In this guide (now fully updated for 2023), I will be looking at some of the top free disk cloning software available as of today! In addition to this list of available titles, I will also focus on some of the key components of disk cloning software to look out for, how to make best use of such software and also answer some key questions relating to disk cloning in general along the way – let’s go!
What is Disk Cloning Software?
Disk Cloning software is specialist software which can be used to create an exact (1:1) copy of a computer’s hard drive which is then replicated to a secondary (often bigger or faster) hard drive. Making an exact copy of a disk means that all existing data on the original (source) hard drive including the operating system, any installed applications, system settings plus all existing user data is also copied across to the new hard disk during the process.
Such disk cloning software is especially useful when adding new or upgraded hard disks or SSD drives to an existing PC. For example, when adding a new larger or faster hard disk or SSD drive to an existing PC, the existing drive’s contents can be copied over to this new disk and kept exactly as they were beforehand. This means that the existing system will continue to work exactly as it did before whilst using the old hard disk (but with more disk space available or a faster SSD drive now in-use to improve system performance).
NB – Whilst disk cloning software will work fine when migrating from an old hard drive to a new drive or SSD on an existing system, more involved work might be required when migrating an existing system on to new or simply different hardware! In such cases, the use of disk cloning technology with support for restoring to dissimilar hardware might be required (and will be discussed further down on this page)!
Overall, there are many varied scenarios which might require the use of disk cloning software, these include the upgrading of hard disks, the migrating of an existing PC system to a new (faster) SSD drive, the re-provisioning of a PC with a clean install of Windows within a business environment and the returning of a PC back to its default (clean) state ready for resale or recycling.
Does Cloning a Hard Drive also Copy Programs?
Yes, this ability to copy applications which are already installed upon an existing system is one of the main reasons disk cloning software has become so useful, but let’s consider a common example to get more details on how this might actually work.
One of the biggest problems with acquiring a brand-new PC is that all user data must be migrated over from an older, existing PC and any Windows applications which are in-use must also potentially be re-installed, re-licenced and reconfigured. This process is often time consuming at best and potentially very costly if the installation media for certain software is unavailable, often resulting in the need to re-purchase the application in question thus taking up time and adding even more cost to a system migration!
With disk cloning software, as we have already discovered, the entire system as it currently stands (including the operating system, all user data and any installed software) can all be copied over to a new PC with very little fuss.
Migrating Existing Systems to Dissimilar Hardware
One potential issue which might occur when migrating an existing system onto a new or different device is that the existing drivers installed on the current system won’t be compatible with the new hardware. In such cases it will be most likely be necessary to make use of specialist disk cloning software which can accommodate the cloning (or recovery of a disk image backup) onto dissimilar hardware!
Such specialist cloning or image backup software will be able to automatically adapt the existing disk contents so as to either remove any proprietary hardware drivers during the cloning operation (meaning generic Windows drivers can be temporarily used) or simply allow for them to be replaced (either automatically or manually) prior to the coning operation commencing.
NB – If this issue relating to dissimilar hardware sounds like it might be relevant to your own disk cloning or PC migration issues, then please note I have marked-out any software titles supporting cloning to such dissimilar hardware in the list below!
Whilst not as straightforward as allowing for specialist software to help manage any driver issues by itself, one potential workaround to migrating to a new system with different hardware is to uninstall any drivers prior to the disk cloning operation to ensure maximum compatibility on the new system straight after migration.
If you are using Microsoft Windows then this will often mean simply uninstalling any drives (using the built-in Windows Device Manager tool) and then performing the cloning operation straight afterwards. Once the cloning operation is complete, Windows will then (by itself) attempt to choose suitable drives (even if they are just generic drives temporarily) until the correct drivers can be downloaded and installed for the new system’s hardware!
NB – for a more detailed guide on migrating existing PC systems to new or otherwise dissimilar hardware, please be sure to check out my guide to The Best backup Software for Restoring to Dissimilar Hardware right here on BestBackupReviews.com!
Disk Cloning vs Disk Imaging vs System Imaging
In the process of researching any available disk cloning software, you might have also noticed the terms “disk imaging” or “system imaging” mentioned regularly as well? These terms are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably when they do, in-fact, both perform slightly different functions!
These different functions are explained in more detail below:
Disk Cloning is the process of making an exact (1:1) copy of a physical hard disk by migrating everything over to a secondary physical hard disk (this is often a newer, larger or faster drive). During this cloning process the entire operating system, any installed software plus all user data and settings are also moved directly from the original (source) hard disk over to the new (target) disk and not stored on any other media during the process.
NB – Partition cloning works in a very similar fashion as above, albeit copying a partition in its entirety to a different location (usually on a secondary hard disk)!
