What is Disk Cloning Software?
Disk Cloning software is specialist PC software used to create an exact (1:1) copy of a computer’s hard drive and then move it across to a secondary (often bigger or faster) hard drive. Making an exact copy of the disk means that the operating system, any installed applications plus all existing user data are also copied to the new hard drive in the process.
Such disk cloning software is especially useful when adding new hard disks to an existing PC, for example, when adding a larger or faster hard disk or SSD drive to an existing PC, the existing drive contents can be copied over to the new drive exactly as they are. This means that the existing system will continue to work exactly as it did before on the old hard disk (but with more disk space or a faster SSD drive now in-use).
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 to its default state ready for resale.
Does Cloning a Hard Drive also Copy Programs?
Yes, this ability to also copy applications already installed upon the system is one of the main reasons disk cloning software is so useful, but lets consider a common example. 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 must also be re-installed. This process is often time consuming and potentially costly if the installation media for the software is unavailable, often resulting in a re-purchasing of the application in question.
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 the new PC with very little fuss.
Does Windows 10 Have Built-in Disk Cloning Software?
No, Windows 10 does not currently contain any built-in disk cloning software as of time of writing in April 2022. This means if you do wish to clone a hard drive containing a Windows system 10 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 some reviews of my favourite free disk cloning software titles! This means when you are ready to clone your existing hard disk, you can do so at very little or zero cost should you need to.
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 as well? These terms are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably when in fact they do both perform slightly different functions, these functions are explained in more detail below:
Disk Cloning is the process of making an exact (1:1) copy of a physical hard disk and moving it over to a secondary physical hard disk (often a newer, larger or faster drive). During this cloning process the operating system, and installed software plus all user data is moved directly from the source disk to the target disk and not stored on any other media during the process.
Disk Imaging technology is often incorporated into many backup software titles and is used to make an image based backup of a PCs hard disk into a single file (which is then stored upon the storage medium used by the backup software). In other words, the entire disk is copied, compressed, stored within a single file (or a series of smaller files) and then stored somewhere on another disk as part of making a backup set.
Full System Imaging:
Sometimes you might see backup software advertising the fact it can make full system image backups! Basically put, in the case where a PC might be made up of more than one hard disk, the backup software will then be able to automatically create images of all connected disks as a part of the same backup set (i.e. capturing the entire system in the backup set).
NB – I think the confusion between disk cloning and disk imaging 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 longer than it otherwise needs to be).
For example, if I created an image backup of my entire hard disk using disk imaging backup software and then changed my hard disk for a new one. Once the new disk is installed into my system I could then recover the entire disk using the image backup I took earlier on (assuming I had some emergency boot software to boot the system into beforehand and perform the recovery). This would have the same net result as simply cloning the existing 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 its original (cloned) state I could then simply clone the secondary disk back onto my primary disk.
Of course, both of these methods would work but it is often simpler to stick to image based backups and direct (disk to disk) cloning for their intended purposes.
Can I Clone Windows 10 to an SSD Disk?
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 faster system!
Our Favourite, Free Disk Cloning Software
Hopefully by this point 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.
At BestBackupReviews.com I have reviewed many different types of backup software and disk cloning utilities and below are some of my favourite free disk cloning tools to make this task as quick and simple as is possible!
1. EaseUS Partition Master Free
Partition Master is a very impressive (and 100% free to use) disk cloning and disk management tool from highly rated software experts, EaseUS.
Partition Master allows for the cloning of both individual partitions as well as entire disks, it also has the ability to merge, resize or move (re-order) partitions on a disk making it a very powerful piece of free disk cloning technology!
Other functionality includes being able to automatically optimise operations for SSD disk drives (4K alignment), perform file system integrity checks, change partition names and labels and perform secure disk cleaning when it is required to permanently erase an entire partition or disk.
EaseUS Partition Master can be downloaded via the official EaseUS website for free by clicking here!
2. MiniTool Partition Wizard Free
MiniTool Partition Wizard is a specialist disk cloning and disk partition management tool for Windows which, as with all of the tools in this post, 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 is necessary. Partition Wizard also provides full support for migrating to and from SSD disk drives (with 4K alignment support) alongside specialist tools which allow checking for and repairing any file system errors and bad disk sectors amongst many other things.
This means with Partition Wizard Free you can clone your existing hard disk to a new device for free and in doing so the application will automatically resize, optimize and (if necessary) also allow for cloning to an SSD target drive. Overall, a great free disk cloning option which ran flawlessly during my testing! You can download MiniTool Partition Assistant Free via the official MiniTool website by clicking here!
3. AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard
AOMEI is a highly rated software developer producing some great PC backup and utility software, this includes AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard which is a very powerful and 100% free to use disk cloning and management utility!
Featuring many useful disk cloning and management utilities, Partition Assistant allows for the cloning of disk drives (including automatic optimisation for SSD drives) plus the resizing, merging, splitting and formatting of partitions which might also be required during the cloning process.
Partition Assistant also contains many other useful disk management and security related tools including the ability to securely delete partitions and wipe clean drives, the ability to create and format new partitions plus the ability to create bootable recovery disks for helping to restore a problematic or un-bootable system.
AOMEI Partition Assistant is 100% free to use and can be downloaded via the official AOMEI website, a professional version with enhanced disk cloning functionality is also available!
4. Macrium Reflect 7 (Free Edition)
Reflect 7 (Free Edition) is the latest in free disk cloning software from Macrium, a company with a great reputation for producing solid and reliable disk cloning and image backup software!
This free edition of the tool is a slightly cut-down version of the premium Macrium Reflect 7 Home version which features more tools, settings and greater disk cloning functionality overall. This free version does, however, allow for direct disk to disk cloning, the making of ad-hoc image based backups of disks to a file plus automatically resizing partitions for larger drives and optimising for SSD drives when applicable.
Also included in this free version is a WinPE based recovery media builder, this means thanks to the ability of Reflect 7 Free to also make image file backups of disks, this free tool can also form a useful image backup tool in its own right with the ability to recover an otherwise un-bootable system.
Macrium Reflect 7 (Free Edition) is 100% free to use and can be downloaded via the official Macrium website. A premium version of the software (Macrium Reflect Home) with enhanced functionality is also available.
5. DiskGenius (Free Edition)
DiskGenius is a highly functional disk management utility for Windows PC users, one 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 also exists, this free version is sill 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 backup 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 easily wiping entire disks and partitions, those for the verification and repair of bad sectors, the monitoring of hard drive SMART information and the ability to convert MBR disks to GPT and visa versa amongst many others.
DiskGenius Free is 100% free to use and can be downloaded via the official DiskGenius website. A premium version of the tool with enhanced functionality also exists.
6. DriveImage XML (Free)
DriveImage XML is a free to use disk cloning tool 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 cloning of disks is that it offers Windows PC users the ability to directly clone between two disks as well as take advantage of 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 in-use disks, 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 use.
7. CloneZilla LiveCD (Free)
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 backup of an entire disk or partition to a file and is also useful in deploying new PC hardware thanks to the advanced options including networking and server options.
Clonezilla is 100% free to use and can be downloaded via the official Clonezilla website!