How To Clone Your Hard Drive

cloneharddrive   How To Clone Your 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.

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.

cloneharddrive burn   How To Clone Your 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:

partedmagic main   How To Clone Your 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:

partedmagic clonezilla   How To Clone Your 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.

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

69 Comments -

0 votes

Alex Perkins

Great if you’re moving to a new computer.

0 votes

Besian Cato

a must know for every IT specialist

0 votes

Ken Gaming

Yep

0 votes

Burt Philp

This is a good tool, but may be a little disconcerting for a Windows user as apps like Clonezilla has a non-GUI interface. And frankly, the instructions are not obviously clear.

0 votes

Lisa Santika Onggrid

It’s exactly why the writer stated, ‘if you’re computer illiterate, don’t attempt it by yourself’.

0 votes

Justin Pot

Mac users will be disconcerted as well, but I’m yet to find a better balance between ease of use and flexibility than Clonezilla.

0 votes

jasray

How can this possibly work if one is to take the cloned image to a new computer with different hardware, a different BIOS, different drivers, network card, etc. Isn’t it basically disc imaging. And Clonezilla’s typically use is to image multiple computers at one time in a lab setting. Neither program can be used to for an “easy install” to a new computer . . . or am I missing something?

0 votes

Justin Pot

I don’t believe I said you could take the cloned drive to a new computer; it’s more for upgrading the hard drive in your existing computer.

But this is sort of possible; it depends on the OS. Most Linux distros should be able to adapt, but with Windows there will be licensing complications, and driver ones. Not recommended.

0 votes

Justin Pot

Not saying it’s impossible; just saying complicated will arise.

0 votes

Omotayo

could it be the same process and as easy as described cloning a laptop hard driver to a desktop hard drive?

0 votes

justinpot

Omotayo: probably not. I personally wouldn’t even try.

0 votes

Félix S. De Jesús

I really tried that… The consequence, Like a Dummy, I erased all my data and re-install Windows Again :/

0 votes

Lisa Santika Onggrid

Hope you don’t lose precious data.

0 votes

Michael Jan Moratalla

great thanks for this

0 votes

Tarek Ramadan

very useful thanks

0 votes

Danny

EaseUS Disk Copy is much simpler.
Just clone the whole drive 1:1, Remove the old drive, then stretch the partition using EaseUS Partition Master Home Edition in Windows once you boot up on the new drive :)

0 votes

Justin Pot

Good to know!

0 votes

Eric Thieszen

Another vote for EaseUS, I have used it many times when setting up my computer i install my esential programs on the c drive and clone it. When my computer slows down due to crapware and test ware I can easily restore everything to original state without having to reinstall my main programs.

0 votes

Sebastian Cork

Just in time for storing in my bookmarks collection. This article will be useful once I purchase a SSD for my notebook.

0 votes

Justin Pot

Note that cloning to a smaller drive can be complicated, but the PDF linked to above helped me figure everything out.

0 votes

Sebastian Cork

Thanks Justin, for the tip. I’ll keep that in mind when the time arrives.

0 votes

Efi Dreyshner

There are a few more ways and utilities that doing it.
But Parted Magic is one of the best!

0 votes

Justin Pot

And Parted Magic is useful to have around for much more than cloning drives.

0 votes

Efi Dreyshner

Of course.
As a computer technician, I always have a Parted Magic CD.
The advantages of Linux system, plus the tools that I need (:

0 votes

David Harrier

Is Prated Magic the same thing as Partition Magic? I have used Partition Magic before, and am suppressed that nobody mentioned it.

0 votes

Justin Pot

Partition Magic died years ago, sadly. Parted Magic is an open source project with lots of different tools for everything from editing partitions to testing the health of your drives to cloning.

0 votes

Brian

Good article. A couple questions. 1. Is there a reason the instructions started with using Parted Magic and shifted to Clonezilla in step 3? 2. I’m using OS X. Can that OS copy the ISO onto a USB instead of me using UNetbootin? I never put an install disk on CD because it takes forever to boot.

0 votes

Brian

Forget my first question. I just noticed that Clonezilla is built in to Parted Magic.

0 votes

Justin Pot

I don’t believe OS X can natively copy the disk, though I may be wrong. uNetBootin works on Mac, though, and isn’t complicated to use.

0 votes

Nikhil Chandak

seems to be amazing
& useful also
thanks for sharing to us

0 votes

Grr

I have been using Windows7 System Backup for a while.
Works good for me.

Earlier also tried Acronis True Home.

0 votes

Justin Pot

Always good to have options. Thanks, Grr.

0 votes

Mac Witty

Being a mac user cloning is a familiar thing and a pain relief if anything goes wrong with your harddrive or installation (and easy to create with e g Carbon Copy Cloner or Superduper)

My question is will it be the same on Windows that you can boot on the harddisk with the clone and just continue to work with all settings? That you can take the clone to another windows machine an start it up and work there.

Sorry my questions might be stupid but I have asked Windows user about cloning and they seems not know what I’m talking about

0 votes

Justin Pot

Moving from one hard drive to another in the same computer isn’t really a problem, much like on a Mac.

Moving from one computer to another will be. This is because of drivers (OS X includes drivers for all Macs; doing that for PCs would be crazy) and because of licensing (Microsoft doesn’t want people cloning drives to copy Windows; Apple doesn’t care because you already paid for a Mac).

