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How To Backup and Resurrect a Dead or Dying System Disk With Clonezilla

clonezilla

March 31st, 2011 is “World Backup Day”—celebrate it by using free software Clonezilla to clone an exact copy of your OS system disk, regardless if you use Windows, Mac OS, or Linux!

In the event of tragic hardware failure, a backup image or completely cloned disk can save you from loads of worry, and get you back on your feet effortlessly. Get in the spirit of the day—keep reading to see how to resurrect that machine with bootable copy of your OS.

What You’ll Need to Clone Your Disk

DSC_0001 A copy of Clonezilla Live CD or a CD-R to burn it on. If you find CD-Rs old fashioned, you can also put the Live Environment on a USB flash drive.
You can go directly and download Clonezilla now, or jump ahead to the directions for which version to download and burn.
If you’ve ever heard of Norton Ghost, Clonezilla is an excellent, feature rich alternative available for free download. Clonezilla can copy data, partitions, bootloaders, and system information—creating a copy so accurate your computer won’t know the cloned disk from the original.
DSC_0013 A spare internal hard disk to clone your existing system disk on. One of Clonezilla’s listed “Limitations” is that the target disk must be equal size or larger than the source, so make sure that the drive (or partition) you’re cloning is smaller than the drive you’re cloning it to.
Make sure your spare disk is one you can install in your computer before cloning, or you’ll find yourself cloning it again and again, which can be time consuming.
Don’t bother formatting the drive, either, as Clonezilla will retain the formats and partitions of any drive you clone.
DSC_0041 An external USB hard drive enclosure to use to write your disk clone to. You can work from one internally installed drive to another, but this involves a lot opening up your machine and installing a second drive, when a USB enclosure does it in seconds.
(Author’s note: USB HDD enclosures have saved me from more that one mishap, including one with a drive that only started up one time out of twenty. The enclosure made it much easier to restart, restart, restart and then clone the disk. I would recommend every geek own one!)

In addition to this, you’ll need a working PC capable of booting from your optical (DVD & CD) drive, and your system disk will have to be capable of running at least long enough to clone your data. It is possible to clone disks with bad sectors or problems starting up—but healthy disks are the best ones to work with and clone, so ensure you have a backup before it is too late.

Download Clonezilla Live

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Clonezilla.org is the home to the Clonezilla project, where you can learn a bit about it, or simply download it. For most HTG readers, you can expect to use a x86 Live CD to clone, image, or restore your system disk. This will work with all Intel Macs, and likely any machine running Windows, and many distros of Linux.

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As stated above, download the Clonezilla Live CD. If you navigate to Clonezilla.org, you’ll find there are a lot of options to sort through.

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We’ll be using the ISO version of the Live CD…

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As well as the latest stable release. Cut out the middleman, and download the x86 Live CD Stable Release ISO of Clonezilla by going here.

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Once your ISO file is done downloading, the simplest thing to do is to burn it to a CD-R. One great program for burning ISO files is ImgBurn, although many other exist, including a solution built into Windows 7, if you happen to be running it.

Boot The Clonezilla Live CD

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Many computers will automatically boot from a bootable CD like the Clonezilla Live Disc. However, if you have trouble booting from a CD, you’ll have to change your boot order in your BIOS, most of which can be reached by pressing Tab, Delete, or F8 immediately as you hear the machine beeps or chimes to let you know it is turning on.

Intel Mac users can boot from a CD by holding down the “C” key or the Alt/Option key on the keyboard immediately after you hear the trademark Mac startup noise.

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Clonezilla should boot up on nearly any PC without a hitch. Default settings on most screens will work for most readers, like this one, which requests which environment to boot. Press enter at the default choice to load Clonezilla in an 800 x 600 pixel environment.

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Assuming you’re reading this, you can select the default language of English.

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Again, choosing the default of “Don’t Touch Keymap” will suffice. If you want to pick your keyboard, do so, but Clonezilla mostly uses the Enter and Arrow keys.

