Windows

Five free and reliable cloning tools

Image your drives for free with the help of one of these reliable tools.

It's inevitable: At some point you're going to need to recover from a disaster. When this happens, if you happen to have a cloned image, the task will be far easier. But many budgets don't include the cost of some of the pricier cloning tools, like Acronis Backup and Restore. When you don't have the budget, what do you do? If you're lucky, you have access to one of the following free applications, all of which do an admirable job of cloning disks.

Some of these apps are more powerful than others. While some will do a-bit-for-bit copy, others create a full ISO of your running system. Some are Windows specific and others don't care what platform you're running. In the end, what's important is that you use the tool that best suits your skills and needs.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: Clonezilla

Clonezilla (Figure A) is one of my favorite cloning tools. This particular take on the cloning process is more like a bootable Linux distribution that can do bit-by-bit copying, and it supports a ton of file systems. There's an unattended mode and multicast support built in. Clonezilla might be the single most powerful disk copy tool available that doesn't have a price tag. And if you're looking to clone multiple machines quickly, Clonezilla SE can clone 40 machines at once. Clonezilla does use a curses-based interface, so some might find it a bit challenging at first.

Figure A

Clonezilla

2: Macrium Reflect Free Edition

Macrium Reflect Free Edition (Figure B) touts itself as one of the fastest disk cloning utilities available. This cloning solution supports only Windows file systems, but it does it quite well and has a fairly straightforward user interface. This software does disk imaging and disk cloning, allows you to access images from the file manager, creates a Linux rescue CD, and is compatible with Windows Vista and 7.

Figure B

Macrium Reflect Free Edition

3: DriveImage XML

DriveImage XML (Figure C) uses Microsoft VSS to create images and does so with reliability you might not expect in a free tool. With DriveImage XML you can create "hot" images from a disk already in use. Images are stored in XML files, so you can access them from any supporting third-party software. DriveImage XML can also restore an image to a machine without the need for a reboot. This software runs under Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Vista, and 7.

Figure C

DriveImage XML

4: Runtime's Shadow Copy

Runtime's Shadow Copy (Figure D) sacrifices in interface design for the sake of simplicity. With this tool there is little more to do than decide what you want to image and where you want to image it to. Shadow Copy makes use of VSS so you can even copy locked files on a running system. You can copy a single file or an entire system with the click of the mouse.

Figure D

Runtime's Shadow Copy

5: Paragon Backup & Recovery Free

Paragon Backup & Recovery Free (Figure E) is for stand-alone Windows machines, and it does a great job of handling scheduled imaging. The free version is based on the powerful pro version, but it's for personal use only. I highly recommend using the free version to try out the software. If it fits the bill, pony up for the full version (or even the server version). Paragon is also one of the few backup and recovery software titles already labeled as Windows 8 ready.

Figure E

Paragon Backup & Recovery Free

Just in case

You've been looking for a free backup solution that will help to clone disks. With one of these five, you should now have that solution in hand. Yes, some of them might be a bit challenging to use and some might not have all the features you're looking for. But each of them should allow you to clone a disk to another drive to make your disaster recovery plan come to life. With luck, you won't need any of these titles -- but there's a little law named after a man called Murphy that might have something to say about that.

Other good solutions?

What cloning tools have saved you when things when awry? Share your picks with fellow TechRepublic members.

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.

62 comments
odinschmidt
odinschmidt

Anyone tried PartitionWizard? It is amazing!

cuac15
cuac15

EASEUS Todo Backup Home does the job...

boucaria
boucaria

incremental. Mainly because I have 2 large USB Drives and then a NAS for backups. I don't know which of these is a better incremental. Since my NAS is a mirror RAID, or at least I plan to, the USB drives will be re-structured for a better access for files ( and a better search capability ). Anyway, My current NAS is just NETGEAR, and Its an experiment. I am essentially doubling on Backup because the Power Stability here is not too good.

delaage.pierre
delaage.pierre

for example dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb if= input drive or partition of = output drive or partition works also with "files" and pipes as source or destination... you may think to zip dest file for example.

