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.

 

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

I just downloaded and ran the installer, it pops up a window that has the free-version pre-selected. I just changed our link, it had broken. Please try again, it sounds like you got the standard version download.

Thanks for the followup. I'm glad to be mistaken.

Whoa! What happened to Maximum Reflect? My present installer is 37.2 megs in size for version 5.1. I just tried downloading 5.2 from Reflect's and Major Geeks sites and I'm presented now with a 180 meg download after downloading the 2.2 installer. Reflect's site says the 32 bit version is 41.7 megs. I'm lost. I'd have to leave my computer running for two days or more to download Reflect as I have dial-up. I was prepared for an 6 hour download for the 32 bit. Is it me or did anyone else notice this?

My download is 43MB, plus 174MB for the Windows AIK and Windows Kits (this last is the windows 8 extension of the AIK). You don't need the AIK if you can forgo the WinPE rescue environment. There is an 'Options' button that allows you to restrict the download to only the program. If you already have the AIK, there isn't much utility to re-download it. Not much help, but it's the best I can do.
Macrium now present a sort of unified installer, which presents you with the options to download and install its different versions. It will be better understood with the images give on their download page, here: http://www.macrium.com/pages/downloads.aspx When it runs, you should choose "Free" from the option of "Select Installation Package". This will download the appropriate setup for free version. Also, if you want to keep the setup file, and not install it immediately, you should uncheck the check box for "Run installer directly after downloading", as shown in the image. I like this technique of Macrium Reflect, which is different from other online installers. Macrium give you the option to download only the setup, to your chosen download location, which is great. Other online installers do not allow you to save the setup, and require you to install the software immediately. I hope this helped.
I like their method also, not the usual force-feeding-for-dummies that is the norm. Also, they update frequently and it's as simple as clicking 'Okay' and the update is downloaded and installed, and it's a patch, not a full program re-=install. The only caveat I have with doing this in this case, is that if someone is downloading for someone else, depending on who has what version of windows, they might get an incompatible version of the program downloaded. I don't know what happens for a linux user like the case here. I don't have a linux machine, virtual or otherwise, to test this with, very unusual for me [But I am running a pfsense virtualbox system as the router for my mini-LAN-in-a-hotel-room, that should preserve my geek-cred for the moment)

EasyBCD requires a facebook account to be able to download the software. That isn't mentioned in the article and even after doing the mandatory like it would still not let me download. Macrium Reflect keeps pointing me to a 2mb installer instead of the 40mb or so whole file...thats fine if you are on a windows pc somewhere but I'm on a linux one trying to load up a thumbdrive with software for someone else. In both cases very frustrating.

Addendum: The EasyBCD download link was broken, it's been fixed, there wasn't ever a requirement to like them on FB even though the wording there implies it and with the link broken, it definitely appeared FB liking was a requirement. I'm very happy not to have to start shunning such a useful tool
Thank you for pointing that out, that is new, and extremely unfortunate. While I have a FB account, it's been a while since I logged on, the irksomeness is too much. You can download it from here: http://www.softpedia.com/progDownload/EasyBCD-Download-45820.html It's really an incredibly useful tool, but I may desist in recommending it. As to Macrium, I'm not sure what to tell you, this kind of thing bugs me too, you can get the download if you can proceed with the initial step in installing, but you need to do that from that someone else's PC, or one like it. If they're worth it, you can always do it with virtualbox, but that might be going too geek and too much trouble. If they can get online, it isn't a problem, the install will proceed like any other install. That's all I got right now, if I think of something better, I'll post it here. Thanks again for the heads-up.
Macrium's online installer is different from other online installers, as you have pointed out. When I saw it first, I thought, oh no, here goes another one. But, I noticed that it gives the option to download only the installer, which is accessible to you, and you can save it where you like. This is fine by me. All I want is a setup, using which I can install the software at any given time. Other online installers force you to download the software and install it immediately, and they also do not allow you to save the setup file. I am fine with the online installer by Marcrium in the present form.

Without at least incremental or differential backup, Macrium would not be suitable for me.

I have tried out Paragon B&R Free this last week and even took the rather nervy decision to test out not only backup but restore of two machines.

Both worked perfectly and the speed of operation was very impressive.

Whilst Paragon has differential backup, I would prefer incremental.

I have tried out Aomei Backupper today and it was extremely fast in backing up my system.

Whilst it does support incremental backup, on running this immediately after a full system backup, where I would expect almost 0 bytes of backup, I had an additional file of 320Mb.

Even more odd was that when I then booted using their WinPE option using a flash drive, running an incremental backup again, with no changes to the system whatsoever, it generated a 900Mb additional file.

There are a few quirks to Backupper and it seems some potential bugs too, so whilst it does seem to have promise, I would not yet trust it in a restore situation.

Paragon has at least proven itself where it is really needed, so I'll put up with the additional space created from the differential backups (unless somebody can confirm that I could in reality delete all differential files bar the most recent on the basis that each backup has all changes since the last full one?)

We appreciate your input. I've had numerous anomalous behavior with incrementals and differentials, including at least twice having the image be way larger than the disk itself. I imagine there are certain files that get copied every time, maybe some bookkeeping type things, I don't know. As to the differentials, yes you can, but I wouldn't delete all of them, multiple backups is always safer, so if you don't need the space, keep'em around until you do.

Macrium saved my bacon!

