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.

Read full review...

Other Options

There are a few different options for users that are looking for a good free drive imaging solution and some of the most reliable options are offline programs.

  • PING (PartImage Is Not Ghost) is the choice that stands out above the rest for me. Most offline solutions can be kind of intimidating and hard to figure out at first but PING is almost too easy as it leads you through the steps needed to create an image one by one and offers a short explanation of some of the options available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Editor

This software review is maintained by volunteer editor AndyR. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.

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Comments

I have a desktop PC that is triple-booted with three Linux installations (Zorin 12 Lite, MX-16 (KDE Added version) and Ubuntu MATE 18.04). The last install gave errors and I had to use Rescatux to restore Grub and then update Grub within the problem system to get all three back in sync. I then used Clonezilla to image the drive and restore the contents to another PC. The whole operation went without a hitch and all three systems boot on the other PC. I have absolutely no idea why people pay for imaging software. MC - Site Manager.

I recall quite a number of years back using a mixture of Windows and Linux flavors in a multi boot environment I used Grub to boot the Windows boot loaders, so I would have a Grub menu with the Linux systems and an option to boot Windows that would load another menu to boot into the various Windows systems quite complex to set up a first but all worked fine unless Windows in it's wisdom decided to change something and that was always a nightmare to fix...

As for paying for imaging software go's many of them don't offer much extra as far as usefulness go's in the paid for versions such as the ability to reinstate / migrate an image onto a different brand of computer for example something the average user would probably only use once or twice if ever, I have always had mixed results with that and should only be used in an emergency to gain access to your data on a different computer since I found the migrated system usually starts acting abnormally after a few weeks if not sooner...

The only imaging software I have ever paid for was one of the very early versions of Norton Ghost that I used to create factory install disks with since at the time it was the most advanced and reliable in my opinion, however these days like all Norton products it's bloated beyond belief and essentially "hijacks" your system.

Good points. The other thing I like about Clonezilla is the documentation. It's almost impossible to go wrong if you browse it first and then follow their step-by-step examples. The one possible issue for some users is the drive destination for the restore needs to be the same size or bigger than the source drive. MC - Site Manager.
https://clonezilla.org/clonezilla-live-doc.php

Thanks... It has been quite a long time since I last looked at Clonezilla I will have to give the latest version a look at on one of my test systems when I get chance. Something else lacking in some of the imaging software these days is the option to re-build / replace / not replace the MBR I know that is not relevant on a GPT drive but I bet a lot of people are still using MBR drives.

The thing is with Windows 10 though you don't have much control over it when it comes to multi boot (or anything else for that matter) and the ability to create up to 128 primary partitions on one GPT drive would have been useful many years ago but I don't see a whole lot of point in the need to have dreamed up that technology these days, couple that with the fact a BIOS is not just a BIOS anymore it's very over protective of what you wish to plug into "it's" main board and if you try and force it to accept something it really does not like then that is comparable to poking a bear with a stick !

Hi, really wish the reviewer could do a full review Clonezilla, PING and any other more popular / better reputation ones for Linux. (Bill / Windows have left my building, this time for good).

Question: In Linux, if one is NOT backing up or imaging the *entire* HDD, with only purpose to restore an entire disk, are there huge advantages in using "backup" tools vs. imaging tools (with ability to image one partition or a whole disk)? Other than many BU prgms allow selecting a little or all of a partition?

Of course, if the HDD fails or OS must be reinstalled, the tool should have ability to restore at least a BU or image of all 'Nix OS partitions, incl. MBR, to a booting state. So far, my limited reading on Linux BU tools is, apparently some don't always automatically BU the MBR. As usual, part of the problem is different articles or posts say different things.

I'd rather use a good GUI, but I'm not afraid of CLI, per se. What does bother me on many CLI apps is the sparse to non-existent details of *exactly* what each option does; often a lack of examples. Info like, "[-d] - forces a dump" isn't helpful to new users. "Help files" like that are mainly reminders.

Thanks.

You really need to check out Veeam Endpoint Backup which is a free backup application for personal or commercial use. It works pretty darn well with disk imaging and recovering.
Version 1.5 is out now but a newer version is soon to be released with more functionality.
The only bad thing is that now you can boot to a USB to recover only because there is no option to create a cold backup from booting from a the USB which is in other products out there.
Hopefully someday they will put those options in.

I don't like the idea of having to create an account with them in order to download the product I get the feeling your probably going to constantly get pestered into upgrading to the paid for version ? And also not being able to create an image after booting from the flash drive is a major loss of functionality in my opinion, granted it's a free download but as you stated yourself the other programs off the option.

I only create images, when Windows is closed.
Do you know if their bootable CD, allows creation of images ?

As stated in the first comment about Veeam Endpoint Backup the bootable disk only allows you to recover. There is no backup from bootable option available yet. I have requested that feature for a while now but as of today, there is still no backup from bootable device option.
On a side note, I have never received any SPAM messages from Veeam since signing up to download the installer.

