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.

Read full review...

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

Thanks for the heads up on that George.

I've been a fan of Aomei for quite a while, but the restoration process keeps disappointing me. Restored systems are never bootable (and yes, I know what I'm doing, it's not like I forgot to backup my bootloader partition or anything) and it even for some reason feels the need to change the flags on all my partitions after restoring. Before, there were several flags on several partitions, like ESP, boot and hidden, but after, all the partitions, even the ones it hadn't touched, were changed to "msftdata". No wonder stuff wouldn't boot anymore (though changing the flags alone didn't fix that).

I can honestly say I have never had this specific problem before, are you running a duel boot system by any chance with an older version of Linux or GRUB ? far as I recall the older versions used to use a filesystem that were very much the same as msftdata ones this is the only reason offhand I can think of as for why you're having problems and the partitions are getting incorrectly flagged...

I would like to see the new contender Veeam Endpoint Backup to be tested. It is some of the view that works with DiskCryptor encrypted disks (from within Windows, like Acronis). It has one of the more easy menus (it is straight forward I would say).

Sadly Macrium Reflect Free v6 still is not able to backup DiskCryptor encrypted drives from within Windows.

Why would anyone want to do images whilst Windows is running ?
Sure it might work, but there are more things that could go wrong.
I have a lot of old PCs (and no new ones), so I do a lot of images.
The vast majority of them were done with Seagate DiskWizard (using bootable CD)
I have not had a 'failure to restore' for the last few years.
If you offered me $500 to do all my future images from within Windows, I would decline the offer.

A few months ago the SDW would not recognize my Seagate External 2TB USB3 drives
I Googled and noticed others having the same problem, even with the paid version.
However their forum had a long thread on that, and they got their support staff to tweak the paid program for those interested.
I purchased a copy and used that for a while. It worked.
Their support with me was very good.
I have gone back to the free Seagate DiskWizard, which now recognizes my external drives.

Someone said that you cannot mount images.
That is not true with the current DiskWizrd version 1605861
I have it installed on one of my PCs (solely to allow me to create the bootable CD)
I have that PC running now and opened up the Seagate application
On the bottom right corner there are 'buttons' for mounting and unmounting images.

This one does look quite promising and a potential contender after reading the features etc.. I shall download a copy and use it for a while then see about writing a review.

EDIT: It appears you have to create an account first before you can download a copy, having to do things like that always puts me off right away.

I got it from the German Chip Magazine website. They are hosting it themselves. Though I don't think registering for them to download the product is not that bad.

Though for my QuadCore (about 450GB of Data) it takes way longer than Acronis / Seagate DiscWizard to backup. It has been running for an hour now and only backupped like 62GB. With Acronis the whole backup takes about 2 hours (+- some Minutes). I am using old HDDs though. On a laptop with an SSD both Seagate Disc Wizard and Veeam are on paar (Veeam takes about 1 or 2 Minutes longer to back the data up).

I could only provide a link here that was to the original source not a 3rd party so to speak... having to register in order to try a product you don't know if your going to like or even use will deter people, if it was a much needed driver for your system then that is a different matter because it would be something you would need and be left without an option hypothetically.

Thank you for the comparison on the imaging times, time is always a factor for consideration however in my opinion if you know for a fact the software you are using is 100% reliable even if it takes 6x longer than anything else it would be worth the extra time just for peace of mind. Veeam does seem to be very slow though in comparison to the others and also when you consider you can do a 3 pass low level format on a 500gb HDD in around 4 hours.

Yes, you are right. Though Acronis (Seagate Disc Wizard) is also reliable (alteast it never failed me) and only takes 2 hours, while Veeam took a little-bit over 4 hours. But restoring files from Veeam Endpoint Backup were also working fine for me. Good is, you can just mount the image and restore individual files. I was not able to do that with Seagate Disc Wizward (nor with Acronis WD Edition on another laptop). So that is a plus.

Many years ago I used to use the Seagate Disk Wizard also the WD one and found them to be very good, there was one version back then that used to work on any HDD but the brand specific features were disabled for obvious reasons, at times it was the only tool that would fix a corrupt HDD and that used to happen to me on a regular basis after my "experiments". Then there was the DOS only Ghost V3 through to V8 or 6? as far as I recall before they built the megalithic Windows GUI installer in later versions that almost required a dedicated PC in order to run it hehe... but that never has been freeware to my knowledge so can't really discuss it here but it did in my opinion set the standard for the freeware alternatives that started to spring up at the time.

