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.

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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

crank, what do you think about this one, from MiniTool? http://www.minitool-drivecopy.com/drivecopy.html Suggested on the forum by sicknero. Take a look at your convenience though. I know you are busy with other matters now.
Thanks for the heads-up, I will take a look at some point It would not have been considered earlier because it isn't really an 'imaging' program, there are some subtle differences compared to a basic cloning application. Most any disk partition software will clone, either partitions or whole disks, but they won't have the sophisticated data-exclusion provisions, the system-aware, live-cloning ability, etc. It says it can handle GPT disks, so it is probably fine with even Win8, but it needs some looking into. I'm still needing to get a handle on UEFI, it's difficult, and it's in-flux-vendor specific, and not all that easy to play around with. But I'm working on it slowly. Since I will be getting some new PCs, I should have more up-to-date hardware as examples to study soon.
Thanks for your views. And take your time :). UEFI, GPT, AHCI, man.. all these things are just over my head... what all they keep coming up with :D.
Hasn't been updated since May 2010 :\ Is it dead?
Where did you get the date from? Screenshot? It says it works on Windows 8, so I don't think it last updated that long ago?
Softpedia and CNET
Ah, OK. Maybe that's why it isn't known that well?

Errata regarding my 15 July 2013 post about Clonezilla: It does indeed create a folder, after asking you to input your own name. It defaults to the current date-time-img, example being 2013-07-16-14-img. An undocumented feature is a warning screen comes up if you enter an already existing folder name, and asks if you want to overwrite it. The overwrite works fine. If no, it asks again for a name, defaulting again to the current date-time-img.

Paragon is clunky regarding folder naming, defaulting to an obscure and very long name, such as arc_100713031548958. I enter a shorter, dated folder name, whereupon the long folder name is created in my folder name, then the file(s) in it, with the same name, plus adding more onto the name, such as: _0001p.000, .001 etc if you split the image. At least for the Windows app.

Replying to both posts: YeOldOne, a thorny name for lovers of old, neglected, sadly discarded letters. I agree about the 'verify on completion', petty to leave out. And I still have no idea why Paragon does it's default naming scheme the way it does, maybe it facilitates automatic diffferetnial backups, ensuring unique naming, I always change it to something that is informative of what the file is. The long download you can do yourself, it is going to get WindowsAIK, primarily to get the wim image file to use as basis for adding their software. I don't have a clue how to help you with all the vearious issues raised in that first paragraph of first post, driver issues are rife with recovery media, sometimes you just have to keep playing with it until you find something that works. With a custom-build, you may have an easier time, not having to wonder if the OEM did anything proprietary to mess your PC life up. I'm so glad to hear you recommending multiple backup programs, it's something I harp on all the time. BUT, and this should be noted by everyone, there are situations where all the backups in the world will not help you, and sadly I can attest to nearly having this happen to me a month ago. I had 3 PCs melt on me, no, it wasn't over-zealous overclocking, just the natural result of the bedroom they were in burning. Which also began to melt stuff in the rest of the house as the hallway walls were scorched halfway down. The rest of my PCs were badly smoke infiltrated, and I'm waiting for them to be cleaned. I pulled all the drives to test myself, not trusting someone else to have access, and these have all my main data, yeah!!!! They all tested fine, and I think at least a couple that were in the burnt room may be OK, need to do more testing. And here is the 'BUT', if the fire had gone on just a bit more before the firemen got there, the whole house would have completely burned, all my data gone, backups of course included. I have most everything backed up online, so that is the real 'BUT'. For your data to be really safe, you should keep some kind of backup off-site, like online. I'm here in a hotel, using a caseless MOBO, with it and a power supply sitting out next to the keyboard I'm typing on, using one monitor I pulled out and cleaned myself, along with the hotel TV as a 2nd, and for it's sound. Maybe I'll post some photos somewhere of the cool, Dali-esque PC corpses, and the surprising lack of damage to many of the components. The ram in this MOBO was taken from the worst-burned PC, where the cpu fan blades are all drooping down like rabbit ears and the wiring looks like shiny burnt syrup. I wiped the soot off the 4 RAM sticks with alcohol, though there was still some bad discloloration, stuck them in, and they're fine! There's all these little objects I keep funning across I can't even identify. Oh well, stuff happens, I'm still sucking air, happy imaging!
Sorry to know about the fire at your home, crank. Good thing it was contained. And also good to know it did not burn out your spirits in any way, and you are still going good and strong as ever. I hope not too much was lost for you, and I hope you recover soon :).. good luck! We are with you!
Thank you Anupam, it has not exactly been fun, but far from the end of the world. On a surprisingly positive note, it looks like even the most cooked HDs are still working, and they would have been on at the time of the fire. I did not expect that at all. How long they keep working is another question, but I did not hear any unusually weird or ominous sounds as they spun up and then continued to operate. The SMART data indicated no problems either. Tough little guys I guess.
That's really good to know, crank, and yes, really surprising too :). Tough, surely, yes. I do hope they keep on working... if they survived the fire, and are still working, they just might carry on. Well, atleast you will be able to get data out of them to a more safe and reliable drive. Good luck! :).