I have a hard drive that is dying in my HP Netbook with Windows 7 64bit. I tried to clone it to a new hard drive with several other cloning tools, including the top ones mentioned here and with the software that comes with the Apricorn Notebook Drive Upgrade Kit. NONE of the other programs worked, they either hung or estimated many, many hours.

I ran the free version of Macrium Reflect Free and in a little over three hours I had a perfect copy of my disk, including all partitions, NTFS and FAT. I swapped drives and it booted up the first time. Wow, was I relieved! I now have a dependable computer again and can now save a full backup all my data without worrying about my drive dying midway through the process. Fantastic!

* When the process was complete the program generated a dump file and said that there was an error...but everything seems to be working fine.

Thanks for sharing your positive experience, ya gotta heart, dude. The more reports we can accumulate, the better advice we can give, and unfortunately, there's going to be a bias for reports of failings. As I've said before, I've done so many images with most of these that I've seen them all fail and all work beautifully, and more often than I'd like, can't figure out what went wrong when it does. I wish I could give you some idea about the dump file, but I don't remember seeing one myself. Macrium will clone a system drive from within that booted system, and that can be extremely helpful, it sounds like that is what you did. Thanks again for the comments, and remember, you should still image with another program at least every few times, just to buy you that extra margin of safety.

I have used Macrium Free, and it is OK. BUT, NO differential or incremental backups.
I have tried Paragon Free as well, now this one I NEVER had any compatibility problems with the Linux boot abl restore CD, and at least this one gives you differential backup capabilities.
Right now am trying AOMEI Backupper, and so far I love it the most. Fast, efficient, AND above all of the other freebies, it has BOTH differential and incremental as well. ALL this in a FREE package.

AOMEI Backupper is now my goto freeware imaging software after using Acronis as my primary imaging tool. I've tested several restores in Win 8.0 and 8.1 and they work flawlessly. I tried most of the others and found them to be too slow or the recovery media doesn't work properly. I use both "just in case". I have a TB of software to protect!!!!

Aomei have spammed the site and forum in the past, and they have been pretty consistent at it. Considering that, don't think we will give space to them on the site. Sorry, had to delete out the link, and other content on account of this.

I've settled on Easis Cloning Free. Extremely simple program without without bells and whistles, most importantly it doesn't save the image as a proprietary format.

An Easeus by any other name! Is that Easeus, or is there a homonym on the loose?
I don't see anything that stands out, the free version won't compress, the only appeal, unfortunately. Plus, why is the company name a homonym of a major player in such programs? That's a great way to irk potential customers who may get confused, and why Easeus? Shoulda gone with Macriom.

I'm not making a case for it having advanced features. I settled on it cause it lets me create the backup on a running system and be able to restore using any linux Live OS, since it produces a non-proprietary image file. This is unlike the programs above which will let you do either but not both.

Just because the capability is there to make a backup on a live system, does not mean you should.
If you were going to Mars, and you could backup the Shuttle's OS whilst you are asleep (and the OS can be turned off) OR you could back it up whilst dodging the comets, etc. Which would you choose ?
That was why Nasa 'invented' 'KISS'

The Volume Shadow Copy service used to make live 'snapshots' really is a quite mature method, it's widely used and robust. On a percentage basis, you would be far safer with your system making automatic, unattended backups than if you only backed up offline, that extra effort will be enough annoyance for most users to frequently skip backups. I've used these programs online far more often than the offline, and haven't noticed more problems with them.

Are you referring to File/Folder backups OR imaging the whole partition ?
If it is imaging the whole partition, then Shirley ('Airplane') simple is the best ?
Also I ALWAYS verify my image after creating it.
He who does not verify will . . . . .

In an ideal world, where everyone is relaxed and unhurried, unharried, and unharassed, your method has a slight edge, but for most of us, taking the system down, booting into whatever, taking an image, then making sure it verifies, and then bringing the system back up, well, let's just say that 'between the cracks' is grossly over-populated. So, I'll agree with your assessment, but only grant it affords a quite slight margin of safety, and I still believe, for most users, it isn't the best practical, day to day solution. And thanks, we appreciate user input, especially with opposing viewpoints, multi-core cpus are generally better than singles.

Could you show any examples of live system backup failing?

Great analogy. :) MC = Site Manager.

Update on Macrium Reflect free:
I found an older disk, a Linux disk from ver 5.0.4995 of about one year ago. It boots and fully runs fine!

Customer Support stated the Free and paid versions of the Rescue disk is the same, that it might be a problem with my system, clearly not the case.

It seems that one needs to verify that their Rescue disk fully works. Just stop, unless you have another image app to use if Macrium does not actually restore an image, before the Rescue disk actually goes to work. That point is easy to discern. If others have the same/similar problem I am experiencing, of course this product is not useable. If Macrium fixes this issue or I find a way to get it to work, this will be communicated here.

Thanks for keeping us informed. Are you saying that a rescue disk from a year ago works, but that one made with the latest version won't? That is a puzzler. And you are right about trying out the rescue media, it seems this is some kind of black art, you never know for sure until you try it. In your case, I can only assume there is some driver in your system that is no longer supported in the distro used by Macrium. I don't know how much you are interested, but do you ever run linux on your system? Grabbing a copy of knoppix and seeing what drivers it comes up with might lead to understanding what is going on. Good luck.

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