Disk Imaging technology is often incorporated into many backup software titles and is used to make an image-based backup of a PCs hard drive into a single file (a file which is then kept upon the storage medium used by the backup software). In other words, the entire disk is copied (including the operating system and all installed software), compressed, stored within a single file (or a series of smaller files when applicable) and then stored on another disk or in the cloud as part of making a backup set.
NB – whilst this process might be classed as a “disk image backup” by many backup software developers, the process of doing this and then recovering this “backed-up” image directly to a new disk has the same effect as simply cloning the two devices directly!
Full System Imaging:
Sometimes you might see backup software titles advertising the fact that they can make full system image backups! Simply put, in cases where a PC might be made up of more than one hard disk, the backup software will be able to automatically create multiple images of all connected hard disks which are in-use as a part of the same backup set (i.e., capturing the entire system in a single backup set).
NB – I think the confusion between disk cloning and disk imaging often comes from the fact that, whilst disk cloning could be used as a form of backup (albeit an inefficient one), disk imaging could equally be used to create a clone of a hard drive (albeit making the process slightly longer than it otherwise needs to be and slower than direct drive-to-drive cloning).
For example, if I had created an image-based backup of my entire hard drive using disk imaging backup software and then swapped out my existing hard disk for a new one, I could then recover the entire (old) disk using the image backup I took earlier on onto the new disk (assuming I had some emergency boot software to boot the system into beforehand and perform the recovery from within). This process, albeit involving slightly more work, would have the same net result as simply cloning the existing disk onto the new disk directly!
Likewise, I could also add a second hard disk to my system and clone my original hard disk to this secondary disk in order to keep it as a “back up” hard disk. Should I ever need to recover my PC to this original (cloned) state then I could then simply clone the secondary disk back onto my primary disk using some disk cloning software (potentially a very useful option when facing issues such as malware damage to a system, but any user data would still most likely need to be backed-up else ware given this approach, in effect, only allows for a single version of the system to be kept).
Of course, both of these aforementioned methods would work fine, but it is often simpler to stick to image-based backups and direct (disk to disk) cloning for their intended purposes so as to gain the maximum benefits from each approach.
Disk Cloning FAQs
No, Windows 10 does not currently contain any built-in disk cloning software as of time of writing in December 2022. This means if you do wish to clone a hard drive containing a Windows 10 system then third-party disk cloning software must be used!
This is not too much of a problem, however, as you will see further down in this guide, I have collated together some reviews of my favourite free disk cloning software titles to help make the process of choosing such software much easier! This means when you are ready to clone your existing hard disk containing Windows 10, you can do so at very little or zero cost should you need to!
Yes, Windows 10 will run absolutely fine on a solid-state drive (SSD)!
SSD disk drives have become very popular in recent years due to the increased operating speed they offer as well as the continuously deceasing costs and larger capacities as the technology becomes ever more affordable. If you are currently running Windows 10 on an older mechanical hard disk then I would strongly recommend looking into an SSD upgrade as soon as possible to help in obtaining a much faster system!
The decision of whether to make use of disk cloning or disk image backups depends upon the process being completed. If you are simply wanting to make a copy of an existing disk to a new / secondary disk (e.g., migrating from an existing mechanical disk over to a newer SSD drive) then disk cloning would be the most efficient solution. On the other hand, should you wish to keep multiple copies of said original disk and potentially store them longer term in a disk space efficient manor, then disk image backup software will be the best solution.
NB – Remember, although usually a longer process then direct disk-to-disk coning, making a disk image backup of a disk and then resorting the image to another disk will provide the same net result as direct disk-to-disk cloning!
Generally speaking, when cloning an existing (and working) system disk, everything on said disk will be copied across to the new disk meaning it will also be bootable by default! If you do perform such an operation, be sure to either remove the old drive before re-booting your system on the new disk or, alternatively, using your motherboards BIOS or UEFI settings, change the device boot order so as the new disk is set to be booted from first!
Yes, cloning a disk drive copies across all data on a 1:1 basis! This means everything on an existing drive, including the operating system, all installed software application, user data and system configuration settings, will also be copied across to the new disk!
In most circumstances there is usually no requirement to wipe a disk before cloning an existing disk drive across to it! One possible exception to this rule is when the new (cloned) disk is to potentially be passed on to another person or sold, in such cases it might be wise to perform a secure wiping of the drive and all prior data before commencing the cloning process!
When cloning a device under normal circumstances, the disk cloning software in-use will most likely streamline the process by automatically detecting and omitting any bad sectors or free disk space form from the source disk during the cloning process. This optimised running mode (which is usually the default cloning mode) will often result in a quicker operation whilst importantly still ensuring that all in-use data is copied across to the new device!
If it is the case that bad hard disk sectors or any existing free space are also to be copied across (1:1) to the new disk (e.g., for additional data security or forensic examination work) then disk cloning software supporting sector-by-sector copying should be used and the sector-by-sector option specified before cloning commences!
