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

Spot on with your observations Remah, plus they continually try to spam our site which is another good reason to use something else. :) MC - Site Manager.

First, thanks for your work on the reviews!

PING CAUTION: I was giving PING a first test by backing up a fresh Win 7 Pro install on a Dell Optiplex 330. I told PING to save both the System 100MB and C: (rest of 80GB drive) to a USB drive and to save NTFS details. It started, ran a few seconds, then shut down the PC. (Shutdown is the setting I used.) The PC THEN WOULD NOT BOOT. It said "Disk Read Error". I found it only wrote a few small files to the USB drive. I put the corrupt source drive in a USB adapter to look. I found it now has a 102MB raw partition, 74GB UNALLOCATED, and a 8GB raw healthy primary. I don't know if this was related to the hardware, the fact that I specified 2 partitions, that it was Win7, or something else. PING forums mentioned a few related items such as XP source corruption, that PING writes stuff to the source (maybe temp files?), and a mention of issues with certain Dell models. Does it really try to write to the source? Over the years, with other software, I have had a few bad images but never corrupted the source drive! (I am sure I selected the correct source and destination.)

Anyway, I think I should look for a safer free imaging solution for the non-profit I am supporting.

Were you running Windows when creating the image ?
If you held a gun to my head, I still would never create images, unless I was using a bootable CD (Windows NOT running)

Rob
PS Ditto for Partitioning, etc.

PING should always be ran from a Windows PE environment as you have found out it will write temp files to source drive / partition otherwise. Bear in mind PING is quite old now and lacks some of the advanced methods the modern software uses, however it is still very useful and effective if used in the correct environment.

Thanks AndyR. Please see my answer to previous reply. (I was using bootable CD to run it :-)

Thanks for the excellent post and comparisons. I downloaded Macrium Reflect Free in order to clone an entire 500 GB Windows 7 Pro internal SATA hard drive onto a 1 TB drive that was attached via USB external enclosure. It gave me the option to clone the disk onto the larger drive, I wanted it bootable in case the old 500 BG drive dies. It expanded one of the partitions to take up the difference in space available.
I have not tested it yet, but I am going to do this testing by trying to boot the computer ( a Sony Vaio all-in-one) from the USB external drive. The BIOS has the option to do this.
I tried Clonezilla, another excellent piece of software, but the computer would not boot from the cloned disk. Clonezilla has cloned entire bootable system disks for PC-BSD 10.1, but not Solaris 11.2.I have not tried Clonezilla on any LINUX systems.

Bob,

Just to let you know, you can't boot a Windows PC from a USB HDD that is attached via USB (even though it's attached with a USB/SATA Enclosure or Adapter Cable). The Windows boot HDD has to be connected via your internal SATA PC port to boot into Windows.

I've cloned from a 500Gb HDD to a 1 Tb HDD in the past with successful results so your cloned HDD should be a complete bootable HDD when you connect it into your SATA port on your PC.

Scoop:
Very kind of you to mention this to me!
Thanks!
In order for me to test the cloned drive, I have to open up the back of the Sony VAIO all-in-one, kind of a pain. My previous testing of cloned drives with Clonezilla was done on an HP Proliant Microserver that had 4 open drive bays with trays that could be changed out in about 30 seconds. Easy to verify the cloning of PC-BSD 10.1, Solaris 11.2, OpenIndiana, etc. All UNIX machines.
I will try replacing the drives this afternoon, and report on the results.

You're welcome :). I have a couple of SATA hot-swap racks in my Desktop PC so it's easy for me to test cloned HDD's occasionally.

My Toshiba Laptop is a 2011 model so it's the older (thicker) style Laptop which has an easy HDD access bay.

Hope your cloning test goes without issue. I've had good luck with cloning's over the past 3 years with Macrium and to a lesser extent, Clonezilla.

With about 85 cloning's on 3 PC's over 3 years, I've only had 1 failure with an MBR corruption problem.

Since my failure rate is about 1%, I only test (boot up on a newly-cloned HDD) every 4-5 cloning's.

Scoop:
Worked perfectly, bit of learning curve in removing the old drive, but the new one went in without incident. On first boot into the new cloned disk, it wouldn't boot, and went into some repair loop. But on second boot, it was as if I had the original old disk in there! Beautiful. I forgot to look at the instructions for how to clone the partitions into larger-sized ones on the cloned drive. But then I booted into GParted from a CD I have of it, and used GParted to partition that space and format it as NTFS. So now I have a C and D logical drive on my machine, works for me.
I only work in UNIX, PC-BSD 10.1, Solaris 11.2, OpenIndie.
Thanks again for your excellent and considerate information and help!

[Moderator's note: Comment removed as it is about commercial software, and does not necessarily apply to the free software listed in the review. Please do not post such comments.]

