How to clone a hard disk: a short guide

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  • Created: February 20, 2020
  • Updated: August 6, 2021

Often the same question is asked in different ways: How to copy a hard drive, how to clone one hard drive to another, how to clone a hard drive to SSD, how to clone a hard drive in Windows 7 / 10, etc. As you have noticed, copying the contents of a computer drive is called "cloning". This is just the way it is, and there is no need to delve into the semantics of the term.

Basically, hard disk cloning is a sector-by-sector transfer of data from one medium to another. The result is an exact copy of the original data carrier. For this, there are dozens of paid and free programs, also known as disk cloning software , also known as disk imaging software. These include both universal (any HDD, SSD) and specific, for example, for certain brand drives, for example, Samsung or Western Digital. The latter can also be operating system specific, file system specific, to be installed or portable.

When is it necessary to clone disks? For example, you have to install the operating system and a lot of software of the same configuration on several PCs or do the further maintenance of such a setup. Then disk cloning is a powerful tool in the hands of an administrator. Another case could be replacing an old or damaged drive.

The manual procedure, d.h. reinstalling the system and programs, copying user files will take many hours. It is much more convenient to apply automation – via special hard disk cloning software for Windows and Mac. In the following we will guide you through all the important tasks, such as z.B. the cloning of a drive, the creation of a disk image and the use of the Windows backup program.

How to clone hard drives

Before starting the process, it is always advisable to perform the following two steps. First, try to detect bad sectors on a drive, z.B. with a hard disk diagnostic tool (z.B. HDDScan , DiskCheckup , SeaTools ). Check both a source and a target hard disk and fix any errors.

Secondly, it would be helpful to defragment a hard drive as well, using standard Windows tools or special software. This way file fragments are collected and transferred more accurately, and all data is moved to the beginning of a disk (to speed up access). These steps are optional, of course, but appropriate.

A must for drive cloning is the presence of a second drive of equal or larger size. The drive must be connected and initialized by the user’s computer. To clone a hard drive, use a tool like Acronis True Image or similar. In our case we use Acronis to describe the process.

  • Step 1. Go to the Tools tab and select the Clone Disk option. A second hard disk should be connected, and the Disk Cloning Wizard window should appear next. If this is not the case, an error message will be displayed.

How to clone a hard drive guide

  • Step 2. Choose automatic or manual mode. In manual mode a user configures exclusions, disk layout and other parameters.
  • Step 3. Select the drive to copy from (source disk) and the drive to copy to (destination disk).

how to clone a hard drive to ssd

  • Step 4. If necessary, select file folders to be excluded from copying.
  • Step 5. disk layout, d.h. Definition of partitions for a target drive.
  • Step 6. Preview and finish. The program starts cloning and then restarts a PC.

how to copy a hard drive

For automatic mode, there are no steps 4 and 5, d.h. all files and disk partitions are copied unchanged to a new drive.

In our case we cloned from a drive with a capacity of 256 GB (External SATA) to a drive with 120 GB (USB) in automatic mode. The total amount of transferred data was about 100 GB, which was divided into target partitions accordingly: from source disks C and D to target disks G and H.

how to clone a hard disk tutorial

Remember that after a successful disk cloning your operating system will conflict with two active boot disks unless you remove one of them. Also, there is an alternative to cloning hard disks – just read on.

How to create a disk image in Windows 10

Backing up the entire operating system is a relevant alternative to cloning hard drives if you need to protect data from hardware failures, ransomware, etc. want to protect. It is also called "disk imaging" and can be done using third-party tools or the standard Windows "System Image Backup" tool. Let’s start with the first option, using the same Acronis True Image 2020.

1. Creating a disk image with Acronis.

On the Backup tab, select the source and backup destination. A source (what to backup from) could be:

  • Entire PC – a copy of the operating system, applications, data
  • Hard disk and partitions
  • Files and folders
  • Mobile device – media, contacts etc.
  • Cloud service – z.B. Copying data from Microsoft Outlook to the Acronis cloud

A target could be:

  • Acronis Cloud
  • External drive
  • Browse – specific location on the PC

how to clone a hard disk

Acronis also allows you to schedule disk cloning, exclude files, select a server, limit speed, and password protect backups. the "image" (backup file) is saved with the *TIBX extension and has a certain amount of data compression.