I hope that answers your question.

0 votes

Mac Witty

Yes it did!
Thank you Justin for answering

0 votes

vivek u

Good information

0 votes

John Schmitt

I NEVER clone my drives to another drive. I ALWAYS clone/backup to an image file. What if the drives are the same size and you clone the wrong way?

0 votes

Justin Pot

It’s worth being careful, for sure, but there are ways to tell which is which.

0 votes

salvador hernandez

great article, thanks for putting this out. i will be referring back to it.

0 votes

Anthony Monori

Thanks. I feel like my HDD is starting to die, and I’m really considering backing it up before I lose everything.

0 votes

Justin Pot

Clone your entire system and the moment of panic will be short: all you’ll need to do is install the new drive and you’ll be set. I’ve got a backup drive for my media center ready to go pending its inevitable death.

0 votes

Boni Oloff

I think someone in the MOU Answer ever asking about software that can do clonig harddisk, i hope he have read this article you made.

0 votes

Justin Pot

If you stumble on that thread again you can always provide a link!

0 votes

Leigh Holing

Since I started with my online business I earn $62 every 15 minutes. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out. Fly26.com

0 votes

Brian Burke

I might be posting this too late, but regarding a Mac, are there any additional concerns with 10.7+ having a recovery partition? I heard that some (most?) cloning apps don’t also clone the recovery partition.

0 votes

Justin Pot

So far as I know, if you clone the entire drive, the Recovery Partition will come along for the ride.

0 votes

Ted Sterling

I am cloning from a large drive to a smaller one (SSD). Could you explain what additional steps I have to Take? How do I shrink the partitions so that they’ll fit and delete any partitions I don’t want to keep. Great Job!

0 votes
0 votes

Brian

I just noticed this on the unetbootin site: Note that resulting USB drives are bootable only on PCs (not on Macs).

I’m not a computer genius, so I wonder, does this make it unusable for Macs?

0 votes

Justin Pot

Probably. I found this alternate solution:

http://tillmail.de/wordpress/436

I’m kind of new to Linux on Macs, I should write something up.

0 votes

Brian

Thanks, Justin. For some reason my Mac won’t open the archive.zip file. The plot thickens…

0 votes

Justin Pot

I will investigate further later in the week. Keep us posted.

0 votes

Brian

I’m getting closer. I got to the Grub prompt only. Trying it again.

0 votes

Bob

Seagate have a good free program called Discwizard which I have used a couple of times. It creates a bootable disk. At least one of the discs must be a Seagate or Maxtor but it may work with some others too.

http://www.seagate.com/support/downloads/

0 votes

jarne skegge

Question for anyone who knows, or thinks they know. I have a Netbook that I recently bought and I going to put a Linux based OS like Easy Peasy on it. Obviously, I would like to back the whole darn thing up. The only spare hardrive I have is a 13GB…too small for what I need.
My newly aquired desktop, however, has plenty of memory…can I clone the Netbook drive to the hard-drive on my desk top, or would this….or would the “clone” replace everything on it, leaving me with a ruined desktop?

0 votes

Justin Pot

You sure can! If you have a shared folder on your computer you can clone to an image over the network using Clonezilla. Just make sure both computers are on the network before you start and you should be able to pull it off.

0 votes

sean

I have a gm5084, my mobo has ide right now and i want to get a sata harddrive, my mobo has 2 sata ports on mobo, can i clone from my ide to the new sata?

thanks sean

0 votes

Márcio Guerra

Very nice! Needing this stuff! How did you guessed it? Ehehehe!

Márcio Guerra

0 votes

Brian Burke

Justin, regarding your alternate solution on the tillmail.de site, I think that’s a dead end too. I asked the author why I would only get the “Grub” prompt when restarting and this was his reply: The method described in this post will only boot an OS that has a loopback.cfg compatible with grub for booting ISOs. In general this means every OS has to be prepared for this special scenario. Ubuntu comes shipped with everything necessary. An alternative to PartedMagic (that works with Ubuntu) might be gparted.

So I’m still on the hunt for a way to get PM onto USB for Macs. I know I can use a CD, but in my experience, CDs take forEVER to boot from.

0 votes

Benzaminwatson

For massive cloning clonezilla is best but the only problem that it consumes lot of time and ofcourse it can’t create bootable copy of your Mac drive. So, if one wants to create bootable clone of his drive should go for tools like: Stellar Drive Clone, CCC etc.

0 votes

maria cater

i cloned my hard drive with minitool partition wizard

reaccy cool

0 votes

sean

sorry i redid this again, the first time was in wrong spot, but i have a gm5084 with a ide hard drive and i want to get a sata hard drive, my mobo has 2 sata ports can i clone from my ide to the new sata harddrive?

thanks for replys sean

0 votes

justinpot

Not sure what a mobo is. Motherboard? If so, this shouldn’t be a problem – connect the new drive, boot from CD and clone the full drive to the empty one. IDE/SATA shouldn’t matter. Good luck.

0 votes

sean

yes motherboard, cool ty for reply.if it doesnt work ill just wipe the drive and do a fresh install as last resort. practice makes perfect.

thanks sean

0 votes

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

0 votes

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!

0 votes

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.

0 votes

Justin Pot

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