DIY

DIY: Can Clonezilla alone clone a PC?

Jack Wallen offers a TechRepublic member advice about cloning an image via a combination of sysprep and Clonezilla or a utility that comes with Acronis Backup & Recovery software.

Here's a question I recently received from a TechRepublic member John Huff. After you read my answer, please post any additional tips you have for the member in the discussion.

Q: Can I take an image of one workstation and re-image another workstation? Are the underlying things that sysprep does for us included in Clonezilla? And if not, do you know how I can keep one image and re-image the classrooms from it, have them join the domain, and be ready for students to log in? A: The short answer is it depends. If the clones are going to identical hardware, then most likely Clonezilla will work fine. The clone will be an exact copy, so all clones will upon boot already be members of the domain.

The difficulty occurs when attempting to clone one machine to different hardware; this can be even more challenging depending upon the operating system being cloned. In your situation, you're cloning Windows, so in this case, Clonezilla cannot do what sysprep can do. It is possible, however, to do this with a combination of sysprep and Clonezilla. The basic steps are:

  1. Prep the computer for using sysprep.
  2. Create the answer file for the mini setup. (It's important to pay close attention during this step.)
  3. Run sysprep on the source computer.
  4. Once sysprep has completed allow the computer to shutdown.
  5. Use Clonezilla to clone the source machine to an external drive that is larger than the source disk.
  6. Clone the image to the new machine using Clonezilla.

There is another option, but it has a much higher cost. The Acronis Backup & Recovery software has a utility (which requires the Universal Restore addon) that allows the restoration of a drive image to completely different hardware. This is the pricing for Acronis Backup & Recovery:

  • For Windows Server: $853.00
  • For Windows Small Business Server: $499.00
  • For Windows Workstation: $74.00
  • For Linux Server: $853.00

We use Acronis for more than 60 clients, and we've had incredible success restoring images on completely different hardware. However, the price of Acronis is often an issue. When price gets in the way, the combination of sysprep and Clonezilla might be the best solution for getting clones onto different hardware. When using Universal Restore with Acronis, sysprep is not necessary -- Acronis does everything for you. It's not an incredibly fast process, but a full-blown Windows Server can be cloned and back up and running in two to eight hours (depending upon the condition of the machine being cloned, the size of the image, and the speed of the target hardware).

Cloning a drive is not always the most simple, straightforward task. Murphy's Law almost always plays a huge part in the process so things can go bad fast. If you use the right tools and take the time to get it right the first time, it will go a long way to ensuring your cloning process is seamless.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

13 comments
linuxfan007
linuxfan007

Opinion: While i have yet to extensively explore the capabilities of the open source Linux based software Clonezilla, it has not failed us in cloning/imaging and restoring anything on the magnetic media. We cannot find a filesystem it does not support. It is a rock solid Linux based lean and powerful utility for backups one can count on. I certainly cannot say this for Windows. CZ gets the kingly crown when it comes to DRBL plus speed. It is so powerful as to command respect from users who give it a fair shake. This is because it is Linux in the end. CZ is a bit "limited" in the sense that it is not a multifunctional utility. What i recommend is to get a free Linux utility called YUMI on a USB stick, then install various bootable 'goodies' such as CZ, Systemrescuecd and many others listed on YUMI for totally free to download. The last i tried, CZ supports GRUB and even BSD, Unix, OS X! There are numerous good articles on the net about CZ now, highly recommended to read before cloning. p.s. someone had said that "But CZ does not come with any warranties"; while it is amazing to hear such comments, it is not too out of order to say that a 400 dollar obese OS not only does not come without warranties but they come with threats of criminal penalties plus you have to agree "not to attempt to seek the source code", among other things. Fact is that Linux machines just do not crash and they do not get attacked and corrupted as compared to some others! In fact, its the single most important reason to use CZ for Windows backup in case the hard drive gets infected and it can be restored healthy in literally no time if you saved its image when it was healthy. i had such misfortune except i restored my hard drive within less than 30 minutes keeping the OS, the updates, all files, the programs, everything minus the infection.