Start Clonezilla, and Start Cloning

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Clonezilla gives you the opportunity to use the command prompt to clone or image your disks, although we’ll consider that an option for expert users. Press enter to begin using Clonezilla.

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This is the major branch within the program. Do you want to create an image file to restore multiple copies of later, or simply clone a system disk to another hard drive to begin using immediately?

Here’s a breakdown of the two methods, and how to navigate through the prompts in Clonezilla to do them:

Create a Backup Image of Your System Disk Create a Perfect Copy of Your System Disk
  1. 1. Device-image
  2. 2. Local-dev
  3. 3. Select “home/partimg”
  4. 4. Beginner Mode
  5. 5. Save Disk/Save Parts
  6. 6. Select Source
  7. 7. Check Image on completion?
  8. 8. Create Image!
  1. 1. Device-device
  2. 2. Beginner Mode
  3. 3. Disk to Local Disk
  4. 4. Select Source
  5. 5. Select Destination
  6. 6. Clone Device!
Notes: When you reach #2, you’re selecting to use a local device, like your internal disk or a USB drive. Clonezilla supports cloning drives over network, or LAN, as well. #3 is where you select the destination of your image file—both on what device, which partition, and what folder, assuming it is formatted and can be written to. #5 allows you to choose to use an entire disk or partitions within the disk. You call which one to do there. When you get to #6, you’ll choose which drive you want to create an image of, and #7 allows you to decide if you want to verify your image once it has been written. Notes: Device to device copy is easier for beginners, and is covered with screenshots in this how-to. We’ll be working exclusively with local disks (#3) with the option to clone single partitions, then  carefully going over picking our Source and destination drives.

Refer back to this chart to help demystify Clonezilla as you navigate through its options and menus, particularly if you choose to create image files over cloning your entire disk.

Local Device to Local Device Cloning

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Select “Device-device” to clone one drive onto another and not work with images. This will allow you to create a perfect clone of your system disk on a USB disk—but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Beginner mode is fine for almost all purposes. There is no need to venture into “Expert Mode” territory unless you’re feeling brave (or already know what you’re doing).

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Here you can elect to use local disks (drives hooked into your machine, either internally or via USB) or remote disks (LAN or SSH drives, for more advanced users). If you wish to only clone partitions, you can also do that here with the two “Part to Part” options. For our purposes, we’ll use “Disk to Local Disk.”

(Author’s Note: If you’re not familiar with Linux or OS X’s more elaborate partitions, you probably shouldn’t clone just one of them. You may end up missing a key partition or a swap your OS might be looking for. To be safe, clone your entire disk, unless you’re absolutely certain you know what you’re doing!)

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If you have many drives installed, including your USB drive, you may have trouble locating your source drive. This is the drive you want to clone, so make sure you pick it out correctly. Keep in mind that Clonezilla is based on GNU/Linux, so its drive naming structures may be unfamiliar to those of us that aren’t Linux users. (In other words, don’t go looking for your C:/ drive!)

Likely you’ll have to rely on the size and brand name of your hard disk. In the example above, this PC’s system disk was a 300GB Samsung disk, which Clonezilla identifies as sda. Pick the disk that you want to clone, and press enter.

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The second choice is your destination, or target disk. On this PC, the choice was obvious, because the drive was 10x larger, and connected by USB. Depending on how you’ve got your drives connected, it may be more or less obvious. Simply keep in mind you choose the source first, then the destination.

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With your Source and Destination drives sorted out, Clonezilla has enough information from you to clone your disk. Clonezilla will expect you to press Enter to continue and then print a lot of information to the screen.

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You’ll be given two opportunities to stop it from writing to your destination disk if you think you’ve chosen the wrong one. You should see the information listed above the Y/N prompt for the drive you’re writing your clone to, so double check it and hit Y for yes.