I don't think any of them are 100% flawless in every given situation mainly because there is infinite number of different scenarios that developers cannot possibly recreate everyone of them, hence the need to rely on feedback from the end user. A problem with a lot of software these days is it tries to do too much rather than just focusing on its original intended usage but the race to keep up with competitors is ongoing along with adding more and more features to the list.. in my opinion with some of them I would like to see a few features removed and replaced instead with the "optional" usage of more advanced control over the creation and restoration process that in some cases is necessary especially if you are running a multi boot system without the need to use a Windows start up disk in order to fix boot issues after a restore at times, especially when you consider in most situations Windows start up repair is not able to fix such problems correctly even after running it the recommended 3 times, thus you have to drop to the command prompt and do it manually, therefore having some advanced options available to begin with would be a more useful feature to add.

I am all in favour of simplicity and ease of use but at times you need to do something that the software is not able to accurately predict what your intentions are. Of course though there would have to be a warning / disclaimer stating if you enable advanced options then you do so at your own risk. I am aware that some of the software does have such options already but in most cases the way it is implemented can be rather confusing at times.

Anyway just sharing my thoughts...
 

After a long wait, Macrium Reflect free has finally been awaited to version 6.

Yes, and some very important features have been added, among which are:

- The ability to make Differential Backups.

- Option to add an entry to the Boot Menu which will allow you to restore a System image without using external Rescue Media.

See http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx

Aomei provides a free Win PE CD/DVD that has backerupper, partitioning ETC, ETC.
(Lots of goodies, including the program reviewed above)
I have tried a couple of times to burn it, and boot into it
(Burned on Win 7 64bit, and then tried booting into it on that PC and also into an XP Pro PC 32bit)
Both PCs halt during the boot up
I get the black screen with white progress bar saying 'Windows is loading files'
Then I get a black screen saying - Starting Windows with the waving 4 colors flag.
Then I get a blue screen saying -
STOPc0000145: {Application Error}
The application was unable to start correctly (0x000000d). Click ok to close the applicaion.

Anyone solved this ?

The error code relates to there being some corrupt system files that obviously are failing to load. Within AOMEI Backupper itself if you select the option to "Create Bootable Media" and choose either a Win PE or Linux disk then either of those seem to work just fine.

I have never downloaded and tried their all in one Win PE disk before so I can only assume that maybe your download got corrupted somehow or during the burning process... are you using a good quality brand of recordable media ?

Hi Andy,
I replied a while ago, but it got rejected as spam.
I submitted it for investigation/approval, but got no reply.
Perhaps it was rejected because I included a link to a thread on the forum on their site.
Some others have the same problem.
I managed to dig out a W7 32bit pc, and that fixed the problem (Don't create the bootable PE, on a 64bit W7)
Rob

Yes generally posting links to other forums is spam related... however not in your case but its very difficult for the board to know the difference.

So their 64bit version does not work but the 32bit does, interesting like I say I have not had that problem before. However it is probably better to create 32bit recovery media anyway since it will work with both. I get handed quite a lot of laptop computers to repair and always use 32bit media regardless because I have found at times the 64bit versions do not work on all systems other than the one it was created on, I think in some cases though this is intentional both with 32 & 64bit. Macrium being one such example where it prompted me for a serial number upon booting with the recovery media when the actual software was not installed on the target system, essentially rendering it useless unless you happen to have the serial number written down in front of you (highly unlikely) I did eventually get round the problem but the solution was less than ideal and took far longer than anticipated.

Just a note: Version 6 of Macrium is the paid version. Version 6 as free version will be released "soon" (whenever that is). The latest free version is 5.3.7299.

AOMEI released version 2.5 of their software and it now supports restoring on different hardware (like Acronis universal restore):
http://www.backup-utility.com/changelog.html

Yes I am waiting for the next laptop to get handed to me for repair so I can test that new feature and therefore update the review.

It appears that Macrium 32 bit no longer works on 64 bit machines. However, there is a 64 bit version available.

Umm. I use Macrium Reflect Free - downloaded directly from the Macrium website - on a Windows 7 64-bit machine just fine.

