Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Summary: Given the kinds of comments that I'm getting (mostly through email) I've come to the conclusion that having a few "back to basics" posts on here might be worthwhile to a lot of readers. Sure, if you're a hardcore geek then this stuff is likely to be second nature to you, but for those on the path to becoming a hardcore geek, a little helping hand might be appreciated!For this, the first back to basics post I've decided to cover the way that I clone hard disks here at the PC Doc HQ.

TOPICS: CXO, Hardware

Given the kinds of comments that I'm getting (mostly through email) I've come to the conclusion that having a few "back to basics" posts on here might be worthwhile to a lot of readers. Sure, if you're a hardcore geek then this stuff is likely to be second nature to you, but for those on the path to becoming a hardcore geek, a little helping hand might be appreciated!

Note: Hardcore geeks reading this are welcome to chip in with their own thoughts and ideas.

For this, the first back to basics post I've decided to cover the way that I clone hard disks here at the PC Doc HQ.

Cloning a hard disk

Adding a new hard drive to a PC is one of the simplest upgrades that users can carry out on their PCs. However, the step that most people get caught up on is not the fitting the hard drive step, but the cloning of the existing drive onto new drive.

Cloning a hard drive is made simple if you have the right tools. Here in the lab we use Acronis products, specifically True Image 11 Home and True Image Echo Workstation. Here I'll show you the steps involved in cloning a disk using True Image Echo Workstation, which is the beefed-up small/medium/enterprise version of True Image Home.

Note: Home users are better off checking out Acronis True Image 11 Home. Details on how to clone a hard drive using this version can be found here.

Note: Why am I choosing Acronis products here? Simple - having used countless other products, and ultimately been disappointed by them, a few years ago I moved to Acronis True Image and several hundred disk clones/images later I've not had a single problem. There are other products out there that do the same thing, but for me I know and trust Acronis products. Not only does Acronis let you clone drive, it is without a doubt the best data management tool available.

OK, so you have your new drive (let's assume that it's a SATA drive) and you've fitted it into the system and booted up (I'll assume that you're using Vista here, but the steps are pretty much the same for XP). A quick trip to Disk Management (click Start and type computer management into the Start Search box and click on Computer Management, then click on Disk Management under Storage) will show you that both drives are being seen:

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Full image gallery here. 

Here I have one 16GB disk and a larger 30GB one. I want to copy everything off the small driver onto the big one.

Note: Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that these screenshots are taken on a VMware Workstation virtual machine - for the purposes of documenting the process this makes it easier, and other than I don't have to handle any physical drives, the process is the same as it would be for a physical system.

To save time I have Echo Workstation already installed on this machine, so I just need to fire it up. Once up, click on Manage Hard Disks.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Next click on Clone Disk.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

This brings up the Disk Clone Wizard, a tool that makes disk cloning a snap! Click Next.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Keep the clone mode set to Automatic. Click Next.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Click Next again.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Click Proceed to start the process.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Click Reboot.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

The system now reboots and after the BIOS POST screen and the Windows startup logo, you'll see the following. Don't panic! This is normal!

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

When you get to this, you're done. Click any key to shut down the system.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

OK, at this point if you're swapping hard drives and are ready to boot up off the new one, disconnect the power to your system, open up your PC and swap the data cables over for the two drives (the small, flat ribbon), close up the PC, reconnect the power and boot up. When the system has loaded up you should see both drives show up in Computer Management.

Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

If you no longer want the data on the original drive then you can right-click on the old drive as shown in Computer Management and choose Format ..., and work through the wizard. Remember that formatting is a one-way process, so take care!


Topics: CXO, Hardware

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  • Wow, thats a really long way to do it!

    Most hard drives when you buy them come with a install disk (if not you can download it from the manufactures) of which after you physically install the drive you boot the accompanying CD/DVD which gives you a number of basic choices one of which is to clone the drive.....<br><br>
    1. Software free with drive.<br>
    2. Drive cloning is not OS dependent.<br>
    3. Software is so simple and contains enough help that someone with basic knowledge can do it.<br>
    4. A hell of a lot less steps than doing it as you described.
    • Actually, at least one OEM ...

      ... provides Acronis True Image.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Which, I should have added ...

        ... was Maxtor/Seagate. That said, True Image does a LOT more than just clone a disk - as I'll cover in a later piece.
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • Really? Wow, it's been a while lol...

          Last I installed a Maxtor drive it used it's own software package called MaxBlast! for it's installation software. I guess that kind of dates my use of Maxtor! ;-)<br><br>I do understand True Image is decent but in the context of cloning a drive I was just getting at the way you were going about it seemed the long way around what could be a pretty quick and free solution.
  • Try ghost

    I use ghost because it is os independent, can write images to USB drives, CD/DVD's, and Network locations. Works great for laptops where you can't install 2 drives at once. I just image to a usb hdd, swap disks, boot the cd, and restore the hdd image. It works great for backup as well. I back up all 4 of my home computers (2 XP and 2 Linux) to one large usb hdd.
  • I upgaded from Ghost to Casper and never went back

    Casper is so much simpler to use and very very fast.
    • Sorry, here is a link to their site.
      • Casper 7.0

        Hi, thanks for the website of Casper. I downloaded it and like it. It is easy to use & copied my hard drive, not complicated. I have one problem though, it does not Write the Boot Record to the new Hard drive. I hope you can help me with this problem. Can you please email
        me at Thank you.
  • Oddball problem

    Last week I decided to redo my system and last night I found an oddball problem I never anticipated that will require a full reinstall.

