In this guide I will be looking at some of the best backup software applications which support the restoring of image based backups onto dissimilar hardware, a process which can make migrating an existing system over to a new PC as quick and effective as is possible!
One of the key issues many people face when buying a new or otherwise different PC is the migration of all documents, operating system settings plus installed applications from the existing device over to the new one. In many cases this might involve transferring data using external hard drives, flash drives, cloud storage drives alongside the need to manually re-install and re-configure all existing software onto the new device from scratch!
In light of this often time consuming and complex process, in recent years, several backup software developers have started to offer solutions for recovering image based backups across to dissimilar hardware (which is sometimes referred to as “universal restore”). In essence, restoring to dissimilar hardware means that an image backup of an existing device can then be recovered onto new hardware with the differences in the new device (different drivers, larger disks etc.) all automatically taken care of by the backup software itself!
In short, what this means is that any backup software which supports recovery to dissimilar hardware (or universal restore) can be a quick, safe and effective way of migrating form an existing PC over to a new one with all user data, settings and installed applications remaining in-tact!
In this guide I will be looking at some of the main benefits of using such software to restore to dissimilar hardware in more detail before going on to list some of the best backup software titles which feature this very useful technology!
Understanding the Process of Restoring to Dissimilar Hardware?
In this section of this guide I will be going into more detail about how restoring to dissimilar hardware works in practice and what components are involved and required to make effective use of it. This involves looking at the differences between file level and image based backups, how disk cloning works, how Windows drivers and new hardware play their part and finally, how all of these components can be managed to make migrating an existing system to new hardware possible.
File vs Image Level Backups
One of the first key parts to understanding how the process of restoring to dissimilar hardware works begins with understanding how disk image backups themselves work (and crucially how they are different form file level backups).
When making a file level backup of a system we are only backing up the actual files which reside on the device being backed-up, this is usually confined to just important parts of the device such as the current user’s “Documents” folder (within Windows) which will be the default place for saving any documents being worked on using said device.
As can be seen above (in many cases), when making a file level backup on a Windows device, we can simply backup the current user’s “Documents” folder to provide a very good level of data protection overall (and this will usually suffice unless you have specific reasons not to back this folder up or have knowingly stored files in other locations).
When we move on and start looking at disk image backups we start to see a very different technology coming into play, one which will, instead of imply selecting individual files, instead make a mirror copy of the physical system disk (or disks) and compress and compile this information into a single file for storing. By default, due to this approach of imaging (copying) the entire disk itself, this method will capture all user data, any installed applications as well as the operating system itself as a part of the backup.
Modern imaging technology is actually becoming very advanced and can actually accommodate for excluding certain files and file types from an image backup to help keep file sizes smaller. Additionally, as is the main subject of this guide, modern image backup technology can now also adjust system settings within the image itself to allow said image to be recoverable on dissimilar hardware when applicable to do so!
NB – For a more detailed explanation on the differences between file level and disk image level backup techniques, check out our detailed guide on system image vs file level backups!
Disk Cloning Capabilities
A closely related technology to that of disk imaging backup software is disk cloning software, often used for moving (migrating) an entire active system (with all data, applications and settings included) over to a new, often larger hard disk or a faster SSD drive.
What makes disk cloning software slightly different to image backup software is that with disk cloning software the process usually happens directly between two different disks at the same time (i.e. in real time). Some disk cloning software will take a hybrid approach and allow a disk to be imaged, saved to a file and then recovered from this file onto a replacement disk at a later date, but even when this is the case this file almost always remains an exact copy of the original disk in most cases.
Where disk cloning software often becomes less useful is when trying to migrate an existing device over to a completely new system (with different hardware), in many cases the disk cloning software will be configured to simply make an exact clone of the original disk meaning the new hardware wont be taken into account as a part of the recovery process and could potentially lead to problems!
NB – Some developers take a hybrid approach and combine disk cloning and disk image backup techniques into a single piece of software (i.e. saving the disk image to a file and then recovering or cloning from this file, as might be required, at a later date). In many cases, such software titles can provide very good value given that they perform both functions!
When making use of specialist image based backup software (which has the ability to optimise for recovering onto dissimilar hardware) we can also often bypass this common limitation of only working with a single PC which is found within many disk cloning titles (i.e. we can, realistically, usually only recover the device upon which the image backup is being taken).
New Hardware & Drivers
As I have already discussed so far, when simply cloning an existing system disk to a new disk for use on the same system, simple disk cloning software will be sufficient given that all of the other hardware will remain the same. When migrating an active system to a new piece of dissimilar hardware (e.g. when getting a new PC) we have to think about the fact that the new device will most likely have different hardware running and this must be taken into account beforehand!
In such cases that we are migrating an existing system across to new hardware, one of the safest and most reliable ways of ensuring the migration process works correctly is via use of specialist disk image backup software which includes provisions for recovering to dissimilar hardware. Such software will commonly do this by taking into account any new hardware and either removing any old drivers specific to the existing device (so as to make use of Windows generic drivers on the new device) or by simply adding-in the correct drivers for the new hardware to the image to ensure the existing system works on the new hardware.