No, disk cloning software will automatically adjust a cloned image to make use of any larger target hard disks when asked to do so (something which is usually done by default and, if turned off, will simply leave any free space on the target disk unallocated). Cloning from a larger hard disk to a smaller one is possible, however, the part of the disk in-use (actually containing the data) must be smaller than the total size of the smaller (newer) disk for this approach to work!
My Favourite Free Disk Cloning Software
Hopefully, by this point in this guide, you will understand a little better the reasons for using disk cloning software and the benefits it can bring as a PC user. As was mentioned a little earlier on, Windows 10 (or any other recent version of Windows) will not include any disk cloning software by default, this means if you are looking to clone a Windows system then you must obtain such software from a third-party developer, some of which as are listed below.
As always, be sure to check the details of each disk cloning 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 any given solution works for you and your own needs before making any purchases!
1) EaseUS Partition Master Free
Partition Master is an impressive (and 100% free to use) disk cloning and disk management tool from highly rated software experts, EaseUS.
One of key functions of Partition Master is that it allows for the cloning of both individual partitions as well as entire disks directly across to any target disks. It also has the ability to merge, resize or move (as well as re-order) any partitions on an active disk making it a very powerful piece of free disk cloning technology which is capable of performing many commonly used disk management functions.
Other functionality included within Partition Master includes being able to automatically optimise operations for SSD disk drives (with 4K alignment support), perform file system integrity checks, change partition names and labels within Windows and even perform secure disk cleaning as and when it is required to permanently erase an entire partition or disk.
Whilst this free version of Partition Master is a very capable tool with many disk cloning features included, an upgraded version also exists in the form of Partition Master Pro. This upgraded version builds upon the free version and brings with it additional functionality including support for re-sizing dynamic volumes, converting dynamic volumes back to basic volumes, support for Windows storage spaces and tools for building advanced WinPE recovery media amongst many others!
EaseUS Partition Master Free is 100% free-to-use while EaseUS Partition Master Pro is priced from $49.95 / year with a lifetime licence (with free upgrades) available form just $69.95! More detail on both editions can be found via the official EaseUS website!
2) Macrium Reflect 8 Free
Reflect 8 Free is the latest free disk backup and cloning software from Macrium, a company with a great reputation for producing solid and reliable image-based backup software!
This free edition of Reflect 8 is actually a slightly cut-down version of the premium Macrium Reflect 8 Home edition which features more advanced disk-imaging tools, settings, backup functionality and greater disk cloning functionality overall. This free version does, however, allow for direct disk to disk cloning of active systems, the making of ad-hoc image-based backups of disks to a file, full support for SSD migrations (including 4k optimisations) plus the ability to automatically resize partitions for larger disk drives when applicable.
Also included in this free version of Reflect 8 is a very useful WinPE based recovery media builder. This means that, thanks to the ability of Reflect 8 Free to also perform disk-image backups, this free tool can also form a very useful disk image-based recovery tool in its own right with the ability to recover an otherwise un-bootable system thanks to this very useful addition.
Also available alongside this free edition is the fully featured Macrium Reflect 8 Home edition, an upgraded version which brings with it additional features including rapid delta cloning and disk-image restores, ransomware protection features, AES 256-bit encryption and support for intra-daily scheduling of automated backups amongst many other features.
Macrium Reflect 8 Free is 100% free-to-use with the upgraded Reflect 8 Home priced from just a one-off $69.95 for a perpetual licence (or $139.95 for a 4-device licence pack). More information on Reflect 8 Free and its impressive disk cloning capabilities can be found via the official Macrium website.
3) DiskGenius (Free Edition)
DiskGenius is a highly functional and free-to-use disk management utility for Windows PC users! It is a tool which, amongst many other features, provides the ability to directly clone hard disks and migrate existing systems to new SSD drives with ease!
Whilst a premium version of DiskGenius does also exist, this free version is still very powerful and features many useful disk and partition management functions alongside the core disk cloning and disk migration tools which see it feature in this guide. This means with DiskGenius Free we can split, move, resize, hide and unhide partitions, migrate entire disks to new disks (with 4K optimisation for SSD disks), create image-based backups of entire disks or partitions to a file and, via the recovery media builder, restore systems from these same disk image backups.
Other tools included in DiskGenius Free include those for securely wiping entire disk drives and partitions, tools for the verification and repair of bad sectors, the monitoring of hard drive SMART information plus the ability to convert MBR disks to GPT and vice versa amongst many others.
The upgraded version of DiskGenius, DiskGenius Standard, brings additional functionality over and above that in the free version including sector-by-sector copying, file and partition recovery tools, support for cloning dynamic disks plus the ability to convert dynamic disks back to basic disks amongst other additional features.