In addition, the speed of sending a backup to cloud storage varies between 25-35 Mbps, and connection failures do not cause backup errors, which is efficient. Acronis Cloud is powerful and looks good, allows downloading (and/or sharing) backup directories and files.

disk cloning software

Read this documentation to recover files in case of hardware failure or other reasons. As we can see, Acronis True Image with backup/restore capabilities and cloud storage options could be a handy tool for both data security and management.

2. Creating a disk image in Windows

There is also a free option in Windows OS version 7, 8/8.1, 10, which requires no additional components or programs. You can create a backup on a network drive or a local drive, but the best would be an external removable drive.

To create a full system backup, follow these steps:

  • Open the Control Panel.
  • Go to system and security and then backup and restore.
  • In the left pane click Create system image.

how to clone drive

  • Choose a storage option (we recommend "On a hard drive").

how to copy a hard drive

  • Select the drives you want to back up.

how to clone a hard drive Windows

  • Confirm and wait until a backup image is created.
  • Once this is done, the system will prompt you to create a system recovery disk (optional).

3. Restoring a system backup (Windows 10)

Consequently, we now need to consider how to restore the system from a backup, if necessary. To do this, you will need a hard disk or flash drive with a bootable operating system and the actual backup image you created earlier. In our case it was a bootable USB drive with Windows 10 build 1903. Please note that the system recovery must be loaded with the same firmware it worked with before – UEFI or BIOS, otherwise recovery is not possible.

To restore the system backup:

  • Connect the backup drive to the PC.
  • Connect the installation disk / USB stick to Windows 10.
  • Reboot the PC to boot from the hard drive/stick. Use BIOS settings (Esc/Clear) or one of the keys: F1, F2, F3, F10, F12.
  • On the Windows setup page, click Next.
  • Click Repair Computer in the lower left corner.

clone hard drive Windows 10

  • On the next screen, click on Troubleshooting and then System Image Recovery.

clone hard drive Windows 10

  • On the Reimage Computer page, select "Use the latest available system image" or select an image – if you z.B. have multiple backup images. Click Next.

clone hard drive Windows 10

  • Check the box next to Format and repartition disks and click Next. In an alert pop-up window, click Finish and click Yes to continue.

After these steps, the recovery process will begin. During this process, it is desirable to ensure an uninterrupted and stable power supply.

How to clone a hard disk on Mac

Mac devices also have a similar built-in utility for backups – it’s called Disk Utility (Users> Programs> Utilities> Disk To clone a hard drive, follow these steps:

  1. Boot into recovery mode (hold down Command + R while rebooting).
  2. Select the language and click Go to continue.
  3. When the menu appears, select Disk Utility from the Utilities menu.
  4. In Disk Utility, select the target disk for creating a backup. To restore a backup, click Restore and select the source drive.

clone hard drive Mac

The cloning process will start, at the end confirm by clicking "Done". You can also use third-party software to clone Mac drives, e.g.B. Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper .

clone hard drive Mac

Q: How long does it take to clone a hard drive?
A: This is affected by many factors, ranging from the speed of the drives, computer configuration, to the amount of data being copied.

Q: How to clone a laptop hard drive?
A: To clone a disk, use an external drive and follow the same basic steps described in the article above.

Q: How to clone a defective hard drive in Windows 10?
A: A: First you need to diagnose the hard drive with special software. If the condition is acceptable for cloning, use Acronis in bootable mode and follow the instructions.

Q: How to clone a drive to USB?
A: When you select a drive to transfer data to, make it your USB drive.

Q: How can I transfer my operating system to a hard drive??
A: Depending on the operating system version, different cloning methods may work. Read our article and choose the most appropriate method for your situation.

Q: What is the difference between cloning disks and imaging disks?
A: When "cloning" you get an identical drive with the same data. When you create a disk image, you may need to create this image. Deploy again (unpack it using the software that was used to create the image). Another way to look at it is this. When backing up a disk, you need to make a copy of the data and pack it as a backup file. When cloning disks, the data is simply transferred to another disk.

Q: Is there free software for cloning hard disks?
A: There are a number of different disk cloning programs available, most of which have a trial or free version that allow you to get the job done. Here is a shortlist of the best free disk cloning software: Clonezilla, Macrium Reflect, AOMEI Backupper Standard.