That being said - I always do the following for each PC:

1. Download and install Macrium Reflect Free - including the PE data - and reboot.

2. Make a Windows PE bootable USB on the PC I am going to image. This is important because you will need to pick the right PE version for your machine. Additionally, you will need to check whether or not you need to enable UEFI support, etc.

3. Once you have made this USB - boot the PC off the USB.

4. Now - in the windows PE environment - use this to make an image of your drive.

I, personally, prefer this method as it means the drive I am making an image of is not in use at the time.

For your first image after a clean install it is better to do it this way in my opinion also, and then again after you have the 200+ Windows updates installed... after that I just set a schedule and let the system backup run twice a week making use of a batch file I made to clean up previous images whilst still retaining the initial one with all the updates and also the previous one just in case.

Where can I download the 64 bit version?

I got it from Snapfiles.

http://www.snapfiles.com/downloads/mreflect/dlmreflect.html

Click on the lighter blue "Download the 64 bit version" link.

DISCLAIMER: I have not checked it for malware or stowaware and anything else that might kill your computer.

I just got done wasting over 2 hours on the AOMEI Backupper. I am doing a simple task, taking my bootable C drive and migrating it to a bigger hard drive. In essence, according to the "Free" utility software, I was doing a system clone. Fair enough. But this is NOT a free feature of the software. It is lock out. I call that cripple-ware. If you want to have that feature, then you have to jump through a hoop. Post the text they provided you on a social media site. Again, I read the reviews and thought to myself, it's worth it, press on and just do it. Two hours later, that feature never did unlocked no matter what url social media site I choose. As you can imagine I do not have faith in cripple-ware software that doesn't un-cripple. I did submit an email to their support, but, I really think a simple task like this needs NOT to be crippled so a person can finish it in a day.

I use Paragon to copy drives (via a drive image). Often I copy to a larger or smaller hard drive. It always works going from same size to same size or from smaller size to larger size. But what I really like is I can usually copy to a smaller hard drive (in the cases where the data used will fit). It automagically adjusts partition sizes to fit or you can opt to manually adjust them. I have always been able to boot from any copies (that were bootable in the first place).

I have had many occasions where this restore to a smaller drive has been useful. Sometimes, I only have a smaller drive available. One time I was going from a Desktop 2tb to a 2.5 inch 750gb -- worked great.

AOMEI is my personal favourite it does not have the top spot here only because the reviews are none biest towards "favourites" and are ranked by features... I know the process you are speaking of what I did was copy and paste the text they provided and posted it on Google+ then within minutes the software checked the post and unlocked the Clone feature... Quite possibility if the text is not identical to to what they require then it will fail the check ? I did notice that after a re-install I had to post said text again on Google+ in order to unlock the feature again however... With all due respect Sir this is $50 software you are getting for free and drive "clone" is so rarely used having to post a "like" so to speak is a very small price to pay in able to use that feature... I would not class it as being "cripple ware" in the least there is many other "free" software out there that does not inform you of the fact until you come to re-instate said cloned drive ! leaving you truly up the creek without a paddle, unless you have a CC handy and some spare cash... If you send me a PM on here with your email address I can contact AOMEI on your behalf and question why said feature was not unlocked for you and quite possibly have them unlock it for you though I can not promise, however I can try :-) and thank you for your feedback by the way as what you mentioned is worthy of note here.

Why is Todo backup not on this list? It has more features in their free version than most of these ones listed here. The latest is version 8.0 now and I highly recommend it.

I remember it being a capable and easy to use product but I also remember that it was dropped two or three years ago. From memory, Easeus converted the then latest freeware beta to a trialware production release. They had earlier done something similar with their partition manager too, i.e. it was touted as free but was in fact time-limited or trialware. Anyway, whatever precisely happened there were many people who had to change to another freeware product after they lost continuity of Easeus Todo Backup features.

Windows Secrets has recently reviewed Imaging software and puts EaseUS Todo Backups (free) at the top, mentioning the only disadvantage is that it doesn't notify you if the backup drive is unplugged.

They also looked at AOMEI, noting it does notify you but doesn't purge old backups so will keep working until it fills your drive. And they mentioned Paragon.

The EaseUS web site now has a clear "Download Freeware" button. They then ask for your email address but allow you to uncheck being sent email. We'll see how polite they are about that.

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