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).

Read full review...

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.

Read full review...

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.

 

Related Products and Links

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Editor

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

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Comments

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 .

Really appreciate the article, it definitely helped me decide on which program to use! The content and layout are effective and I like the "Quick Selection Guide!" Being able to simply scroll through the article directly, without having to find an arrow somewhere to go to the next page, is a good feature as is the availability of a printable version. This article motivated me to sign-up for this site. Thanks Dan

Hi Dan, it is great to hear positive feedback, I can not take credit for the design of layout though I am sure to who it may concern will read that and be appreciative of your kind comment, Thank you Sir.

Macrium reflect free is now at version 6.1 (for some time...) :-)

New in version 6.1 Build 1196
March 9th, 2016

WHAT'S NEW:
Windows PE 10 Intel Matrix RAID Drivers
The Windows PE rescue media creation process now allows Windows 10 Intel Matrix RAID drivers to be updated.

V6.x is just a 30 day trial though is it not ? Support for V5.x has ended now but you can still download it without it being a trial edition.

Strange, why does it have "free" in the name?
Check here:
http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx

Well I did check the new download page and the info page etc and it all says 30 day trail... I do recall reading somewhere when V6 was first released that the last truly free version would be V5.x and they may consider at some stage to do the same with V6.x or words to that effect.

Hi! I added link in the answer above.
There is no link to the free version on the Macrium main page (strange, but have seen it before). One have to manually find the link in google or similar search page. I've found it on Softpedia (or somewhere).

The link on this very page to the free version still works (I checked that also) hence the reason why I have not updated the review since a 30 day trial is not exactly free software... I am just guessing but maybe when it gets to a few more versions down the line the initial V6 might become free, I don't know don't hold me to that I am just going from what was said initially wherever it was that I read it. V.5.x still works very well but I have no idea if it is compatible with Win10 or not. Thank you for the heads up on the version update anyway, appreciated.

Macrium Reflect version 6, is in fact, free with the great features that were not available in the free version 5, such as cloning and incremental imaging and boot menu WinPE recovery environment without the use of usb or cd/dvd. I have been using version 6 free for months. http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx Enjoy! Spread the word!

You're welcome, and keep up the good work.

As regarding to v. 6 beeing free or not - your link is pointing to ver 6.
I've also downloaded and install it, and it says ver 6.and something.
Regards!

I found that restoring the backup was complicated. Are any easy to restore by a neophyte?
Thanks
Robin

The Seagate DiskWizard bootable CD, has about 4 options on the left -
- Backup
- Recover
- etc
You just click Recover.
Unfortunately it then scours your connected drives, and lists every backup (image) that it can find.
I have learned to live with that, by using an idiot proof (for my sake) naming convention like -
20160227-18
Year month day - 6PM
That way I can choose the image I wish to use for recovery.
You can right click to choose 'Recover', or just select the image, and click a large button top leftish
You then choose where the restored image is to go.

AOMEI is currently at version 3.2 (updated on 2015.09.16).

I realize that Gizmo's website is Windows-heavy, but I still think you've given Clonezilla an insufficient rating. Clonezilla has only one disadvantage, that being that it does do not do partition editing on-the-fly, so you can't duplicate a source disk/partition to a smaller disk/partition. The other "con" that Czilla often gets from GUI addicts is that it's complicated and unintuitive. If you're a novice Windows user who needs to press one or two buttons to automagically clone your drive, I can see that perspective. IMO, however, that person should never, ever be involved in drive cloning activity. The primary measure for any drive clone app is that it reliably and consistently duplicates drives/partitions accurately. Clonezilla meets that requirement with flying colors. The secondary measure is that the application provides adequate tools/settings to prevent and resolve unexpected issues with the cloning operation. Again, CloneZilla meets that criteria in spades. A pretty gui and automagical scripting should be the last thing you consider.

Reliability like you say is crucial, however the other one's are also reliable and offer so much more along with ease of use that is just as important if your a novice... Drive imaging should not not just be limited to the experts as it is an ideal way to make a backup of your system and every user should have easy to use tools in order to do just that. I do agree though that advanced operations should be left alone until a user gains a better understanding of the process and what it actually involves.