cutting
cutting

I have used XXClone for some time. It is a tad tricky with questions thrown at the user in the beginning, but if the user reads the available manual, it isn't so bad. With XXClone, it can be made to do test boots to see if it is a good copy when booting. The only drawback is that when booting, there is a question; if the user wants to boot with the regular hard drive or the XXClone hard drive. http://www.xxclone.com/

alan.douglas
alan.douglas

While I certainly like the idea of "free", there's one thing that I'm not sure of with all the tools mentioned... The article title refers to "cloning". That, to me, suggests that, if my internal hard drive crashes, I could take the "cloned" disk, (USB drive, etc.) replace my fried drive with it, boot up and continue working as if the original drive were still in place. Some of these products refer to storing backups in XML format, so that's obviously not a cloned drive. I'd really like to see a differentiation between a true, usable, bootable cloned disk, and a backup, which requires a new drive and a bare-metal restore from it. I've used products (Acronis True Image, for one) that will copy a drive bit-for-bit and enlarge or shrink the partition on the new drive, as long as all the data will fit on the new partition. I've gone from a 250GB drive to a 500GB drive as well as the reverse. The new drive takes over as the boot drive and life goes on. I believe I've also used CloneZilla to do that, but the writeup on Redo doesn't give that assurance. Will all/some/any of these products do that? I wish the article would have been more specific. Thanks also to Palmetto_CharlieSpencer for his tip on putting a cloned drive on new hardware. I may have thought of that on my own (eventually), but it was a great "reminder" to see it in print.

jacob.klevan
jacob.klevan

So Clonezilla has a "curses-based interface"? No wonder some users might find it challenging!

Rob C
Rob C

If you have a Seagate drive, then you can download the free Seagate DiscWizard. (If you purchase a Seagate drive to store your images, then you qualify, to use the program.) If you use Western Digital, they too have a version of the DiscWizrd. The download is a program that requires installation. When you first run the installed program, you can find an option to create a bootable CD. Use the bootable CD to do all your imaging, Verifying, restoring. Do not be doing imaging / restoring from within a running Windows. You can, if you like, keep the installed program, installed. That allows you to browse within any of your images, to retrieve individual files, if the need arises. I would purchase an external Dock (with USB, and eSata connections). Purchase a Seagate 3.5" drive, and shove it vertically into the Dock. Use that to store your images. If you have USB3 on your PC, no doubt there are some docks, that provide that connector, as well. The latest version of DiscWizard, makes it a little harder to find the 'Verify an image'. But the option is there, and should be used, immediately after creating your images. I use the program all the time, and found it to be 100% reliable.

techrepublic
techrepublic

Curses-based interface? (Clonezilla) I have been trying to use a curses-based interface on my computer for years with no luck. Maybe I'm not using the right swear words?

essex133
essex133

Personally, I would never clone an entire drive to a new drive because if you do that, surely you're also copying over all the crap that is on your current system! Doing a clean install of the OS may take considerably longer because you will have to download and install all your programs plus all the Windows updates again. But I think the extra time is worth it to get a nice clean environment without all the crap that has accumulated over time.

DDunin
DDunin

I used XXCLONE worked great for me. Plus it's free. Give it a try. www.xxclone.com

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

"[i]Macrium Reflect Free Edition (Figure B) touts itself as one of the fastest disk cloning utilities available. This cloning solution supports only Windows file systems, but it does it quite well and has a fairly straightforward user interface.[/i]" I assume that you actually meant, it will only run on Windows operating systems. I use Macrium Reflect Free Edition 4 to backup my OS and data partitions (XP, W7 and Ubuntu10). I've only ever encountered one problem restoring my OS and data partitions, including Ubuntu. OK ... I got a corrupted Windows image, [b]once[/b] (some sort problem with the MBR, but I simply unchecked the replace MBR option, on the dodgy partition image and kept the MBR from one of the other partitions). It is quick. :) It images at ~3 GB/minute on my PC.

bhwong1
bhwong1

An important feature not mentioned is how does these cloning tools manage the larger capacity of the newer drives it is cloning to. Partition into a separate drive? Or need to use gparted to expand the capacity etc?

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson

I've upgraded notebooks to newer drives several times using Acronis True Image Home along with an external drive. I do an image backup to the external drive, swap in the new internal drive, then boot True Image Home recovery from CD and clone my old drive to my new drive from the image on the external drive. The advantage is that I can ALWAYS step back to my old drive by simply re-installing it should anything go wrong. I can decide what to do with the old drive once I know everything is working properly on the new drive. Often I just pick up a cheap external drive case, securely wipe the old drive and either pass it on to one of my kids or use it to back up something else.

