5 free and reliable cloning tools

Create images of your units for free with the help of one of these reliable tools.

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It is inevitable: at some point you will have to recover from a disaster. It will have a hard drive failure and lose valuable data or the machine will refuse to boot. When this happens, if you have a disk image, the task will be much easier. But many budgets do not include the cost of some of the more expensive disk imaging software, such as 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 these free applications, all of which do an admirable job of cloning a hard drive.

Some of these applications are more powerful than others. While some will make a copy bit by bit, others will create a complete ISO of their running system. Some are Windows specific and others do not care what platform you are running. In the end, the important thing is that you use the tool that best suits your skills and needs.

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1: Clonezilla

Clonezilla is one of my favorite cloning tools. This particular version of the cloning process is more like a Linux boot distribution that can make bitwise copies, and is compatible with a ton of file systems. There is an unattended mode and built-in multicast support. Clonezilla could be the most powerful disk copy tool available that does not have a price tag. And if you're looking to clone several machines quickly, Clonezilla SE can clone 40 machines at once. Clonezilla uses an interface based on curses, so some may find it a bit difficult at first.

2: Macrium Reflect Free Edition

Macrium Reflect Free Edition is promoted as one of the fastest disk cloning utilities available. This cloning solution only supports Windows file systems, but it does quite well and has a fairly simple user interface. This software creates disk images 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.

3: DriveImage XML

DriveImage XML uses Microsoft VSS to create images and does so with a reliability that I would not expect in a free tool. With DriveImage XML you can create "hot" images from a disc that is already in use. The images are stored in XML files, so you can access them from any compatible third-party software. DriveImage XML can also restore an image on a machine without the need to restart. This software runs on Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Vista and 7.

4: Runtime Live CD

With Runtime Live CD you can boot most desktops in a full Linux distribution (based on Knoppix), where You have access to many tools to help you back up data (and clone drives). Available tools include: GetDataBack Pro, DiskExplorer, Captain Nemo Pro, NAS Data Recover, RAID Recovery for Windows, DriveImage XML, Disk Digger, dd and more. You must have everything you need to run a backup or a successful clone.

Note: You must burn the Runtime Live CD into a bootable USB drive and boot the computer you need to clone it. You must also have a drive available to serve as a destination, which must be assigned from the running Live CD.

5: Paragon Backup & Recovery Free

Paragon Backup & Recovery Free is for standalone Windows machines, and it does a great job of handling scheduled images. The free version is based on the powerful pro version, but it is for personal use only. I recommend using the free version to try the software. If it fits the bill, get the full version (or even the server version). Paragon is also one of the few titles of backup and recovery software that are already labeled as prepared for Windows 8.

Just in case

You have been looking for a free backup solution to help clone disks . With one of these five, you should now have that solution in your hand. Yes, some of them may be a bit difficult to use and others may not have all the features you are looking for. But each of them should allow you to clone a disk in another unit so that your disaster recovery plan comes alive. Hopefully, you won't need any of these titles, but there is a small law that bears the name of a man named Murphy who might have something to say about it.

Other good solutions?

What cloning tools have saved you when things are wrong? Share your choices with other TechRepublic members.

See also

Editor's Note: This article was first published in August 2012 and was last updated in August 2019.

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