NB – It might be possible with newer versions of Windows to simply clone a disk and insert it straight into the new device (i.e. Windows can handle driver issues very well itself and might be able to keep the system running after such a migration). This is, however, probably not the most safe or reliable method for performing such a migration and extreme caution should be taken when not using specialist software such as the titles mentioned in this guide!
Bringing Everything Together
At this point it is hopefully clear that specialist disk image backup software (with provisions for restoring to dissimilar hardware) is often the safest and most reliable way of migrating an existing PC system over to a new piece of dissimilar hardware. Even though other methods and techniques do exist, it is definitely worth looking at disk image backup software with such functionality included to potentially save a lot of wasted time and help in mitigating any other unusual problems which might arise when using other, less official methods!
Next, in this final section of this guide, I will be listing several disk image backup software titles, as have been reviewed on BestBackupReviews.com, which feature the ability to optimise any disk images for being restored onto dissimilar hardware in some capacity.
Our Favourite Software for Restoring to Dissimilar Hardware
Finally, in this section of my guide I will be looking at several of the best disk image-based backup solutions (as reviewed on BestBackupReviews.com) which feature the ability to restore image-based backups onto dissimilar hardware when required.
As always, be sure to check the details of each backup solution listed below very carefully if you are planning to make any purchases and, if possible, always try to take advantage of any free trials to make sure the solution works for you before signing-up!
1. Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office
Previously known as Acronis True Image, Cyber Protect Home Office is a leading backup solution featuring some of the best tools both for making image-based backups and recovering from these same backups to dissimilar hardware when applicable to do so!
When attempting to recover to dissimilar hardware, Cyber Protect Home Office features a specialist universal restore media building tool which will, amongst other things, prepare special recovery media which can insert suitable device drivers and further optimise the image recovery process to make it is suitable for applying to a new piece of hardware.
With the Acronis universal restore functionality aside, Cyber Protect Home Office is a very powerful backup solution in its own right featuring the ability to make both disk image and file level backups, make use of shared network drives (NAS systems) as well as the ability to make use of both locally attached external disks or the Acronis cloud for saving any backed-up data safely. Cyber Protect Home Office is also a highly secure piece of backup software featuring both strong data encryption technology (up to AES 256-bit encryption) plus the option to make use of the highly rated antivirus software which is built right into the product itself!
With these core backup and security features aside, we also see many other useful functions within Cyber Protect Home Office, these include built-in file sharing and file synchronisation functionality, support for backing-up Microsoft Office 365 documents plus smartphone apps for both iOS and Android amongst many other useful additions.
Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office is priced from $49.99 / year for the essentials version which features the full Universal Recovery suite of tools (although it does exclude any use of the Acronis Cloud which is available on higher level plans). You can get a 30 day free trial of Cyber Protect Home Office via the official Acronis website.
2. EaseUS ToDo Backup Home
ToDo Backup Home is a leading multi-purpose backup application from software experts EaseUS, it is a tool which features multiple backup and recovery features including, as is relevant to this guide, the ability to restore image-based backups onto dissimilar hardware!
Transferring an existing system to new hardware via ToDo Backup beings with an existing disk image backup being taken on the original device and the recovery media being created (for booting the new PC into ready for the recovery). With both of the aforementioned pieces in place, the “System Transfer” tool (found under the “Tools” menu in the EaseUS recovery environment) can then be used to recover to the new / dissimilar system using the existing system’s image backup (Although note that documentation from EaseUS suggests checking and adding or updating any important device drivers on the new device after the transfer has taken place).
With the System Transfer tool aside, ToDo Backup is a very powerful backup application capable of creating both file level and full system image backups to one of a number of sources including network shares (NAS devices), external hard drives, 3rd party cloud providers (including Google Drive and Dropbox) as well as to the EaseUS Cloud itself. Other useful features include a good scheduling engine, support for strong AES 256-bit file encryption and a specialist Microsoft Outlook backup tool amongst many other useful features and functionality.
EaseUS ToDo Backup Home is priced from just $39.95 / Year (or $59.95 / Year with 1TB of cloud storage included by EaseUS themselves). A perpetual version with lifetime upgrades is also available form just $79.95 per device as is a free version with a very good default set of features. EaseUS also offer a 30 day free trial of EaseUS ToDo Backup for anyone wanting to test the software out for themselves first!
3. O&O DiskImage 17
DiskImage 17 is the latest in specialist disk imaging backup technology from developers O&O Software and features, amongst many other useful functions, the M.I.R restore technology which can assist in restoring existing systems across onto new, dissimilar hardware!
As is commonly the case with such restore operations to dissimilar hardware, the Machine Independent Restore functionality (M.I.R) which is found within DiskImage 17 relies upon a full system image backup of the source device first been taken and the new system being booted into the DiskImage recovery environment. Once in the recovery environment and performing a restore of a full system backup, a special option (found under the “Additional options” menu during the restoration) labelled “Adapt to different hardware” must be selected to accommodate the different hardware which is being used.