I have used Reflect Free for at least 4 years, lamented the loss of the verify upon creation. The latest version includes WinPE along with the Linux restore boot disk. However, the WinPE at first went to a large download but fails to complete the creation, both 3 and 4 versions. The Linux version creates OK, boots OK, runs OK until I select an image to restore. Then the screen goes blank except for “acpiphp_ibm_init: acpi_walk_namespace failed” and hangs. Several tries were made, including a Microsoft uninstall then download and install a fresh version. Note that the Macrium folder with a few sub-folders and files do not get removed and do not remove manually. Win7 x64 SP1 Device Manager is totally clean, in my home-built computer. However, to format any CD, the quick format now is grayed out, tbd as to why, how to fix. But this should not have any effect on the Recovery process.

At this time, Free owners cannot register into any forum, so we can only see past forum posts which only have a tiny amount of free content. Future posts will only be from paid owners. So, no help for any issues, such as inability to use the boot disk, which is 19.4 MB. Since this site is so excellent, perhaps it can fill in if/until Macrium allows Free owners to communicate at their Forums? With the problem I am experiencing, and if others (who should check their boot disks up to the point just short of the actual restore) do too, Macrium should no longer be recommended at all, at least for the Free version. I used to buy paid image apps, until I came across this website. Sometimes, though, it 'pays' to get a paid version for the support. I have spent many hours so far with the Reflect problem; how much is your time worth?

We all should have redundant partition backup, ie image creation tools. I also use the highly rated Paragon Free. It is not as smooth or clear, but gets the job done. One advantage is its recovery disk does both image creation and restore. For my SSD OS plus apps drive, the latest Paragon is only slightly slower than Macrium, making images slightly larger. To create the drive image, 48 G, takes less than 3 minutes when using the Windows app, longer of course when using the boot disk.

Due to the Reflect problem, I just obtained Clonezilla, thanks to your great reviews. Using the boot disk, it is surprisingly fast, taking about 5 1/2 minutes but another 7 1/2 minutes to verify. Thankfully, when selecting this option ahead of time, it goes to verify unattended. So, take a coffee break for 15 minutes, and find the entire image plus verify operation completed, except for a few more steps to end the program. Note that there is a confusing sentence at the Clonezilla-live.php website: It states “Though the image size is limited by the boot media's storage capacity...” The boot disk allows the image to be created onto any drive partition, even external USB3 HDDs (at least for my rig) such as my 2 Gig WD HDD in a Vantec HX case, which has a great, quiet fan. Also note: You can only go down one level of a sub-folder (second below root, ie D:\folder1\folder2\imagefile), and only if there are no spaces in the folder names, and the folder structure has to exist, cannot be created when running the app, unlike all the others I have used. So, plan ahead.

Image software has come a long way, such as my still-working Drive Image 5.01 (2 floppies, circa 2002) for a still-running NT4 SP6B laptop, especially with numerous free versions, both commercial and open source types.

I recently built a WinPE rescue disk using Macrium Reflect, and it was successful, without any problems. I also booted the computer with that disc, and it successfully detected my hard drives, which were not detected with the Linux rescue disc from Paragon. So, maybe there is some problem at your end. Macrium has been working fine for me.

I tried both Macrium Reflect Free and Backup & Recovery 2013 Free (and a giveaway version from Paragon Backup & Recovery 12 Compact) and sadly Paragon is not able to access encrypted partitions correctly. It will show them as raw or "Other FS" instead of NTFS from within Windows. That is probably a downside for everyone with encrypted drives. Macrium shows them as NTFS.

By the way Macrium Reflect Free is at version 5.2.6314.

Thanks for the heads-up, this is an area I know little about, so please indulge me and help me see what is happening. When you say an encrypted drive, is that a drive encrypted with Windows, or DiskCryptor? I have no experience with either, but have played around with TrueCrypt. If you encrypt a partition, how could any program know it was ntfs underneath? behind? the encryption? It should just be a string of 1's and 0's even though the partition table will tell the system it is ntfs, the system won't see anything but gibberish and tell you it is raw and needs formatting. Am I missing something here? Similarly, if you encrypt the whole disk, the system won't even see partitions, it would say the disk needs initializing. Thanks for any education in this regard, it's something I'm interested in but haven't yet gotten too.

