Windows has countless drive cloning programs available, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It's almost impossible to pick the perfect one, but if you have a drive to clone, we recommend starting your search with DriveImage XML.
- Backup drives and partitions to image files
- Copy a drive block-for-block directly to another drive
- Clone and image drives while still booted into Windows, no rebooting required
- Browse images, view and extract files
- Restore images to the same or a different drive, exactly as it was when you backed up
- Schedule automatic backups with Windows Task Scheduler
- Run it from a live CD to restore an unbootable system
DriveImage XML's biggest advantage over other cloning apps is that you don't have to reboot your computer to run the cloning process. It can "hot image" your drive so you can start cloning while you keep working. Also, while it isn't the most advanced cloner on the market, it can do pretty much any basic cloning task in one simple program (which is surprisingly uncommon in some other apps) — you can clone a disk to another disk, copy a disk to an image, or clone individual partitions. Since it's designed for backup, you can also do scheduled, incremental backups as well, and even restore one of those images from a live CD if your computer won't even boot.
DriveImage XML is far from perfect. While it gets the job done, it's a little ugly, and not the most user-friendly app on the market. The live CD creation is especially difficult. It works great as a simple drive cloner for migrating data, but if you're going to use it for regular backup, you'll want to try burning that live CD before you start relying on it. If you want something a bit more user-friendly, you'll probably have to shell out for something like Acronis True Image, but for regular cloning jobs, DriveImage XML does the job as well as anyone else — and with no rebooting required.
As we said before, there are a ton of different cloning apps for Windows, and they all do certain things a little differently. When it comes down to it, it's hard to pick the "best cloning app" — you really need to search for the best cloning app for the job. Here are some of our favourite alternatives.
Acronis True Image is a great program if you're using drive cloning as your main backup utility. Acronis is very user-friendly, has all sorts of extra features like data synchronisation across computers, drive realignment, and more, but it's pretty expensive at $US50. If you're looking for a great backup system, it'll do the job, but if you just want to clone some drives, it's probably overkill. That said, if you're running a Western Digital drive, you can snag it for free from WD's web site.
Clonezilla is a fantastic live CD for advanced cloning jobs. In fact, we talked about it in our data migration guide, and barely scratched the surface of everything it can do. It isn't very user-friendly, but if you're an advanced user that has advanced needs, it's a great tool.
EaseUS Partition Master is my personal favourite of the bunch. It won't hot image your drives or align them, but since it's coupled with a partition manager, it allows you do perform a lot of tasks at once, instead of just cloning drives. You can move partitions around, resize them, defragment, and more, along with the other tools you'd expect from a cloning tool. It won't hot image your drive, and if you want to create an image instead of clone to a new disk, you'll have to use their separate imaging tool, but together they give you almost everything you could need (and they're perfect for migrating your data to a smaller drive, like an SSD).
Again, this is far from a comprehensive list, but these are some of the best apps we'd recommend checking out. There are tons of other popular cloning tools, like Macrium Reflect, Paragon Backup & Recovery, Norton Ghost, or heck, even Gparted. If you've got a favourite we didn't talk about, let us know why you love it in the comments.
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