In this specialist guide (now fully updated for 2023), I will be looking at some of the best free disk cloning software titles currently available as of today.
Whilst several high-profile backup software titles now include both disk cloning tools as well as components for making full disk image backups (which can be used both for making full image-based backups of disks plus the restoring of data to new disks), many such titles are usually only available as a premium purchase or on a subscription basis.
This guide therefore focuses on the full array of free to use disk cloning titles which are available for use and, in many cases, equally capable of performing disk cloning operations to a very high, safe and reliable standard.
In addition to this list of free to use disk cloning titles, I will also be focusing on some of the key concepts of disk cloning software to look out for in general. This includes how to make best use of such cloning software before also answering some key questions relating to the disk cloning process, in general, along the way as well – Vamos!
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 disk or SSD drive. Making an exact copy of a disk means that all existing data which is stored on the original (or source) hard drive including the operating system, any installed applications, system settings plus all existing user data is also copied across to the new disk during the cloning process.
Top 5 free disk cloning choices:
Below is a quick look at the top 5 choices mentioned in this guide, scroll down further for the full and detailed list of free disk cloning software titles.
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 entire contents of the existing drive 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 now available or a faster SSD drive now in-place to help improve overall 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 across to new or otherwise different hardware. In such cases, the use of disk cloning technology with support for restoring to dissimilar hardware might be required (and this topic will be discussed in more detail further down in this guide).
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 newer (and faster) SSD drive, the re-provisioning of a PC with a clean installation of Windows within a business environment and the returning of a PC back to its default (factory) state ready for resale or recycling.
Does Cloning a Hard Disk also Copy Applications?
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 commonly seen example to get more details on how this process might actually work.
One of the biggest problems with acquiring a brand-new PC is that all user data must be migrated across from an older, existing PC and then any Windows applications which are currently in-use must also then be re-installed, re-licenced and reconfigured. This process is often very 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 even more time and adding even more cost to a system migration.
With specialist disk cloning software available, as we have already discovered, the entire system as it currently stands (including the operating system, all user data plus any installed software) can all be copied across 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 otherwise different device is that any 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 disk 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 will be temporarily used) or simply allow for these drivers to be replaced (either automatically or manually) prior to the cloning 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 a process 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 is complete.
If you are using Microsoft Windows then this will often mean simply uninstalling any drives (using the built-in Windows Device Manager tool or a third-party alternative) and then performing the disk 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 suitable free disk cloning software, you might have also noticed the terms “disk imaging” or “system imaging” are 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 across 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 system settings are also moved directly from the original (source) hard disk across to the new (target) disk and no data is 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 instead (usually on a secondary hard disk or SSD drive)!
Disk Imaging technology is often incorporated into many modern backup software titles and can be 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 for safe keeping). In other words, the entire disk itself 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 finally 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 or SSD drive has the same net effect as simply cloning the two devices directly (albeit a less efficient solution than using direct disk-to-disk cloning software)!
Full System Imaging:
Sometimes you might see backup software titles advertising the fact that they can make full system image backups amongst various other backup related features. 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 system within the same backup set (i.e., capturing the entire system in a single backup set regardless of how many disks are in use).
NB – Personally speaking, 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 using software which supports direct drive-to-drive cloning).
For example, if I had created an image-based backup of my entire hard drive using disk imaging capable backup software and then swapped out my existing hard disk for a new one, I could then recover the entire (old) disk onto the new disk using the image backup I took earlier on (assuming I had some bootable recovery media 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 directly in order to keep said disk 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 this secondary disk (the “back-up disk”) back onto my primary disk using some disk cloning software. This is potentially a very useful option to have 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 backup to be kept.
NB – Of course, both of these aforementioned methods would work fine, but it is in my opinion 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!
What Happened to Macrium Reflect Free?
For many years a free to use edition of Macrium Reflect has been made available and this was widely recognised as one of the best free disk cloning applications available on the market. As a result of this, you might be wondering why this software is no longer featured on the below list of free to use disk cloning software titles?