I picked Backerupper because of ratings. I was given a newer tower with win 7 and 500gb HD from a local business if I built the new tower and moved the software over. I picked AOMEI because I had never cloned before. I could not get the system clone to work fast so I picked the disk clone. It wouldn't boot. Nether would the partition clone. Did a backup of the system and fixed it. Now the new drive is 3tb. I can only get 2 to work. I could format the drive to GPT but can I clone onto GPT from NTFS? I have been looking for how to change from EFI to UEFI and the 3TB drive won't boot now and won't fix with win 7 install disk. I have been studying to take my comptia+ but it isn't helping me much with this.

If you try and clone a NTFS based image onto GPT that is going to cause problems even you did manage to get it to take initially... When you say the 3TB drive wont boot could you please specify what the error is ? also are you using the latest Intel drivers as without them there is not many systems that will detect the drive correctly.

Thanks for the link. I downloaded it, will try ASAP...

PS: this comment was meant to be in reply to @BrollyLSSJ

AOMEI Backupper is (was) great but for me it doesn't work anymore under Windows 8.1 to restore an image because the utility won't start automatically like it did before on Windows startup; it used to backup and restore my system partition (12 GB) in less than 1 minute.
Then the bootable media doesn't work either anymore, I get a "boot error" on my main machine (though it works on another).
And finally I made a bootable USB with AOMEI PE Builder which includes Backupper but restoring an image takes 45 minutes (vs 1min from Windows - when it was still working) this way !!!

Hi GoustiFruit, Thank you for your information, funny you should mention it as I have just finished repairing a Gateway laptop (10 years old)and installed Win 8 on it more so out of curiosity to see if it would take it... and yes it did working perfectly... Now I always create a recovery partition in conjunction with my own scripts in order to initiate a "recovery boot process" if the user so needs it said image is always made with AOMEI though on this occasion after running the recovery process the image deployment started and yes it took about 30 minutes plus ! my thoughts were something is not right here... it should take 6 mins max normally... the result was a broken operating system once it did finally boot after looping several times during the POST (Power On Self Test) 100's of corrupted files, I was not happy to say the least, time is money after all... I have contacted AOMEI concerning this problem with Windows 8 the actual problem lies within their boot loader and I have suggested a fix for it although my workaround would have to include a GRUB loader so its not actually a true Windows PE environment... I am quite sure AOMEI will fix this problem ASAP and when they do I shall update this post to reflect that fact :-)

I'd like to download an older version (2.0.3 for example) to check if the problem was introduced in the latest one, but it's nowhere to be found :-\
Also another problem I noticed is that my system (Windows 8.1) will freeze for 30s after startup, on the desktop, after AOMEI Backupper is installed. The solution is to disable "AOMEI Backupper Scheduler Service" (in msconfig for example, or Windows Services manager).

It works fine (Windows 7) they have a new software out called OneKey it is aimed at the novice user as a replacement for a factory recovery environment, however it is full of bugs and stands a good chance to (fubar)your HDD... hence the reason why I have not written a review for it as yet... Backupper though is a solid program.

Just cloned 56gb of a 64gb ssd drive with win 7 to a 256gb ssd using macrium free in 11 minutes,everything working perfectly brilliant tool,definatly worth your 5 stars,unable to using Acronis which was freebie from Crucial(ssd maker).

Hi morring, thanks for your comment. 11mins is impressive though the speed does depend a lot on the CPU and RAM you have installed I would imagine your hardware is quite recent in order achieve that in such a short time. I am curious though as to why you were unable to use Acronis ?

Hi Andy ,not that new motherboard is a GA-H55M-UD2H and first gen i5 so 5 years ,but being having problems the last month have replaced the ram with same spec ones and the 1 terrabyte Seagate drive failed.Seen the Crucial MX100 drive was going for £70 so went for it,formatted the new drive selected the source in Acronis as C selected drive E as destination,it rebooted and started Acronis in Dos showed a page off info with during line a question mark with nothing really stating error with a final trace then a dash then nothing,tried twice,same .Macrium no problems,Bye.

Very sorry for my extremely late reply to your post, I blame it on old age, it has nothing to do with the alcohol consumption that is just a myth... Thank you for the additional information. I think possibly the problem may well lie in the actual BIOS of your system since you have placed a new HDD into an older system it may well not be detecting it correctly until Windows actually boots and loads up the correct drivers for said HDD... that is just an educated guess ! don't hold me to my word on that, as I have seen the same problem myself within some laptops if you place a high speed 7,500 drive into them the BIOS can detect it yes however it does not really know what the heck it is until the drivers are loaded... *shrug* I know your using a desktop system but the same would apply I imagine...

Except that it's slow at doing incremental backups.

^^^ Link fails.

Corrected it now.
With AOMEI doing an incremental backup seemed to take in the region of two mins longer than a full backup for me at least, however as I am sure you guys are aware this is all subject to many different factors, over all system speed, how much data has actually changed in the incremental backup and so on.

Please add Aomei to the list, possibly as the top-ranking one. It outdoes Macrium in every way, offering incremental and differential backups, image mounting, encryption, partition or file selective backups, scheduling and no nagging. :)

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