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Here, you’re given the opportunity to clone the boot loader, which boots your operating system. If you’re plan to ever replace your system drive with this new one, you won’t want to deal with setting up a bootloader, so clone your existing one by selecting y for yes.

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You’re given one final opportunity to back out before your target disk is formatted and written to, erasing all data on it and replacing it with a clone of your system drive. Y for yes to continue!

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And Clonezilla begins to work its magic.

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And continues.

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And still continues. Don’t expect it to happen quickly, as creating a perfect clone of your operating system and all your partitions can take quite a long time, particularly over USB speeds. Be prepared to walk away, and come back after an hour, or two or three, depending on the size of your drive.

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Once your cloning is complete, you can expect more “Enter to Continue” prompts. From there, you can restart Clonezilla for more cloning action, or power down, or reboot.

Booting Up Your New (Old) Machine

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Excited to test your clone? Install your new system disk, and set your BIOS to use it as your primary master drive. If everything has gone without a hitch, your computer (at least your operating system) won’t even realize it has a different disk inside it. You may find a big grin on your face—even the most minor details have been cloned, like this bootloader looking for the “Earlier Version of Windows.”

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And your Operating System, be it Linux, OS X, or Windows, will load like normal, without any issues. Again, this is providing that everything has gone smoothly and Clonezilla has been allowed to do its job correctly. So congrats! You’ve created a perfect backup of your system disk to keep for a rainy day—or a day when your hard drive breaks. All of your programs, personalizations, and installs will be complete—it’s almost too good to be true!

So happy World Backup Day, everyone, and keep your data safe!


Image Credits: Computers_0046 by XLShadow, available under Creative Commons. Computer Image by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL), available under Creative Commons. BIOS/UEFI Image By Yatri Trivedi, used without permission, assumed to be outright theft. All other images by the author.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 03/31/11

Comments (33)

  1. Matt

    If you would do this would you be able to plug the usb in and have the BIOS boot from the usb?

  2. Eric Z Goodnight

    That’s a good question. Seems like you *should* be able to, but it depends if your computer is capable of booting from USB. That’s the first hurdle.

    But best case scenario you should replace the HDD with one as similar to your original drive as possible–i.e. hook up a SATA disk if your original was SATA. Although switching from IDE to SATA seems like no problem if your computer is capable of both.

  3. Matt

    Thanks for the answer!!

  4. icedmoon

    I have this one to backup my whole disk…but it uses linux compress tools, makes it less friendly to windows user. it would be great if it can create ghost image.

  5. Chris

    A cool option to try if your backing up lots of computers is the FOGproject. It runs off Ubuntu and will work virtually. Its UI is browser based and I’ve even used it through a iPad.

  6. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Chris: Looks cool!

  7. Ronj

    I thought if you clone to a larger hard drive that Windows would see it as new hardware and not authenticate. Is this true or is there another step?

  8. cmcollins

    Instead of getting a hard drive enclosure, I’ve found it much easier to use a USB to IDE & Sata cable. I works on laptop hard drives or desktop and you don’t have to mess with the enclosure…just basically plug and play. As much as I’ve used mine, it’s worth it’s weight in gold. Easy to toss into a bag and take with you when you have to troubleshoot for all those “non-computer guy” people.

  9. dumpsterdivinxxx

    I’m trying to rebuild a PC that has had its COA removed. Is this a way to put an effective OS on the machine that won’t stall on WGA?

  10. Steve Stone

    Does Clonezilla copy PGP fully encoded drives?

  11. Verndog

    I’ve used Clonzilla for a few years now. Great product.

  12. mike

    clone zilla is good i’ve used it but drive snapshot (google it) is much faster, easier and better if you have a usb drive laying around…

  13. Robert

    @ronj I’ve never had a problem with authentication with changing hard drives. Usually you would only have a problem with a motherboard change or processor change. Even then a quick call to Microsoft will get you authenticated if you have a legit Windows key.