Unfortunately, as of early 2023, the decision has been made to discontinue making Macrium Reflect Free available for download and instead only the premium edition of the software (currently this is Macrium Reflect Home 8) is on offer form the developers. Whilst I certainly hope Macrium eventually do decide to reverse this decision and make a free to use edition of Reflect available again (it really was an excellent tool), anyone seeking the Reflect disk cloning capabilities will, unfortunately, have to purchase the premium edition of the software as of right now (this is currently Macrium Reflect Home version 8).
Considerations when Cloning to NVMe Drives
The cloning of conventional hard disks and SATA based SSD drives to the newer style NVMe based drives is in many cases a relatively straightforward process, however, there are still some potential issues which could arise during such a process. Such NVMe cloning related issues could be caused by a variety of factors including the type of disk cloning software being used not properly supporting NVMe hardware, NVMe drivers being different to more the conventionally used SATA drivers plus the configuration of the operating system which is being cloned amongst various other elated factors.
One of the most common problems encountered after cloning mechanical or SATA based SSD disks across to NVMe drives is boot failure when attempting to boot from the newly cloned NVMe disk. Such failures can happen for a number of reasons, but one of the most common is that the NVMe SSD is not configured to be the default boot drive after the cloning process has completed (this can be easily fixed by changing the boot order of attached disks in the system BIOS or UEFI settings).
NB – In addition to configuring the BIOS or UEFI settings after a NVMe disk cloning operation has completed, I would always advise physically removing (and keeping safe) the source disk which has been cloned from so as to ensure the cloning process has definitely worked correctly and that the new NVMe drive is indeed actually the drive currently in use.
Another common problem when cloning to newer style NVMe drives is that of driver incompatibility arising after the cloning process has completed. NVMe drives use a different driver than the more traditional and commonly encountered SATA based drives which they are rapidly replacing in many modern PC systems and, if the correct driver is not installed, the operating system itself might not be able to recognize the new NVMe drive after the cloning process has completed.
NB – Whilst this issue can usually be fixed by simply installing the latest NVMe driver from the manufacturer’s website, users of modern Windows systems will most likely find the operating system itself can temporarily make use of generic NVMe drives before the system then automatically downloads and installs the correct NVMe drives a little later on.
Another issue to be aware of when cloning to NVMe disks is that of 4K sector size related issues which can arise when cloning from older SATA based disks and SSD drives to the newer style NVMe based SSD drives which are becoming much more popular in recent years.
Such sector size issues can be become very problematic due to newer NVMe drives often using a different sector size than is used by the more traditional SATA drives they are replacing typically use. This means that whilst a sector size of 4096 bytes is typically used for newer style NVMe drives, older style SATA disks from which such NVMe drives are often cloned from will often make use of 512-byte sectors meaning problems will occur if the cloning software in use is not designed to handle such issues properly.
As with many of the other commonly encountered disk cloning issues, any issues pertaining to cloning data from older style SATA disk drives to newer style NVMe drives (and, in particular, the 4K sector size issue just discussed) can effectively be mitigated via the use of modern and professionally built free disk cloning software, several titles of which are listed towards the end of this very guide.
Disk Cloning FAQs
No, Windows 10 does not currently contain any built-in disk cloning software as of the time of last updating this guide in September 2023. This means if you do wish to clone a hard drive containing a Windows 10 operating system then some 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 where I have collated together some reviews of my favourite free disk cloning software titles. This means when you are ready to clone your existing hard disk containing a Windows 10 system, 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) and provides full support for such hardware!
SSD disk drives have become very popular in recent years due to the increased operating speed they provide as well as the continuously deceasing costs and larger capacities as the technology itself becomes ever more advanced. If you are currently running Windows 10 on an older style mechanical hard disk then I would strongly recommend looking into an SSD upgrade as soon as possible to help in obtaining a much smoother and faster Windows 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 an existing system 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 this image to a secondary disk will provide the same net result as direct disk-to-disk cloning would have done!
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 a cloning operation then be sure to either remove the old hard drive before re-booting your system onto the new disk or, alternatively, using your motherboard’s BIOS or UEFI settings, change the device boot order so as to ensure the new disk will be booted from first.
