Making a good backup of your computer system involves not only backing up all your data, but also backing up all Windows and system files when they are in working and stable condition. When the hard drive crashes or the Windows operating system gets damaged, it would be preferable not only to be able to quickly load your data, but also to boot back the entire OS with all your custom settings, bookmarks, drivers installed. applications and more.
A good way to take care of both at once is to create a hard disk image. When you create an image, the entire state of your system, including the OS and data files, is captured as a snapshot and can be rebooted at any time. This is the best way to protect your data and also the fastest solution. However, this is not necessarily the easiest solution, as most imaging software requires a little trial and error to recover.
In this article, I will mention a couple of my favorite free hard drive cloning software. You will find many paid solutions, such as Acronis, that simplify the process, but may require significant changes. If you hate computers and want the simplest process, go for commercial software. If not, read on for some great free hard drive cloning apps.
Paragon Backup & Recovery is one of my favorite tools for backing up and restoring hard drives at home. It has many features and is very reliable. It has been around for a very long time, so the software is polished and works great with all versions of Windows from Windows 2000 to 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 8.1. Here is a list of the features that make Paragon one of the best free utilities in this category.
– Full disk backup, including GPT disks
– Differential backups so you can create one complete image and then save space for future backups. I believe Paragon is the only free software I’ve mentioned here that supports differential backups.
– Unique backup capsule feature that allows you to store a backup on a local hard drive in a hidden partition for easy recovery in the event of an active partition failure
– Bootable media options for Linux and WinPE recovery
– Recover whole image or only specific files and folders from image
The only annoying thing about the program is that it includes all the features of the commercial version, and when you try to use one of them, it will try to sell you the paid version of the program. It’s not very frustrating, but a little annoying. I’d rather they just keep it to a minimum, and if I like the program, I might be interested in purchasing a more fully functional version.
The free version can still do many other things, such as creating, deleting and formatting sections, hiding / showing sections, and marking sections as active.
DriveImage XML is a completely free data recovery software that can be used to create images and backups of Windows logical drives and partitions. Here are a couple of the main features of this program:
– Quickly back up Windows logical drives and partitions to image files without restarting Windows (you can stay logged in)
– Easily view, view or extract files from images
– Restore images to the same disk or to another disk
– Copy data directly from disk to disk
– Schedule automatic backups and images with Task Scheduler
– Run the program from Live CD or WinPE bootable CD-ROM
The advantage of DriveImage XML is that it uses the Microsoft Volume Shadow Service (VSS), which means you can create hot images of the hard drives that are in use. It supports Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.
However, when restoring an image, remember that the restored partition must be the same or larger. You cannot restore a partition that is smaller than the original. In addition, DriveImage XML does not perform incremental backups after the first backup image, so either you need a lot of space or you have to delete old backups.
Macrium Reflected Free
Macrium Reflect Free is another popular free disk imaging or cloning utility. In terms of design, the Macrium GUI is much better than Drive Image XML. It is clean and looks more modern. The layout is also easier to navigate and understand.
You can clone a disk or create a disk image. Cloning is best when you want to move everything from one drive to another hard drive, that is, to a larger drive. Disk imaging can be scheduled, while cloning must be done manually. You can then restore images to the same hard drive, a new hard drive, or even a new computer, although the latter option will require a paid version of Macrium to recover to new hardware.
Macrium also has a Linux Rescue CD and a Windows PE Rescue CD that you can use to restore an image to a new hard drive. The recovery process is pretty simple, and if you get confused somewhere, there are guides in the knowledge base on how to create images, restore them, troubleshoot them, etc. This is a good program for a novice user.
EaseUS Todo Backup Free
EaseUS creates many different products and Todo Backup is one of the best. Again, like Paragon, they want to sell you their paid versions, but the free version worked great for me when doing backups and restores.
It has a simple clean interface and is slightly better than Paragon when it comes to upselling. There is a small bar at the bottom of the window that says “Update now to get a more powerful version.”
Using the free version, you can perform recovery only to the same disk or a new disk on the same machine. If you want to recover on new hardware, you have to purchase their paid software, as Paragon and Macrium do. In terms of features, it is closest to Paragon in terms of support. You can restore them using their WinPE bootable media and it will work as expected.
I also found EaseUS Todo backing up to be very easy to use, especially if you follow their online tutorials. Overall, this is a great choice for the novice user.
If you are a more experienced user, then CloneZilla might be the right choice for you. Clonezilla is essentially a live CD that you boot from and then work from there. Unlike other programs, it doesn’t have an executable file that can be run on Windows. Most people will have good reason to choose something else.
However, if you are familiar with the DOS environment and really want more customization options for creating a backup or disk image, then CloneZilla can help you. Here is a short list of functions:
– Supports a wide range of file systems including ext2, ext3, ext4, xfs, jfs, FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, HFS +, UFS, VMFS3, VMFS5 and minix
– Supports hard drives in MBR and GPT format
– The image file can be stored locally or on an NFS server, Samba server or SSH.
Cloning and restoring in CloneZilla turned out to be a little more difficult than I expected, and definitely has a lot of pitfalls for novice users. Fortunately, they have documentation with step-by-step instructions for general operations. Again, this is a great tool for advanced users only.
These are my 5 favorite tools for cloning or creating a disk image on Windows. If you have any other suggestion not mentioned here, feel free to post it in the comments. Enjoy!