mukababi
mukababi

I see above someone asked the question regarding cloning a server. Several years ago I used Clonezilla to upgrade our Dell SQL 2005 server on Server 2008, from a 75GB RAID 1 array to a 146GB RAID 1 array. As Clonezilla is a bit by bit copy it did not care about what was on the disk. As previously mentioned you cannot go to a smaller drive. To do this (after a full SQL system BU) I cloned the original RAID 1 system off to an external USB connected 146GB single drive. This took about 5 hrs 2 years ago, (the newest version of Clonezilla is faster). Then I brought down the server, pulled and labeled the drives from the old array as they were my Emergency Back Out plan. I installed the new drives, configured them for RAID 1. Once the new 146GB RAID array was ready, I rebooted and cloned backwards from the ext 146GB drive to the new array. Please note that in cloning these two times I did not go to the larger size. Once the old system was cloned to the new array. I booted the system and went into disk mgr and extended the 76GB partition to the full 146GB. If you have an interest full instructions are here: http://community.spiceworks.com/how_to/show/1125 That being said, for PC BUs we use Norton Ghost 15. Last I checked a copy at Amazon was $35-40. Ghost with a 1 TB MyBook is a $150 solution for quick system recovery on a PC by PC basis. As a small company I wanted us to be able to recover our 3-4 executive machines quickly. With Ghost it takes 30-45 min to recover a 60-75GB system drive and the Ghosts can be scheduled to run every night to the local 1TB single drive and once a week Ghost out to a NAS. I do look forward to checking out the tools in the article out tho. As a geek there are always better ways and we are always in search of the best for our circumstance. Cheers

Sekouga
Sekouga

Is it aready safe to replace Windows 7 by Windows 8 for home users? Thank you

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Do any of them support writing drives that aren't locally connected?

YepThatsMe
YepThatsMe

I suspect you might have meant "cursor-based", but the term is sometimes appropriate! This interface is particularly challenging for Millennial users, since they have been trained by Vista/Win7 UAC to just click dialog boxes without reading them.

Hlope
Hlope

I have been using the free version of EaseUS Todo Backup for some years now and has it has never failed. I use it for system backups and cloning drives. It is easy to use and has an excellent online help files.

leo8888
leo8888

Do any of these free programs support restoring to different hardware? I've been using the paid version of a popular backup software that has universal restore but have never really been completely satisfied with it. For something that is up to version 11 it still seems to have too many bugs / issues.

Ashby
Ashby

I've successfully used Partition Wizard to clone HDD partitions. Very stable, fast and simple to use for partition copy. There is also a lot of other disk management tools included but some require disk technology knowledge. Personal Edition is free for non commercial use and there are several paid versions for commercial use. Recommended.

kliss
kliss

Sorry, this is more a question than a comment. How does native Windows 7 ability to create a system image compare with these tools?

arfneto
arfneto

It may sound funny, but so it is. Years ago, using curses was a great way to write user interfaces for use in monitor like the VT52 that used the terminfo spec. Sure, you can use curses for many things since then ;) See http://www.gnu.org/software/ncurses/ for more on (serious) curses

n.gurr
n.gurr

It is an invaluable process if you are reusing an old machine for something else and no-one is completely sure who it belongs to etc. When someone has asked to have a machine re-built from scratch and promises to back-up their old data or swears they store it all on a network share etc. A good problem prevention situation!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's useful in shops that deploy many machines. You build one machine from scratch with the OS and most common apps, configure the most common settings and preferences, hen clone it to the others. It's also useful in training environments. Multiple images are used to prepare computers for each upcoming class, and to overwrite the work done by the last class. More up-to-date shops now do this with virtual machines, but there are still plenty of places that re-image. It's also good in workplaces where there are older critical systems with custom programming or with applications that no one can find the installation media for. Make images of them and store them on DVD for emergency use.

waphelps
waphelps

Why didn't you just pull one drive, let the system mirror, pull the second drive, let the system mirror again, and finally expand the partition(s)?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Has yet to be released your answer is [b]No it's not safe for anyone yet.[/b] Windows 8 was Released to Manufacturing on August 16 2012 and as yet is not available to anyone but System Builders, there are currently no OEM or Retail Versions available just the Consumer Preview which is effectively a Beta. Col

john
john

free for thirty days. then 29$. works well

Darryl~
Darryl~

I have a 1TB drive in my computer dedicated to backups, mine, Purple's, and our daughter's computers backup each night to it. I made 3 shared folders on the "backup" drive and made a "base" backup of each system, then schedule a differential backup for Sunday through Saturday for each(it only gives me 7 days of "recent" backups, otherwise I have to go back to the orginal "base" backup). With a larger drive I could do weekly & monthly backups (what I really should be doing). The 3 computers are all Windows 7, 64 bit on a windows home network.