NB – It can be easy to forget to change the boot order after a disk cloning operation has taken place and this means there is a risk you could end up booting to the original (old) disk. Being this the case, I would always recommend physically removing the old disk drive after a cloning operation has been completed (when feasible to do so) to help reduce the risk of this issue occurring!
Yes, cloning a disk drive copies across all data on a 1:1 basis!
This means everything on an existing disk drive, including the operating system, all installed software applications, user documents plus any system configuration settings will also be copied across to the new disk during the cloning process as well.
In most circumstances there is usually no requirement nor benefits in wiping a hard disk before cloning an existing disk drive across to it.
One possible exception to this rule is when the newly cloned disk is to then potentially be passed on to another person, recycled or otherwise sold. in such cases it might be wise to perform a secure wiping of the drive and all data upon it prior to commencing the disk cloning process.
NB – Cloning the contents of one disk drive onto another will not guarantee that all data on the target drive is erased during the process (specialist disk wiping software must still be used to guarantee such a result)!
When cloning a device under normal circumstances, the disk cloning software in-use will most likely streamline the cloning 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 important data is copied across to the new device.
If it is the case that any bad hard disk sectors or any existing free space are also to be copied across (1:1) to the new disk (e.g., this could be for additional data security purposes or forensic examination work) then disk cloning software supporting sector-by-sector copying should be used and the sector-by-sector option specified before disk 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 a larger target disk unallocated).
Cloning from a larger hard disk to a smaller disk is also possible, however, the part of the disk which is in-use (i.e., actually containing data) must be smaller than the total size of the smaller (newer) disk being cloned to for this approach to be successful.
My Favourite Free Disk Cloning Software
Hopefully, by this point in this guide, you will understand a little better the reasons for using specialist 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 dedicated disk cloning software by default, this means if you are looking to clone a Windows system to a new disk or SSD drive then you must first 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 free disk cloning solution listed below very carefully before using and if you are planning to make any purchases or upgrades, always try to take advantage of any free trials whenever possible to make sure any given solution works for you and your own needs beforehand.
1) EaseUS Partition Master Free
Partition Master is an impressive (and 100% free to use) disk cloning and disk management application 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 disk drives directly across to any new target disks. It also has the ability to merge, resize or move (as well as re-order) any partitions found 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 as well.
Other functionality included within Partition Master includes the software being able to automatically optimise cloning operations for SSD disk drives (with 4K alignment support built-in), perform file system integrity checks, change partition names and labels within Windows systems and even perform secure disk cleaning when required to securely erase an entire partition or disk.
Whilst this free edition 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 edition builds upon the free offering 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 includes tools for building advanced WinPE recovery media amongst many other included additions.
EaseUS Partition Master Free is 100% free-to-use whilst EaseUS Partition Master Pro is priced from just $39.95 / year with a lifetime licence (with free upgrades) also available from just $79.95. More information on both editions of Partition Master can be found via the official EaseUS website.
2) AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard
AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard is a powerful disk cloning and disk management utility which is also 100% free-to-use.
Featuring many useful disk management utilities which are built-in to the software itself, Partition Assistant allows for the direct cloning of disk drives alongside additional functionality for resizing, merging, splitting and formatting of partitions plus additional 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 disks plus the ability to convert between FAT32 and NTFS volumes amongst many other free-to-use features.
Also available alongside this free edition of Partition Assistant is the upgraded edition of the tool, Partition Assistant Professional. This upgraded edition builds upon the free-to-use offering and brings with it many additional 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 plus 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 edition priced from just $49.95 / year or a one-off price of just $69.95 for the lifetime licence with free lifetime upgrades also included. More information on both editions of Partition Assistant can be found via the official AOMEI 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 the many other disk related features and functions, provides the ability to directly clone hard disks and migrate existing systems to new disks or SSD drives with ease.
Whilst a premium edition 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 supported), create image-based backups of entire disks and partitions to a file and, via the bootable recovery media, restore systems from these same disk image backups.
