How To Clone Your Hard Drive

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how to clone a hard driveCopy the entirety of one hard drive to another. It’s called cloning, and it’s an important process if you want to replace or upgrade the primary hard drive in your computer. Cloning isn’t the same as backing up. When a drive is cloned you have a perfect copy of everything that was on it – the operating system, the software and all of the files included. When you clone a hard drive you recreate its entire environment, partitions and all.

Why clone a drive? Sometimes it’s because you’re current hard drive is failing. Sometimes it’s because you want to upgrade to a bigger drive. And sometimes it’s to ensure you have a complete and total backup of your work environment should something go terribly wrong.

We’ve covered quite a few free tools for cloning hard drives here at MakeUseOf. There’s Clonezilla, a free advanced hard drive cloning tool based on Linux. There’s also Redo Backup and Recovery, which allows you to back up any drive in its entirety. Personally, I like to use Parted Magic, a complete hard drive toolbox to clone drives. This Linux-based live CD does everything Clonezilla does but also offers a GUI and a plethora of other tools for hard drive partitioning and maintenance. No home should be without a copy, and it’s free, so download it now.

Cloning a drive with Parted Magic isn’t extremely difficult, but it’s also not completely intuitive. If you regularly call yourself “computer illiterate” please do not attempt this. Ever. Consult a technically minded friend or find a professional.

If you like getting your hands dirty and learning things, though, you can totally handle this. Let’s work through the process, step-by-step, and clone a drive together. The process I’m outlining here uses a live CD, and should work for Windows, Mac and Linux users (or anyone combining the three systems in any way).

Step One: Prepare The Drives

Just to be perfectly clear about terminology, your “source drive” is the drive you want to make a copy of. Your “destination drive” is the drive you want to copy everything to.

You’re going to need both your source and your destination drives to be connected to a computer in order to clone. Assuming your source drive is already in your computer, simply install your destination drive to your second hard drive slot. If you don’t have a second hard drive slot, or otherwise can’t install your destination drive, use a USB adapter – these are easily found online if you don’t have one handy, or ask a techie friend if you can borrow one. They’ll know what you’re talking about.

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Once your source and your destination drive are connected to your computer it’s time to get the software we need, so keep reading.

Step Two: Burn & Boot Parted Magic

Before we begin we need a bootable copy of Parted Magic, so head to PartedMagic and download the latest ISO file. An ISO is a virtual CD which you can easily burn to disk in Windows, Mac or Linux. You typically need only to double-click or right-click it and the option to burn to disk will be presented.

how to clone a hard drive

Windows XP users: check out ISO Recorder.

If you don’t have a CD drive, or want to simply avoid using a CD for the job, don’t worry – you can boot from a USB key. Using uNetBootin you can write the ISO to a flash drive you can boot from.

Now you need only reboot your computer and boot from your CD or flash drive. How to do this varies depending on your computer, but there are usually on-screen instructions immediately after you turn on your computer. Consult your computer’s documentation if you need help.

Once you’ve managed to boot Parted Magic you’ll be presented with a desktop you’re not familiar with:

clone hard drive

Don’t panic, this is easy to use. Use the partition editor if you’d like to make any changes to your partitioning, or just advance to the next step.

Step Three: Clone!

Okay, it’s time to clone the drive. Double-click the “Disk Cloning” icon on the desktop and you’ll be presented with a text-based interface in a window:

how to clone a hard drive

Don’t panic! The process isn’t that hard. Read everything carefully; use the arrow keys to navigate, the space bar to select things and the enter key to confirm your choices.

Regarding your first choice – cloning to an image is great for a backup and generally considered safe; cloning directly to another drive is the fastest way to completely copy one drive to another.

This cloning software is based on Clonezilla, so read this article if you want more details about usage. Basically, follow the steps and tell the software what to do.

A quick note on drive names: if you’re a Windows user you will not see the “Letter names” that you are used to (C:\, D:\ etc). Instead you will see names like this – SDA1, SDA2, SDB1. These seemingly archaic names are followed by the actual name of the drive (ie, WINDOWS).

To explain the numbering system: the “SD” stands for storage device. The letter after that lets you know which physical drive a given partition is on. The number after that letter lets you know which partition is being talked about. You’ll probably be able to determine which drive is which based on the names of the partitions and their sizes, but pay attention, you could potentially delete all of your files forever if you don’t.

Check out this documentation if you’re at all confused, but generally just follow the steps and accomplish your goal.

Conclusion

There you have it, you now know how to clone your hard drive. You’re now ready to completely back up your hard drive.

Do you know of a better tool or process for the job? Share in the comments below, along with any thoughts you have about Clonezilla or Parted Magic.

Oh, and a quick note about a problem I recently ran into. If you’re cloning from a large drive to a smaller one, you need to shrink the partitions so that they’ll fit, deleting any partitions you don’t want to keep in the process. It sucks, but it’s true. Check out this PDF on the process if you’re having trouble.

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Comments (73)
  • nut

    thank you

  • nut

    if i create an image on an external hard drive, will that format the external hard drive? or will that just save a file on the external hard drive that i can later use to format and restore another drive?

    for clarity, i need to copy one internal drive to another, but i can only boot with one internal drive in at a time. i want to run clonezilla from a USB drive to create an image of the source drive on an external drive (which has things on it i need to keep), then turn the computer off and swap the internal drives, then recover the image from the external drive on to the new internal drive, leaving the external drive as it was.

    is that how it works?

    thanks

    • Justin Pot

      This tutorial explains how you can copy an entire hard drive to another hard drive, replacing any files on it. But Clonezilla also allows you to create an “image” of your hard drive, which you can then restore onto another driver. So yes, you can do what you’re outlining here, but the process will be a little different than what is outlined above.

  • Leandro Toledo

    Hi, thanks for your post. I was wondering if you could help me with something. Let me explain it:

    I have a 128GB Corsair SSD on my pc. However, there’s less than 1GB free now. So I bought a 512GB Corsair SSD. I’d like to know if I can clone the 128GB to my 512GB and replace the old one – 128GB by the new one – 512GB.

    There’ll be no other hardware change other than the SSD itself. I’m hoping this could spare me of the hassle of installing everything again on my new SSD.

    Is there any risk of incompatibility?

    I’m not a computer illiterate but I’m no expert either.

    By the way, my OS is Windows 7 64-bit.

    Thank you!

  • Chris

    I’ve been using my 150gb hard drive for about 8 years now. I think it’s about time to back it up, just in case . Thanks for showing this tutorial.

    • Justin Pot

      Wow, you’re a lucky guy so far. Glad you’re backing up now, though – luck like that can’t last forever.

  • José Leandro

    Hello Justin

    I’ve just used your tutorial to clone my HD (160GB) to a new and bigger one (500GB), the problem is that after the cloning process the new HD only shows 160 GB like the old one, how can i solve this? Many thaks in advance.

    José Leandro

    • justinpot

      Cloning creates a partition of the same size, but you can expand the partition using GParted (Partition Editor on Parted Magic’s desktop). Don’t delete the original drive before you do, though!

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.