Lensman99
Lensman99

We use R-Drive Image at my work, which can get an IP Via DHCP and write to a network drive. Only costs about $29 USD (Yes, I know this is about free tools, but it's worth mentioning if you can't find anything else). Also takes images on the fly (which is old news by now, but I still think is pretty nifty.)

paejunk
paejunk

Bump plus related follow-up question: 1) Do any of these tools write to NAS? 2) Can any such NAS-capable tools run in incremental-mode so that incremental changes to an image can be applied overnight?

mikef12
mikef12

I've occasionally used a curses based interview style but have found it has significant bugs.

waphelps
waphelps

They used ncurses for Clonezilla; that allows it work well from a local or remote text console.

john
john

If you mean Acronis why don't you say so? And I concur, It's an absolute pile of poo. I struggled with it for days thinking it would be the easiest way to recover SBS2008 but then gave up and used my backup backup which was the built in Windows backup. It was amazing, I started the restore and went home, eight hours later the server sent me an email - it was up and running perfectly!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Put the image on the new drive. After the imaging process finishes, do NOT allow the system to reboot. Insert a Windows CD / DVD and boot from it instead of the hard drive. Run the install with the 'Repair' option. This will update the drivers while leaving data and programs intact. This will get you at least to the point where the video and NIC work. Obviously, this is too cumbersome to recommend doing it on a regular basis. Still, I've been successful with it on those occasions where you absolutely have to put an image on different hardware.

mellsworth
mellsworth

They work, but are not user friendly. There is no one place to go when you have problems with it other than MS support, which is great, but expensive. They are essentially two products. MS Backup and Restore, and Windows Imaging. MS backup for windows works, but a nightmare if the situation is, WS died, and was replaced, XP to Win7. Guess what, You can't restore the backup, they are different versions. I had to make an XP VM to restore with. Windows Imaging works well, but is designed for system builders, not end users. And by system builders I mean MS certified robots who get paid 7 figure incomes to pay for the upkeep of their training. I had to use their tools and learned a lot from it. Like using sysprep, and building driver neutral systems to deploy, and even a bit of why MS does what they do. (Scary) The tools are Wildly powerful, but not by any means easy to use.

techrepublic
techrepublic

Thanks; I actually thought it was a typo and thought he meant to say "cursor-based".

essex133
essex133

Yes, I can see that cloning a drive/system would be the only way to go in the scenarios you mentioned Palmetto. Sorry, I was only thinking about home users.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Personally, I'd prefer a less ... adventuresome method.

Firedrake
Firedrake

Is there a software available that emulates RAID-1? I have an Engineer who has a Toughbook he'd like to keep an exact duplicate drive of, real-time (he even bought a second HDD of the exact same model and put it in a USB enclosure). Unfortunately, to configure them for RAID in Windows 7, I'd have to wipe them both, which is totally out of the question.

leo8888
leo8888

When I first tried to post I kept getting a "denied" message, I thought that my post was being blocked for spam or something because I had typed in Acronis Universal Restore. I found out afterwards I had to update my profile info for some reason before i was allowed to post again. Anyway I have to say that Acronis has helped me in the past when I had a server fail and had to restore the image to a new machine with a different motherboard. My complaint with it is the user interface is hard to navigate and buggy. I've had it crash on me sometimes when browsing an external hard drive for backup images. And I have had other strange issues with it that I can't remember exactly at the moment. Like I was saying It just doesn't seem very stable and user friendly for something that is up to version 11. It would be nice if one of these free ones handled restoring to different hardware but I figured that would be asking too much for a free utility.

mellsworth
mellsworth

As you stated: that works in a pinch, but has many issues with it, especailly in AD environments and with some drivers. Collegue "imaged" an entire classroom that way. It worked, but had strange "Ghosts", and N-Vidia vs ATI driver issues.

mikef12
mikef12

Just got a comment deleted for some reason - perhaps because it included urls. Anyway, there is a version of NTbackup that you can use on vista/2008 and one for win7/2008R2. Just search on ntbackup for windows 7. You can download them from MSFT and very probably other sites. They will restore .bkf files from disk, but on 7 and 2008R2 not from tape. You may get an error message when installing on win7. Just click through and continue the install.

n.gurr
n.gurr

You can prepare an image on one type of hardware and use sysprep to get the machine to generate from scratch a set of drivers, there are also some more benefits too such as sorting SIDS out etc. Ms provide a nice set of tools to develop images for situations such as classroom images. I am just finishing my summer project doing this type of thing for multiple machine types and 100+ pieces of software. Google waik and lite touch for some info. We used to use Ghost but have just moved to this system. FYI you can only sysprep Vista/7 based images 3 times so it is worth storing an unsyspreped version of the image too!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As with any non-SysPrep imaging, you've got to watch the system names and AD accounts. I reserve it for when those cases when you abso-tively, posi-lutely MUST put one image on one different system. I certainly wouldn't use it across mass systems. Incidentally, if one is doing this in conjunction with upgrading an OS, upgrade the original system as far as possible before imaging. The newer OS is more likely to have drivers for the receiving machine.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Try breaking the URL up into chunks www dot name dot com slash page.html For some bizarre reasons, links to TR pages are exempt :-)