Other tools included in DiskGenius Free include those for securely wiping entire disk drives, partitions and SSDs, 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 other included features.
The upgraded premium edition of DiskGenius, DiskGenius Standard, brings additional functionality over and above that in the free version including sector-by-sector cloning, file and partition recovery tools, support for cloning dynamic disks plus the ability to convert dynamic disks back to basic disks amongst various other additional features.
DiskGenius Free is 100% free-to-use with the upgraded DiskGenius Standard edition priced from just $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 and partition management tool for Windows systems which, as with all of the software featured in this guide, contains many great disk cloning capabilities and is also 100% free to use.
Partition Wizard allows both full disks and individual partitions to be cloned to new hardware as well as the resizing, reordering, creating, merging, formatting and splitting of any partitions on the disk as might be necessary as well. Unfortunately, as of this latest version of the tool, 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 in this free edition.
Also available in addition to this limited free edition of the software is MiniTool Partition Assistant Pro, an upgraded edition 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 edition 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 edition.
MiniTool Partition Wizard is 100% free-to-use with the upgraded Partition Wizard Pro option being priced from just $59 / year or from $159 for a perpetual licence with free lifetime upgrades also included. More information on both the Free and Pro versions of MiniTool Partition Assistant can be found via the official MiniTool website.
5) DriveImage XML
DriveImage XML is a powerful yet free to use disk cloning solution for Windows PC users. It is noticeably a very lightweight and streamlined application and can be configured for both direct disk to disk cloning as well as the creation of image-based backups of hard disks to a 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 being able to take advantage of disk image-based backups which see an image file of any source disks created which can then be saved for future use (image files which can then also be used to recover onto new disks at a later date).
DriveImage XML also makes use of strong disk image compression technology to maximise any storage space in use alongside VSS (hot copy) technology for backing-up any disks which might currently be in-use on an active system at the time of the cloning operation. DriveImage XML also provides full support for adjusting and resizing disk partitions during the cloning process as and when necessary to do so.
DriveImage XML is provided 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 orientated and commercial users.
6) Clonezilla Live CD
Clonezilla is an open-source disk imaging and disk cloning application which is both 100% free to use and (unlike most other disk cloning software) runs exclusively from a live CD or Live USB flash drive making it a versatile option.
Clonezilla has many applications including that of cloning a physical hard disk or SSD drive to a secondary disk, making an image-based backup of an entire disk drive or partition which can then be saved to a file and is also useful in deploying new PC hardware thanks to many advanced options including network and server-based deployment options.
Additional functionality which helps make to Clonezilla a great disk cloning and disk imaging choice includes support for applying AES 256-bit encryption to any resultant image files plus the support for using many different filesystems (including NTFS, ext2, ext3, ext4, FAT32 plus various MacOS options) amongst various other related features.
The Clonezilla software is 100% free to use and open-source software and can be downloaded via the official Clonezilla website.
Best Free Disk Cloning Software Summary
Free disk cloning software has continued to evolve in recent years and some of the top selections now support performing many basic disk cloning operations. In addition to performing basic disk cloning tasks, such titles also provide the ability to make system, disk and partition image-based backups alongside some more advanced disk to disk migration options including generally very good support for migration to newer and faster SSD drives across the board.
Many of the software developers providing these free-to-use disk cloning titles also supplement their offerings with upgraded premium editions featuring even more advanced disk cloning functionality alongside other more advanced disk and partition management tools and image-based backup support amongst other additions. Whilst a premium edition of a disk cloning solution is not strictly required to perform a basic cloning operation between two disks (as this guide hopefully shows), such premium software is always worth considering if you believe your disk cloning requirements will grow or become more advanced over time.
As always, it is often best to try out these free-to-use versions of such disk cloning software before considering a premium upgrade considering the great range of features and functions on offer form such free to use software.
Are you looking for practical help and advice in selecting the best disk cloning software? If so, then be sure to check out our full range of disk cloning software reviews as well as our guides to the Best Free Disk Cloning Software and the Best SSD Migration Software amongst various other guides on this site!