Another note that the name has changed from Veeam Endpoint Backup to Veeam Agent for Microsoft Windows FREE 2.1.

Thank you for the update... I did actually try Veeam but was not significantly impressed enough to write a review the ability to create an image from their bootable media is negotiable mainly because how many people actually do that these days ? I know I do not anymore...

AOMIE has added a few extra features in their free download but I feel they like most imaging software are starting to loose focus by adding in more and more utilities that are yes somewhat related however it just confuses the novice user and makes the software overly complex from a programing perspective... I am a firm believer in one tool for one job the Swiss Army knife approach is all well and good in theory when your in a tight spot but for serious backup and recovery the tool / software in this case has to be specific to the task... that is just my thoughts...

In addition I noticed AOMIE has teamed up with Lenovo (also another company I forget the name off hand) to deal with factory restore / recovery of their end users computers using the OneKey recovery software... however with the Lenovo system I had in for repair the OneKey software did not carry out it's task correctly I was expecting a factory restore all it did was recover system files and bloatware and not actually remove the issues present all user data was left intact where technically it should have been wiped ! my solution, download the drivers for the system, low level format the entire HDD, reinstall Windows from an official disk and then the specific Lenovo drivers... problem solved !

Personally I have been using Macrium Reflect as of late on all my systems without problems it is far less complex now than it used to be in one respect that does concern me but it seems intelligent enough to get the recovery image re-instated correctly... though I admit I have not tried recent versions on a dual boot system that could be another matter entirely, I do not know as yet.

hi all

Could someone advise why EaseUS hasn't been reviewed here?

It claims to do system backups and disk cloning, as well as migrating systems to SSDs.

Btw, I'm not posting to promote EaseUS - I'm actually a licensed macrium reflect user but am looking to select an (ideally) free, appropriately reliable backup solution for a friend.

Regards,

Gary

EaseUs is pretty dman good ! howver they pester you you to upgrade constantly... and whilst I know a company needs to make money of course but I do not wish to be pestered.... So Garry since you bought Macrium then stay with that ? it is very good also.... paid version even better than the free of course....
There are so many possabilitys for imaging / backup solutions it is impossible for me to list them all and review.... point noted though EaseUs I shall downlownd and inspect the latest editition ! since you feel it it is important... thank you Sir for the heads up.

Hi Andy

Thanks for that.

I'm happy with Macrium but needed a decent free option for a friend and had ended up having to upgrade to the paid version of macrium because of a problem I experienced with the free edition i.e. I didn't want to impose a paid for backup solution upon my friend, if there was a a decent free alternative.

I simply heard about EaseUS and gathered it was decent but couldn't see it listed.

Thanks for humouring me and sorry to give you more work.

I'd just note that macrium too requires the odd paid upgrade. They definitely don't nag though. I purchased it in 2009 and have paid for an upgrade once (i.e. effectively two paid licenses). Macrium are now advertising version 7, which claims to use a new backup technology which could be 60 times quicker (though the technical explanation notes this is in regard to incremental / differential backups). They are also talking about a very interesting virtual tech implementation, which basically generates a VM off of a recovery image (fascinating for a technie like me).

Let us know what you think of EaseUS.

Cheers,

Gaz

Are any of you procrastinating on downloading the free Aomei (and also the PE builder) ?
(I was)
Now might be a good time to 'snap out of it' (the procrastinating)
(I did)
The biggest give away site is trying to give away the Pro version today, and is having a horrible time getting the license keys to the members.
At least one member has posted advice to all the other members, pointing out what we know - the free version meets all of our (and their) needs.
If I were Aomei, I would be telling my developers to be crippling the free version a bit more
And perhaps remove the access to the free PE builder.

Subject: W10 running when imaging
Some will remember in my comments, how I like WIndows closed when imaging, most of you don't mind Windows running.
If I were you (the Windows is running people), I would be somewhat wary of W10's nasty habit of "updating whenever it feels like it"

Just sayin',
Rob

Hi Rob, Yes I agree imaging a system when the actual OS is running is a risk... My current knowlage of Win10 is vcery minimal at the moment I will admit, however I plan to buy a new laptop soon and that will have Win10 no doubt... so yes your point is very vaild in that respect and thank you for the heads up on it !

Please, might someone help? The unresolved issue whiich I haved with AOMEI Backupper Standard is that it doesn't see my 2 TB Samsung USB connected external drive during an attempted restore operation. Macrium Reflect Free sees it. EaseUS Todo Backup Free also sees it. QILING Disk Master Free is another soft that doesn't see/recognize/find the external drive. Except for that issue with AOMEI I think AOMEI is fantastic and feature rich for free, I also like the very tasteful looking and easily navigated GUI.

Are you running it from within Windows, or are you doing it from a bootable CD, the way God intended ?

