thanks for charon. We like to think we help our visitors, but please, don't expect rides up The Styx everyday, the tolls can be a drain. I'm glad you managed to get around the ridiculous obstacles many OEMs put before their customers who only want to safeguard their data and fix their PCs without doing a factory refresh.

That's really unacceptable to make you buy a product that is useless in its basic design, then expect you to fork over even more to 'upgrade' to something that's actually usable. You might as well weld lifeboats to a ship--makes them quite handy and sure to be there when you need them, but ...

Thanks again for your comments. Good luck and please keep coming back.

by gggirlgeek (not verified) on 22. April 2012 - 13:25  (92422)

OK, sorry. Last post.

I just had a great experience with a Windows fresh-install that I hope will help others.

I decided to upgrade to 64bit -- the one scenario where image backups are no help. I was prepared for a horrendous ordeal trying to upgrade all of my software and drivers, and get my settings back to just the way I like them. But it wasn't bad at all.

Two things saved me:
1. I had made a Windows Easy Transfer backup of my settings a while ago, JIK -- and "just-in-case" happened! I didn't expect the recovery to go well at all, but surprisingly, all of my little tweaks, my Start Menu shortcuts, and even my Video Card settings were back to "normal." My speakers suddenly sounded good again too! Tip: Customize your W.E.T. backup. I didn't let it backup "My Documents," etc because I have those on other drives. But FORCE it to backup your AppData and your ProgramData folders. This is where all of your software settings are.

2. For a long time I have been installing the portable version of almost all of my software on a second hard drive (many programs can be forced into portable mode too -- like Firfox.) I did this for speed, and so that I could access what I needed in a triple-boot system without hassle. Well, side effect: When I restored my Start Menu shortcuts with W.E.T. the programs on my 2nd hard drive linked right up to them -- no re-install needed. And, thanks to saving the AppData folder, the other programs I re-installed needed no configuration.

I was truly surprised at how smoothly this went. But I was shocked when Windows was able to restore my Video and Sound card settings -- these weren't even the same drivers. Impressive.

So make a Windows Easy Transfer backup, and install your programs on a different partition. You'll live to smile about it when your imaging software fails you.

by crank on 24. April 2012 - 13:32  (92537)

Wow, thank you for taking so much time to post all of your suggestions and info, maybe you might think about becoming a Gizmo editor, we are always looking for talented, informed users. I have never used Windows Easy Transfer, it sounds quite useful in such situations. I've been fairly exclusively 64-bit for some time now, and get really annoyed that there are still as many issues hanging around, considering there's been a 64-bit version of windows since the XP days-so many millenia ago;) I start feeling cramped at 6GB of RAM in Windows, so 32 bit won't cut it. So how does Windows Easy Transfer deal with Start, and shortcuts etc when you've done a fresh install? Especially as many programs will be in the 'Program Files (x86)' folder now? Of course my SOP maximizes disorder and chaos, so it might not help me at all.

As to Easeus, and as you noticed, the last couple-4 or 5? of versions/sub-versions they added stuff, removed stuff, obfuscated stuff, just take the case of the PE environment, they added it, then removed it, within a very short period of time, the program is hidden from view from anyone going to their website without the exact URL to the free page, blocked even the forums from the users of the free versions, etc. With all of that, I don't care to keep them on our list as I have no confidence the product will have any support or updates in the future, and the volatility is a real turn-off. I am just wondering now what they plan for the Partition package, it too is very nice and it would be a shame if they gutted it too.

Thanks again for your contributions, please keep coming back.

by gggirlgeek (not verified) on 22. April 2012 - 12:06  (92416)

Compared to EaseUS Todo Backup all of these others (as far as I know) are missing on huge thing: "Universal Restore" or "Recover to dissimilar hardware" as they put it.

You know all of those Windows boot problems that require dropping to the Recovery Console, and hours of endless frustration? It happens with EVERY imaging product using Windows 7. If you change the slightest drive configuration it stops cold. Even a normal recovery with EaseUS will do this.

The "Universal Restore" option, only on the WinPE boot disk, will get Windows to boot on just about anything.

I built a new PC recently and didn't feel like going through the pain of a fresh Win7 install. Once the everything was up and running I plopped my EaseUS boot CD in, clicked "Universal Restore", browsed to the old computer's backup image, and was booted into my old Windows installation in literally 9 minutes!

Before rebooting I installed my motherboard, network, and video drivers (it won't boot again otherwise,) then called Microsoft to tell them what I had done. They reactivated my copy without a problem.

by gggirlgeek (not verified) on 22. April 2012 - 12:03  (92415)

Here is another easy link to free EasUS Todo Backup and, more importantly, to their old versions! 2.5.1 was the last version that had all the great features missing now, even in the paid versions. With Windows AIK installed, version 2.0, if I remember correctly, allowed you to make a WinPE boot disk. However, 2.5.1's Linux disk has the all-important "Universal Restore" feature as well.

The entire version history can be found at the "Filehorse" website (Gizmo wouldn't allow the link, sorry. It's the first hit in Google though.)

by greg101 (not verified) on 1. May 2012 - 7:03  (92853)

Hi gggirlgeek
Where can I get a copy of Easeus 2.5.1, and is it a free version?

Also if I do an image of a hdd with W.E.T to a dvd, do I just keep putting in blank discs till they are filled?
What is the file format for this image, and is it compressed?
I tried to set it up to image an external hdd, but it also insisted on imaging (ticked and greyed out boxes) my active drive and "reserved" data as well. Any way to uncheck these?

Thanks

by George.J on 22. April 2012 - 12:02  (92414)

Worth mentioning?
1. XXClone
2. GImageX: Graphical interface for ImageX

by crank on 24. April 2012 - 12:27  (92522)

Thanks for your suggestions, I definitely like some features in each of these offerings, having a GUI for ImageX is great, but I'm afraid it's substantial, non-standard modes of operation will stymie typical users. CXXClone appears to be a nice package, and I am working with it right now. Some of its claims on their web site are fairly hype-laden, while that isn't a deal-breaker, it does disappoint somewhat. It too uses an interface that is atypical, but is very easy to use, though many desirable features are only available for the non-free version. Thanks again for the heads up, I should have more on this soon.

by gggirlgeek (not verified) on 22. April 2012 - 12:29  (92418)

These are some of the first in the industry, right? The old-school one's from the early 90's? Correct me if I'm wrong.

I used DriveImg XML, which is one of those, for years. I'm thinking of making an image with it now, just because it's so darn reliable. The thing is DriveImg XML is on every rescue CD you'll ever find. It might take a while, and there might be a hassle getting it to work, but the recovered image WILL eventually boot.

I'm spoiled now though. I want the fancy options! However, to avoid putting all my eggs in one basket, I think I'll save a backup with one of these oldy-but-goody apps.

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