  14. alan

    aw man…the drive I want to clone is the biggest drive I own, can’t use it… :(

  15. helizond

    I just did that last week! ..but used DriveImage XML instead.

    DriveImage XML V2.22
    http://www.runtime.org/driveimage-xml.htm

    Image and Backup logical Drives and Partitions
    File Size:1.78 MB
    Price: Private Edition Free
    System Requirements: Pentium Processor – 256 MB RAM
    Windows XP, 2003, Vista, or Windows 7

    Product Highlights
    Backup logical drives and partitions to image files
    Browse images, view and extract files
    Restore images to the same or a different drive
    Copy directly from drive to drive
    Schedule automatic backups
    Run DriveImage from WinPE boot CD-ROM

    Worked wonderfully for me (and just as cmcollins, I used a USB to SATA cable)

    @alan:
    Could you make a partition that holds only the data you need and then clone it?

  16. mikebravo

    “One of Clonezilla’s listed “Limitations” is that the target disk must be equal size or larger than the source…”. OK, that applies to making the clone. Now lets say you want to keep the clone on the shelf as a backup AND install it on a new hard drive. Does the new drive have to be equal or larger than the clone drive?

  17. tsairox

    On Mac OS X, does Clonezilla allow you to do incremental backups like TimeMachine?

  18. Eric Z Goodnight

    @mikebravo: The image it makes is huge–the same size as the partition(s) you’re using as the source. If it was smaller, the large partition wouldn’t fit on the drive. That’s all that limitation means–you can image your OS to as many drives as it will fit on.

    Of course, if you clone your clone disk, and it has a partition with a ton of free space, it will back up that, and yes, you’ll need a disk that is bigger since it includes the free space. But if you’re backing up AND creating a clone, you’d be best off creating an image, then imaging a new drive. That way, your image serves as your backup, and you have a cloned drive to install.

  19. Eric Z Goodnight

    @tsairox: I’m afraid not–Clonezilla is an OS all of its own, like an Ubuntu Live CD. You’ll have to schedule backups manually.

  20. paleolith

    Clonezilla is too confusing. Why not use PING (part image is not ghost)?

    It is Linux based and like Clonezilla works from the CD for copying as well as restoration. It is not as intuitive as Macrium or Paragon but it is more user-friendly than Clonezilla.

    I have done four or five restorations on 32 bit XP systems without a hitch.

    I have not had the opportunity to test it on 64 bit systems.

  21. Zazizou

    Unable to browse the image for files. Big minus point for me. Differential/incremental backup not supported yet…

  22. Ray Ebersole

    DriveImage XML works just as well, if not better and your image can be stored on an external drive. The big plus is that you can run DriveImage XML on the HD to do the initial image while it is running, no bootable CD to do the image and you can set it as a task with command line options for up to date images.

    You can then reimage the drive or select parts from the image to restore. No need to have a drive that you have to make sure fits into the computer. Any external USB will work as storage.If the computer HD fails, just buy a new one, load UBCD4Win and run the included DriveImage XML.

    If you want a cloned drive that you can hot swap at a moments notice, just buy a drive that will work in the system, do the image like I described above, then restore to the new spare drive. You then always have a hot swappable drive on hand.

  23. Frank Cox

    Alan

    No worries with the large drive , it is a bit of work but this is how you do it.
    First compress your data and copy it to another disk or disks or dvd’s ,blue ray etc, if no disk large enough is available. Then delete it from your hard drive. I like 7zip , it is a bit slower on the highest compression than zip but it compresses your data a third to half again more and if you prefer using zip, or anything else for that matter 7zip will do those to.
    Now image the disk , there are lots of utilities to do it with though this one is fine. I use Linux so I only need a ghosting program for Windows .
    That’s it, now your operating system and your programs will fit on a much smaller disk and simply add the data back. It will save you at least an hour if you have a crash that can’t be recovered from.