Is your 2TB Samsung drive -
- a portable (2.5") in it's own pocket size case
- An external 3.5" drive in a Samsung case
- a 3.5" drive in a dock(or similar)

If it is the latter what is the brand of the Dock ?
I have a few, and one cheap brand (of flat docker) is not seen by my bootable Seagate DiskWizard program

I don't know if anyone else has mentioned this but Macrium Reflect software free edition does NOT include incremental backups. I would think this is important so only the files that have changed need to be backed up from time to time. Or, is "differential" enough? I have heard good things about this backup program from other tech gurus but I want to use the best "free" backup program that I can. Thanks.

If you are talking about a full image, then do not be stuffing around with your image, by doing incremental changes to your image.
Regarding the W10 upgrade, this is what I did -
- Used free Seagate DiskWizard (bootable CD, Windows NOT running) to create image.
- Verify image
- Remove drive, and store somewhere safe
- Replace drive, and restore image into it
- Do the upgrade to W10 (preferably using a burned ISO)

You now have two OS's you can run by swapping the drive.

Good idea. That's been done by the Win 10 forum users as well. I haven't upgraded to W10 yet but if I do, I'll do the same, just with Cloning. I have 2 SATA Hot-swap Trays in my Desktop tower for quick HDD access which makes Cloning (& Image testing) convenient.

The "best" for you depends upon how each program meets your requirements.

For me, Macrium Reflect is the best because the user interface has the sort of information that I use and I generally backup entire partitions/disks for simplicity. I rarely use incremental/differential backups because I don't want dependencies between the various backup images. Disk space and online file storage are so cheap nowadays that I keep a copy of each document and use OneDrive to synchronize changed files between two computers.

Incremental is simpler and more logical for most users because it copies entire files. This means that each changed file can be restored from one backup image.

Differential is more efficient for backup but restoring any changed file becomes more complicated because you need to restore the file from at least two images.

The ease of use benefit of incremental backups is probably why it is a paid feature that is not included in Macrium Reflect Free version 6.

Well the one with the most features in the free version is AOMEI, but like you say the majority of gurus stay faithful to Macrium... both are good programs I think the way to choose in this case is dependent on how many features you need to be honest.

Thank you. I want to make a system image before I upgrade to Windows 10. Again, all the tech gurus recommend making a system image (and saving it to an external hard drive) prior to upgrading "just in case". Makes sense to me. What I am unclear about is if I make a system image, is it just the Windows 7 program files or is it ALL my files? I want to protect everything. :)

Hi. if you do a full-HDD System Image, that will backup everything on the HDD. It's essentially the same thing as Cloning the HDD. The end results are the same; the 2 processes just do it in different ways.

Cloning requires a 2nd HDD as the "target" HDD and Imaging doesn't require the 2nd HDD (unless you're Imaging to restore the PC from a failed HDD or some malware variants).

If you're using Macrium for example, just select the entire "source" (ie 'C' Drive in almost all PC's) drive for the contents that you want to Image to the target (sometimes referred to as the "destination") HDD.

I use both Imaging and Cloning for my routine HDD backups since I have a couple of spare HDD's that I rotate every 2 weeks for full-HDD backups. I Image occasionally for HDD backup redundancy.

Thank you for the info. When you image and/or clone, does it also include the unused portions of the partitions? I have a 1T drive that I partitioned just for organizing my stuff. Most are less than half used. It seems kind of a waste to copy all the unused part. Is there a way to get around that or not? Thanks in advance. I am sure you can tell I am a newbie at this. I have done a system image (just my operating system stuff) but from what I have read, the "experts" recommend copying all your files before upgrading to Windows 10.

Absolutely agree that AOMEI is outstanding. Simple and fast. The Windows startup disk it creates works great on my machines. Have used others in the past such as Paragon and even Norton back in the day. For creating images this is the best.

Apparently there is a lot of new features in the latest version 3.5 I have not had the time to check them out as yet though.

AOMEI Backupper Standard has been updated to version 3.5 (2016.07.11); the changelog has not been updated as of this post (http://www.backup-utility.com/changelog.html).

Macrium Reflect Free Edition has been updated to version 6.1 Build 1366 (2016.06.30); the changelog listed is:

Automatic deletion of Macrium created network share connections:

-- Authenticated Network connections created by Macrium Reflect at the start of a backup can now be automatically terminated on application exit rather than waiting for the default Windows timeout. This functionality was requested by forum members to help protect against ransomware

$PROMPT$ - Prompt for password:

-- When using $PROMPT$ to prompt for a backup password during execution, this was causing Incremental and Differential backups to fail to start. This has been resolved.

Focus stealing when running a scheduled task:

-- Scheduled tasks running in the background could momentarily steal the Windows focus at the start of execution. This has been resolved.

Program exception on exit:

-- Reflect could occasionally crash on exit if application termination was delayed. This has been resolved.

A cumulative changelog can be found at Softpedia's changelog page for the program - http://www.softpedia.com/progChangelog/Macrium-Reflect-Free-Edition-Changelog-134130.html .

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