Sorry for the Late answer. I am Backing the System from inside Windows up. My Hard Disks are encrypted with DiskCryptor. Acronis and Macrium see the Partitions as NTFS from within Windows. So they will normally back the up in an unencrypted State, as they do Not know they were encrypted. So far only Acronis was able to back my Partitions up and restore them on another System. Though to be bootable, you have to use a Windows DVD and do fix Boot and fix mbr to be able to use the System After a restore. Or you Need the DiskCryptor CD with the installed Boot loader.

Everyone who encrypts drives, and external 2.5" drives will at some stage get even bigger 'downsides'
Don't do it.

Maybe, but have never had any problems with DiskCryptor. Using it for 3 or so years now and if I want to I can restore the Acronis Backup and just use the system again. Because after the restore the system is unencrypted. The same should count for Macrium Reflect Free as it sees the data unencrypted.

OK, Macrium cannot backup them. It supports BitLocker and TrueCrypt only. Let's see what Paragon will tell me, if they will tell anything at all.

Paragon told me, that they do not support encrypted Drives at all.

Maybe you could also try Redo Backup & Recovery. It is an offline imager like CloneZilla.

http://redobackup.org/

Thanks for your suggestion, Redo looks promising, I had a similar request back in Dec 2011 see here, and my thoughts are the same. It doesn't offer much, although it seems dead simple. I think you's be much better off with a copy of PartedMagic, which I tout up above ^^ in at the bottom of the review section. I can't overly extol the utility and versatility of that little linux distro For a taste of the goodies, from their sweb site: "The Parted Magic OS employs core programs of GParted and Parted to handle partitioning tasks with ease, while featuring other useful software (e.g. Partimage, TestDisk, Truecrypt, Clonezilla, G4L, SuperGrubDisk, ddrescue, etc…) and an excellent set of info to benefit the user. Parted Magic is licensed under the GPL, so an extensive collection of file system tools are also included, as Parted Magic supports the following: btrfs, exfat, ext2, ext3, ext4, fat16, fat32, hfs, hfs+, jfs, linux-swap, ntfs, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, and zfs. " Thanks again for your input, it's always appreciated. I don't have the time to really check out how well Redo does what it does, how compatible it is with various systems and disk formats etc, but it looks like a quick and very easy program, if you give it a whirl, check back with us and tell us how it worked for you.

Backing up my Fedora machine worked fine. The only thing I find somewhat confusing is, when the program wants you to tell it what to backup it shows the computer name. You than have to choose the hard disk, otherwise it will give errors while running the backup.

Thank you for reporting back with us. Most of the Linux LiveCD-based backup programs, and linux distros in general, are not as 'easy' as windows, and disk/partition nomenclature can be quite confusing, especially to anyone not already familiar with how it does things. If you have multiple disks, and they have multiple partitions, with some in roughly the same sizes, you have to be very careful to make sure you are working with the correct partition. It is easier if all are labeled, but sometimes labels are not shown, so proceed with caution. Thanks again for reporting back.

Macrium Relect has one BIG HUGE problem. It would mke sense that you would back up you Windows on an external hard drive. But this software does not see USB! Therefore you're up a gum tree like I am at present trying to restore your windows. So if you are t hinking about using this software and going to use a USB - Think again and use something else

Are you running it from a bootable CD ?
If so which one ?

Have you tried it with the others -
- From a running Windows (which I avoid)
- WinPE CD
- Linux CD

Rob
PS If I have gotten confused (I am 71), and some of those options do not exist, be gentle on me.

Macrium does support backing up to an external USB, and you're correct, without that support, I wouldn't have it in the lineup at all. I don't know what your configuration is, so as my first guess, are you trying to back up to a USB that is formatted in FAT, vFAT, FAT32 or some such? Those formats support maximum file size of 4GB, and few windows systems disks are going to image below that. Format to NTFS, and try again. If that isn't the problem, please get back with me with more info on your system. Good luck.

Hi it is formatted to NTFS. Just done the Windows download as I can't see C drive and hoping it will resolve my problem. I shan't be using MR again. has changed since I used it two years ago and more complicated. Will look at your other alternatives

I have been using Easeus Todo Backup free for a short while but I do not see any comments on this software here. Have you ever tried it and if so I would like to here some reviews on it thanks.

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