So in short taking all that into consideration I feel the rating is appropriate.

When I use one of the mentioned backup programs to backup to an external harddrive does this program need tp be installed on both harddisks.
Just in case te internal harddrive crashes and I have to install in a new internall drive to restore the backup?
Thanks for any replay and sorry for my English.

No you only need to install the software on one hard drive, it is highly advised though to make either a bootable Windows PE disk or a bootable Linux one the software provides instruction on how to do that so in the event of a drive failure you can boot from the disk you created and restore your image to the new hard drive.

There are people out there that merrily run their backup (imaging) programs from within Windows (whilst Windows is running) AGH!
I would not do that if you paid me.
What you should do (and all of those people I mentioned), is use a program that allows you to create a bootable CD.
(EG Seagate DiskWizard, IF you use Seagate drives - If your external drives are Seagate, that is all that is required, to get the program free)
So you install the Seagate program, and the first thing you do is tell that program to create a bootable CD for you.
When you wish to create an image, you turn off the PC, then start it up with the CD booting (INSTEAD of Windows).
Create an image into your external drive, and then immediately verify/validate that image.
You could then open up the computer, and throw your internal hard drive out of the window, and place a new drive into the PC.
When you start the PC, you boot into the CD, and use the CD to Restore your image.

I can think of good reasons why users could happily "run their backup (imaging) programs from within Windows (whilst Windows is running)"?

In this post you don't give a reason why you don't like it but I presume that you were building on your earlier post below: "Why would anyone want to do images whilst Windows is running ? Sure it might work, but there are more things that could go wrong."

It is true that before Windows XP it was a lot riskier because Windows did not provide the necessary features to support copying active system files. But since Windows XP imaging Windows drives is far less fraught.

While there are more things that could go wrong, many users have had no problems imaging an active Windows system. That's also my experience. For about  a decade I've used a range of applications to backup and restore complete Windows systems. I used to do it a lot for testing. Often I would do it the way you recommend and boot using a removable disk. When I didn't do it that way, I don't remember ever having a problem that could be attributed to having Windows running while I imaged the drive. If the developers said they supported it then it has worked for me.

That's not to say that the problems you are concerned about won't ever occur but I've found that it is more common to strike the sort of problem that is unrelated to copying open files. I had lots of those including bugs in the imaging software, feature limitations (e.g. when restoring to different physical drives, when the free software only supports complete image restores, etc.), and most frustratingly, because it is too late to find out when you're doing a restore, bugs in the restore programs.

The final decision about how to image a drive mainly depends upon the purpose of creating the image and some depends upon the operating characteristics of the drive. So here's some reasons why it is reasonable to image a drive while Windows is running

  • The drive is not the Windows system drive.
  • The drive is not being accessed by any other process.
  • The drive is in use but because it is NTFS snapshots are supported.
  • The Volume Shadow Copy Service has all the providers and writers it needs for the running software.
  • The image is not primarily intended for a Windows system restore. Often it is easier to image an entire drive than specify the backup of specific files.
  • Windows has to keep running for some reason.

P.S. AndyR responded much better and more succinctly while I wrote my tome. :-)

Well usually I use a Windows PE boot disk that has various tools on it for imaging and editing tasks, But I have found no difference in the reliability of the images if they are done from within Windows itself or from a boot disk the VSS (volume shaddow service) running from within Windows gets used by the imaging software (in most cases) and is just as effective... Even the built in Windows imaging software does not require you to boot into a different enviroment so if MS thinks that is ok it is their operating system so I would think that they should know?

I guess if your a system admin with a lot of computers and servers to look after then yes you could not afford to take the chance and would use a bootable disk, but for home purposes I don't see the need when all the software works fine whatever way you do it.

AOMEI Backupper was updated to version 3.1.0 on 2015.08.04; as George.J noted, the changelog can be found at http://www.backup-utility.com/changelog.html .

AOMEI Backupper 3.0 has been released. Release notes here.

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