Q: What is the best software for cloning hard drives?
A: Our top 3: Acronis True Image, Paragon Hard Drive, EaseUS ToDo Backup. You can check out the features and performance tests in our article on disk imaging software here:

Q: Can you clone a bigger harddisk to a smaller SSD??
A: It is possible to clone if the volume of cloned data does not exceed the volume of a target drive, but not every program can do this.

Q: Can data be recovered from a damaged hard drive??
A: First, diagnose a drive and assess the level of damage. Then use data recovery software, z.B. R-Studio Network or Recuva.

Q: Can I clone an encrypted hard drive?
A: Yes, although it will be cloned in the same encrypted form.

Q: Can I clone a drive from Windows to Mac and vice versa??
A: It is possible, but difficult. You will have to use additional paid software, do a lot of manipulations, endure slow data transfer.

Q: How to restore a backup created in Acronis?
A: Connect the backup drive. In BIOS settings or boot menu select Boot from the device (USB, CD or DVD) where Acronis Survival Kit is recorded. Wait until Acronis True Image loads and click Recover – My Disks in the main window, then select your backup and follow the steps.

Q: How to create bootable media in Acronis?
A: Launch Acronis, go to Tools and click on Rescue Media Builder. Choose the creation method (we recommend the easy method), then select the media (source) and click Next. If the summary information is correct, you can click Continue.

Q: Should I use Acronis Survival Kit when configuring a backup to an external drive??
A: If you already have bootable media, the Acronis Survival Kit is not required. The kit is basically the same bootable media and storage for backups. If you don’t have bootable media, then the answer is yes, click Create Acronis Survival Kit.

Q: Acronis True Image 2020: How to start the process?
A: Download the installation file, launch and install Acronis True Image, click Start Trial.

Q: How to clone a hard disk on a Mac with Acronis?
A: Before cloning, make sure you disable parallel desktop virtual machines and then connect source and target disks. Launch Acronis True Image, click Clone Disk in the sidebar, select the source and destination, and click Clone.

Q: How to activate the Acronis license?
A: Product activation can be done both offline and online. If you are activating online, simply log in to your account and enter the serial number. If you’re offline, click the Account tab in the program, then click a small arrow icon next to "Solve Activation Problem," select Activate Offline and follow the steps.

Q: Copies the cloning of a hard disk programs?
A: Yes, but some programs may work incorrectly after disk cloning, as no changes are made to the registry entries when cloning disks.

Q: Is hard drive cloning safe?
A: Yes, in fact it only copies data to another medium. For better security, you can enable encryption and password verification for these copies.

Q: How to move an operating system using disk cloning software?
A: As for disk migration, you can do it only if your software supports it. The most popular examples: Acronis True Image, AOMEI Backupper, EaseUS ToDo Backup.

Q: How to clone a hard disk in Windows 10?
A: As in previous Windows versions, you don’t need any special options to do this. Just choose the target disk and a new location for it (destination). Windows 10 supports all modern hard drive cloning programs, including Paragon Hard Drive, Acronis True Image and Clonezilla.

Q: How to clone a Mac hard drive?
A: You only need to install software with Mac support, such as z.B. EaseUS ToDo Backup for Mac, Stellar Drive Clone or Carbon Copy Cloner. Then select the hard drive you want to clone from the menu, the target drive and start the process.

Q: Is there open source software for cloning hard drives?
A: The most popular are Clonezilla, FOG and Mondo Rescue.

Q: How to clone a hard disk directly?
A: For a non-system drive (external drive), you only have to copy all the data manually. When working with system drives, this is not possible because some files are blocked. In this case it is better to use disk cloning software.

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About author

Alex started to develop software as early as in his school years, when he was 16 years old. These first attempts were gaming and healthcare mobile apps. During the high school period he has been producing trading bots and various trading software. Afterwards, he used to manage offline businesses, yet still devoting spare time to online gambling niche and web development. In 2011, Alex finally decided to launch an IT outsourcing company specializing in mobile apps and fintech. Since then, the team has also developed several proprietary products. In 2015 the company took on a commitment to solely concentrate on its own trademarked products and IT marketing activity.

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