With the M.I.R recovery functionality set aside, DiskImage 17 remains a solid disk imaging based backup solution in it’s own right with many options for taking full system backups manually or on a schedule. DiskImage 17 includes the ability to apply strong AES 256-bit encryption to any backed-up data, options for saving images as VHD files (and mounting said VHD files within Windows) and also offering potentially unlimited historic file versioning in the process. Other features including the one-click disk imaging technology and support for migrating (cloning) existing systems to SSD drives also exists as does the option to also make file-level backups when applicable to do so.
O&O DiskImage 17 is priced at a one-off $49.95 per PC or a one-off $69.95 for a 5-device licence. A 30 day free trial of the software is also available via the official O&O Software website.
4. Macrium Reflect 8 Home
Macrium is one of the most popular names in disk imaging technology thanks to its excellent Reflect line of PC backup software which supports many advanced disk image-based backup and disk-to-disk cloning functions!
One of the most important functions found within Macrium Reflect and the key technology which sees it included on this list is Macrium ReDeploy, a solution which allows for optimising and restoring image-based backups onto dissimilar hardware. As with many other image based software solutions which support restoring to dissimilar hardware, Reflect ReDeploy requires a full system image backup first be taken of the source PC and then the ReDeploy technology activated when booting into the new device using the Macrium WinPE based recovery media.
Once booted into the Macrium recovery environment on the new device, the ReDeploy system will assist in seeking and adding any new or required drivers for the new hardware as might be applicable before completing the recovery process.
NB – One important thing to be aware of is that the free version of Macrium Reflect does not contain the ReDeploy imaging technology, this is only available in the premium “Home” versions and higher!
Moving on past the ability to recovery to dissimilar hardware and Reflect features many other useful technologies for helping to keep a PC safe, these include file-level and disk image backups, good automatic scheduling support, strong AES 256-bit encryption, the ability to mount image files within Windows and good support for cloning disks (including to and from SSDs) amongst many other useful features.
Macrium Reflect is available as a free version or in several premium versions aimed at both home and business users alike. A 30 day free trial of the premium Macrium Reflect Home edition (which includes the ReDeploy technology after purchase) is also available via the official Macrium website.
5. Paragon Backup & Recovery
Backup & Recovery is a popular image-based backup application supporting system recovery to dissimilar hardware and which is now available as a part of the Paragon Hard Disk Manager suite!
Paragon Backup & Recovery, in much the same way as the other entries on this list, supports recovering (migrating) image-based backups of an existing system across onto dissimilar via use of their specialist recovery media. Once booted into the Paragon recovery environment, the P2P Adjust OS wizard can then be activated and used to assist in the preparing and optimising of the image backup from the source system for use on the new hardware (which includes accommodating any necessary device drivers as applicable).
With the P2P OS Adjust tool aside, Backup & Recovery is also a very strong PC backup solution in it’s own right and features the ability to make both image-level and file-level backups with options for encryption and automatic scheduling as might be required. Being a part of the Paragon Hard Disk Manager suite means that Backup & Recovery also features alongside many other useful tools including disk cloning tools (with support for SSDs), secure disk wiping tools, advanced formatting and partition management tools and support for VHD / VHDX file formats amongst many others.
Paragon Backup & Recovery is available in a free version with limited functionality or as a full version via the Paragon Hard Disk Manager suite of tools priced at $79.95. More information on both versions can be found can be found via the official Paragon Software website.
6. AOMEI Backupper
AOMEI Backupper is a well designed and easy to use backup solution featuring support for full system image backups alongside the AOMEI Universal Restore technology which can be used for migrating (recovering) any image based backups across to dissimilar hardware!
When making use of the AOMEI recovery environment to recover from a system image backup, the AOMEI Universal Restore option can be switched on via the buttons found towards the bottom of the screen. Once activated, AOMEI Backupper will assist in automatically preparing and optimising the existing image backup of the source computer as it is migrated across to the new or dissimilar hardware.
NB – The Universal Restore component is only available in the (premium) AOMEI Backupper Professional version or higher (business versions).
With the Universal Restore functionality aside, AOMEI Backupper is a solid backup tool which is very easy to use and features support for both file-based and image-based backups, support for cloning disks (including SSDs), automatic folder synchronisation tools plus strong AES 192-bit encryption amongst many other useful features.
AOMEI Backupper Standard is 100% free for personal use, although beware that this free version does not feature the Universal Restore components previously mentioned. AOMEI Backupper Professional (which does contain the Universal Restore component) can be obtained via the official AOMEI website priced at $39.95 / year or for a one-off payment of just $49.95 with free lifetime updates included!
Whilst the prospect of migrating to newer and faster PC hardware is often very positive, the work involved in re-configuring a new device for your own individual preferences, moving across important documents and re-installing all necessary software can be a very time consuming and tedious experience. It is here that specialist software which supports the migrating of an existing system between two different pieces of hardware can be very useful and can help to save a lot of time and stress in the process!
With this problem in mind, the software titles mentioned above all feature tools for migrating an existing system to new or otherwise dissimilar hardware as a part of their recovery operations. Despite this process been effectively very safe and reliable thanks to such software titles, always remain cautious when performing such a task and be aware that small issues might still crop up (and if they do it might still be necessary, in certain cases, to build up the new device manually).