Koketso Mabuse
Koketso Mabuse

I use ClearOS 5.2 as a Server and I use Clonezilla to install all PC on my network. I used to use disk clone then moved to Partion and now I do partion clone using ftp of ClearOS. the answer whether you can use Clonezilla just for Windows is YES. 1. Install main PC fully with all apps and all updates then when done 2. Pop Clonezilla into the drive and Bobs your uncle. The question of using the image to put on a PC with different Hardware is: AMD Vs Intel = Problem it does not work. But Intel to Intel yep it it work only that you need to install the drivers for the new machine thats it = tried and tested. I have a 40 seater Lab and with 20 Dell + 13 HP Small the rest are a mix of Gigabyte, MSI, 2 X Intel boards. So I make an Image then to the next machine different add drivers = reimage the continue till I have all drivers on the last image and that image is rolled out on all machines. Voila...... Need for help? Post on Forum so others can get help from your question.

bobp
bobp

Obviously, after, cloning the damaged Windows installation, I will attempt to repair it and, if successful, will then use ToDo Backup to make a clone.

bobp
bobp

If I need to clone a working Windows disk, I will use EASEUS ToDo Backup. It seems to be the easiest. If the Windows installation is damaged, then Clonezilla is probably the best solution.

wade.grimm
wade.grimm

I have used NLite, PING (Partimage Is Not Ghost) and Sysprep. NLite allows me to add all the drivers needed for any hardware I may have in the environment, Sysprep allows for GUID changes and new system setup and PING allows for creating and restoring images. You can use a manual method or setup a TFTP or PXE environment and mass image workstations... HTH Wade

CR2011
CR2011

If it is a Windows environment why not just use WDS....it is included in 2003 Server R2 and above , it addresses the need above and there is a ton of documentation if you have issues... Just my thoughts...my personal opinion is that Ghost Enterprise was way better than Acronis ... too bad Symantec didn't continue supporting it ....

cquirke
cquirke

One of the most common failures of trans-hardware cloning is where the AHCI mode differs, including on the same PC. Windows will BSoD STOP 7B on boot. XP lacks native AHCI support, but modern Vista/7 is easier to fix here. The needed drivers are in fact present, but disabled in the interests of faster booting, so the best fix is to enable these before you image C: for transplant. If you forgot to do that, you can use Bart (AHCI off) or WinPE and Regedit, either by explicit hive binding to HKLM or (Bart on XP installations) using RunScanner, and apply the settings to enable the relevent driver that way. Do that before booting the new PC into a STOP 7B. The other aspect not mentioned here, is activation status. As the target PC will differ in hardware, prompt activation demands will follow, and you can use this as an opportunity to change the OS product key if applicable. I'm not sure how SysPrep works in a post-activation scenario, or WAIK/WIM for that matter. Useful tools are Nirsoft's 32- and 64-bit ProduKey, which can be used via Bart and RunScanner for XP, and Licenturion's activation details monitor for XP, which can also work through Bart and RunScanner. If you want to preserve the source PC, you should image C: before SysPrep, and restore that image after harvesting the transplantable form. SysPrep has a lot of side-effects and can barf the system, e.g. if the Windows partition is not set as active at the time (common in Linux/Windows dual-boot with grub as boot manager).

chadness
chadness

There are other options as well, such as using Windows Deployment services (which is our current method). While it can be a pain to set up, it works extremely well no matter the hardware you're installing to.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

Can you simply move the hard disk over to the new machine? If the answer is yes, a cloned machine will work fine regardless of how the cloning is done. If the answer is no, the OS needs to be prepared for the move. We use clonezilla as a emergency backup system when replacing a dodgy hard disk (after we stabilize it with in our top secret process that involves a freezer) or when replicating an loadout across multiple machines which are identical... even then it's not always 100%, but the tool works. the trouble is in standard (non-virtualized) installations, the Operating system, drivers, etc. becomes very specific to the hardware and will most likely only work within identical hardware. In our experience even variances within production runs of identical make and models may cause cloned machines not to work even when you think it should.

IcebergTitanic
IcebergTitanic

Clonezilla works fine for imaging XP boxes, but there are a couple gotchas. - As mentioned, the hardware must be identical at the HAL layer - You should sysprep the base image machine - It's often helpful to shrink the partition to make sure it's going to fit on target machines If you're not having to do a lot of customized software, but just want to have a uniform, easy to deploy XP setup, you might want to create some Nlite disks instead. Nlite is a free program that will allow you to create a custom WinXP disk, and integrate things like your VLK key, domain join, drivers, and servicepacks. If done correctly, you can start the install from the disk, point it at a drive, and then walk away for about 45 minutes, returning to a fully completed installation. Alternately, shift up to Win7 and then you don't have to worry about the HAL anymore.

cbader
cbader

I could be wrong about this but my understanding is that Windows 7 is not tied to the hardware the way Windows used to be and that cloning across machines is supposed to be easier now.

chadness
chadness

This is correct. Windows 7 is not as tightly tied at the HAL any more, so it doesn't cause as many problem when moving to similar hardware. But, your mileage may vary, and you're still better off staying as identical as possible.

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