DiskGenius Free is 100% free-to-use with the upgraded DiskGenius Standard version priced from $69.90 with free lifetime upgrades included. More information on all DiskGenius software can be found via the official DiskGenius website.
4) MiniTool Partition Wizard Free
MiniTool Partition Wizard is a comprehensive disk partition management tool for Windows which, as with all of the tools in this post, contains many great disk cloning capabilities and is 100% free to use!
Partition Wizard allows both full disks and individual partitions to be cloned as well as the resizing, reordering, creating, merging, formatting and splitting of partitions on the disk as might be necessary. Unfortunately, as of this latest version, MiniTool have set some restrictions on the free version meaning an active system disk cannot be copied nor can such active system disks be migrated directly to SSD drives or converted from MBR to GPT along with a few other restrictions.
Also available in addition this limited free edition is MiniTool Partition Assistant Pro, an upgraded version of the application with many additional features included making for a fully-functional disk cloning and disk management tool. Additions which can be found in the Pro version include support for cloning active system disks and migrating directly to SSD drives (with 4K alignment support), full support for managing dynamic disks, WinPE recovery tools, the ability to convert from NTFS to FAT plus many more disk management tools making for a big upgrade from the free to use version!
MiniTool Partition Wizard is 100% free-to-use with the upgraded Partition Wizard Pro being priced from just $59 / year or from $159 for a perpetual licence with free lifetime upgrades included. More information on both the Free and Pro versions of MiniTool Partition Assistant can be found via the official MiniTool website.
5) AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard
AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard is a powerful disk cloning and disk management utility which is 100% free-to-use!
Featuring many useful disk management utilities built-in to the app itself, Partition Assistant allows for the cloning of disk drives alongside functionality for resizing, merging, splitting and formatting of partitions plus other tools for checking partitions and performing disk surface tests which might also be required during the disk cloning process. Partition Assistant also contains many other useful assistive tools including partial use of the disk cloning wizard, use of the PC Cleaner tool, the ability to convert between MBR and GPT plus the ability to convert between FAT32 and NTFS volumes amongst many other free-to-use features.
Also available alongside this free version is the upgraded Partition Assistant Professional edition. This upgraded version builds upon the free-to-use edition bringing many new features including support for directly migrating active operating system disks between disk types e.g., cloning and converting MBR disks to GPT disks), secure SSD erasure tools, full use of the partition wizard migration software and use of the bootable recovery media tools amongst many other premium additions!
AOMEI Partition Assistant is 100% free-to-use with the upgraded Partition Assistant Professional priced from just $39.95 / year or a one-off $69.95 with free lifetime upgrades included. More information on both editions can be found via the official AOMEI website!
6) DriveImage XML
DriveImage XML is a powerful yet free to use disk cloning solution for Windows. It is noticeably very lightweight and can be configured for both direct disk to disk cloning as well as the creation of image-based backups of hard disks to file.
What makes DriveImage XML a great option for the cloning of disks is that it offers Windows PC users the ability to directly clone between two disks as well as take advantage of disk image-based backups which see an image file of any source disks created and then saved for future use (image files which can then be used to recover onto new disks at a later date). DriveImage XML also makes use of image compression to maximise storage space alongside VSS technology for backing-up any disks which might currently be in-use at the time of operation, it also has full support for adjusting and resizing partitions during the cloning process as and when necessary to do so.
DriveImage XML is 100% free for non-commercial use and can be downloaded via the official DriveImage XML website. A commercial version of the software is also available for business users.
7) Clonezilla Live CD
Clonezilla is an open-source disk imaging and disk cloning application which is 100% free to use and (unlike most other disk cloning software) runs exclusively from a live CD or Live USB flash drive!
Clonezilla has many applications including that of cloning a physical hard disk to a secondary disk, making an image-based backup of an entire disk drive or partition to a file and is also useful in deploying new PC hardware thanks to advanced options including network and server deployment options.
Additional functionality which helps make Clonezilla a great choice includes support for applying AES 256-bit encryption plus support for using many different filesystems (including NTFS, ext2, ext3, ext4, FAT32 plus various MacOS options) amongst other features.
Clonezilla is 100% free to use and can be downloaded via the official Clonezilla website!
Free disk cloning software has continued to evolve in recent years and the top available selections are now supporting many basic disk cloning operations, system, disk and partition backups alongside some more advanced migration options including generally very good support for migration to newer and faster SSD drives!
Many software developers providing these free-to-use disk cloning titles also supplement their offerings with upgraded versions featuring more advanced disk cloning functionality alongside other more advanced disk and partition management tools and image-based backup tools amongst other things! As always, it is often best to try out free-to-use versions of such disk cloning software before considering a premium upgrade considering the range of features on offer!