    I had two systems, one with a 200 GB disk partitioned as C: and D: and the other with two 80 GB drives, each separately bootable. I wanted to replace the 200 GB with a 500 GB SATA. That would leave the 200 GB extra. I decided to do a 3-way swap. (One 80 GB would remain unchanged and will be ignored.)


    CPU 1: 200 GB CPU 2: 80 GB

    Step 1: Move DATA from the 200 GB to the 80's.
    Step 2: Clone the 200 GB BOOT partition to the 500 GB
    Step 3: Clone one 80 GB to the 200
    Step 4: Replace the 80 GB with the 200 GB clone
    Step 5: Move the cloned 80 GB to the 500 GB machine
    Step 6: Clone the 500 GB BOOT partition to the 80 GB.
    Step 7: Set up CPU 1 with an 80 GB boot drive and a 500 GB data drive.

    Of course, I checked intermediate results, etc. Everything seemed to work fine.

    After a few days I noticed System Restore was not working and none of the usual fixes would work.

    I also noticed some program icons were not showing up. When I tried to change the icon I would get a "Can't find file" error message.

    I discovered last night that there is a folder called C:\Windows\Installer where programs put install data. Somehow, that folder got emptied. Now, I can't REINSTALL *OR* UNINSTALL programs. Everything other than System Restore SEEMS to work fine. But I won't be able to do updates, etc.

    I don't know what cleared out that folder. There is a program from Microsoft (I believe from SysInternals) that changes the Volume ID (drive serial number), which I did run after cloning the 80 GB disk. Perhaps that caused the problem, perhaps not.

    So, I don't know why this problem happened, but it will require a full reinstall to correct, because it affects all installed programs, not just OS programs.
  • Copy Commander

    There's another reason for cloning a disk -- making bootable backups. (This is the safest way to protect your system -- and with hard drives a cheap as they are, there's no excuse for not doing it.)

    I run W2K, which seems to cause "copy" programs (so-called) problems in generating a bootable image. Ghost's copy got to an empty desktop, then halted. Symantec's "solutions" didn't work.

    Then I tried Copy Commander, which I got for free (really) using a rebate following a Fry's sale.

    That did it. Copy Commander's copy boots.
  • RE: Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

    As a non geek, this is exactly what I want. Some practical basics for XP simple enough for me to fo follow and that actually work. Thanks so much.
    • Re: Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard drive

      As another non geek I fully support your comment. I cloned my hard-drive using Acronis trial but never succeeded in doing the incremental back-up, so gave up. But it looked a good program. The comment inputs are great too.
  • I've always just used a Knoppix LiveCD

    and used QTParted. At least it's free.
    Michael Kelly
  • Basics Do Not Include Relying on Windows!

    Download a Bootable CD .iso image of hard drive utilities from the hard drive manufacturer... These always include a non-Windows OS and Cloner Utility.
  • Back to Basics... Cloning a hard disk for free

    Boot off a Linux LiveCD. Create a partition on the new disk, of the same size than the older partition (fdisk allows you to do that very precisely). Use the 'dd' command to clone, bit for bit, the older partition on the newer one. Make sure the new disk's boot partition is marked as such (that is a remnant of the DOS era; thanks Microsoft for still relying on this 25 yo. 'feature').


    Alternatively, you can use partimage to create a compressed disk image (yes, it does handle NTFS), and gparted to resize (and defragment) the partitions before/after moving.

    Price: free. Reliability: I made several dozens PCs and clones this way (of ext3/fat/fat32/NTFS partitions), and apart from Windows forgetting that it's installed on the C: drive once (due to a heavily destabilized MBR, my bad for not resetting it before playing with the whole disk), no problem.
    Mitch 74
  • RE: Back to Basics #1 - Cloning a hard disk

    1. Power system down.
    2. Install new drive to be cloned too
    3. Power system up with Linux recovery boot disk or live CD/DVD
    4. Open command prompt or if you are logged into a terminal then
    5. Issue command:
    # dd if=/dev/sdb of=/dev/sdc &

    After some time (system CPU/RAM + drive size will determine how much time) the clone is done. AND if you have the capacity you can clone to more than one disk! ]:)

    Also wanted to add that you do not have to power down and install the disk either with Linux. If you have a USB external drive set-up or even a removable drive bay you can plug the new disk in, then from a running instance of Linux use the command [I]# dd if=/dev/sdb of=/dev/sdc &[/I] modified of course for the location of the new disk and viola!

    And like I said you can do multiple images simultaneously if you so desire. ]:)
    Linux User 147560
    • Doh! You beat me to it.

      I regularly use dd.

      Here's a simple way to make a compressed image file of any drive (ex: /dev/sda):

      [b]dd if=/dev/sda | gzip > ./image.gz[/b]

      Nice to know you can do this especially when the target drive is smaller than the source.

      Best of all, it's FREE.
      D T Schmitz
      • Where's the click button?

        • No neeed

          one command and let er go. No clicking through menus no clicking at all. Takes less time to set up and do than the method mentioned by Adrian. And it's a perfect clone, all files included. OR I can simply put it in a #!/bin/bash file chmod +x and then you can click it, does the same thing. But it's simple and effective. No need to "nuke" a simple process now, is there. ]:)
          Linux User 147560
          • Meez kiddin' ya

            A Linux recovery disk or LiveCD distro will do the job perfectly well, sans the need to point and click. Those boot disks can do a lot of other things into the bargain, to include getting Windows systems back on their feet when things go bumpedy bump in the night.

            SystemRescueCD and UBCD integrated disks are other examples of a handy, multi-functional recovery tools.

            I never leave home without one. ;)