    Hope this helps

  24. Frank Cox

    Ronji

    Windows does not pay much attention to hard drives , video cards , memory etc, as they are so often changed out. Motherboards are the main red flag. You should have no problem.

  25. Frank Cox

    Zazizou

    Ever heard of Google? Just kidding! There are lots of utilities for windows that will let you browse or modify image files. http://www.undisker.com/

    Alan
    There is no reason to clone the data , just compress it if you are low on space. The os and your programs are all you need to clone. Even if you have the space it seems a waist unless you know how to modify the image to annotate the data but I find it easier to just back the data separately. The best time to image or clone a drive is after a fresh install , before the data is there.

    tsairox

    If you learn how to modify images, not that hard, you can but as I said to Alan I prefer to keep the data separate and backuped in more than one place. If you add a program or 2 it is no big deal to just install them after recovery, if you add a lot of programs later just re image the disk.

    I would stay away from USB , it is tricky to get windows to boot from USb , real tricky. Simply imaging the drive will not do it. With Linux its easy but even then I would not use it to image or clone.

  26. Morely The IT Guy

    I routinely use Clonezilla to make backups of system drives where I work; it takes about 8 hours to build a system disk, what with all the various software installations, Windows and MS Office updates, and a complete defrag at the end. It only takes 2 hours to restore a disk image onto a replacement drive or new laptop over USB.

    Rather than clone disk-to-disk, however, I clone the original drive disk-to-image. This allows me to store many images on a 1 terabyte drive, and when necessary, restore image-to-disk. You still need a target drive that is the same size or larger than the original disk (e.g., if you started with a 300G system drive, you have to have at least a 300G drive to replace it when it crashes), but disk images only require space on your “backup image drive” for the actual amount of drive space used on the original, and as @icedmoon points out, the image is compressed. There are at least twenty images currently on my image drive.

    Booting Windows from USB is painful, at best. It’s easy to make a bootable Windows 7 install-from-USB stick; actually booting a usable Windows OS from USB is a completely different kettle of fish.

  27. Mr. Hindi

    I really appreciate what you guys(how to geek.com) do. And your website is the best place where I learnt a lot of easy to understand important technical stuff that I was not even thaught at school.e Keep the good work and good people will always appreciate your hard work.
    Thanks

  28. SteveO

    Macrium Reflect free edition is easier to use. I like it because it’s practically idiot-proof. You can also do backups within Windows. Has good user forums. I have used it numerous times when it really had to work. It did:

    http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.asp

  29. Christina

    This article was extremely helpful to both my dad and I. I learned a lot. I wish I had this information when I was younger… (how to geek.com) is an amazing website and is an asset to our community and world. Your work is greatly appreciated by all!!!!
    Best Regards!

    PS I am soo not a computer geek, but I even found this article really intriguing!!! :)

  30. geek

    1) Burned ISO
    2) Booted with CD
    3) Boot Failed

    Not exactly problem free

  31. OpTik

    Thanks for this tutorial. It helped me out a lot!

  32. Jaybee

    I use the free version of Macrium Reflect and have found it very useful. It does a ‘smart copy’, omitting things like the pagefile and compresses the image so you can save it on a smaller drive if you wish. You can save the image to a directory so if you have room on the target drive it can be used to store back up images for multiple computers. If you replace your HDD with a larger one, Macrium Reflect lets you expand the restored image to use all of the new disk.
    http://download.cnet.com/Macrium-Reflect-Free/3000-2242_4-10845728.html

  33. Kevin Mc

    Mirror at new install. Hardware not software.

    The other method is to “Mirror” the C: drive using the hardware chip on the motherboard. Read up on Raid at wikipedia. Go to motherboard makers website and download Raid Drivers to Floppy (XP and earlier) to USB (vista and above).

    You need to configure BIOS to Raid settings and also AHCI.

    Raid is installed after BIOS boot, but before Windows install. It is usually a Ctrl + I after BIOS for Intel chips. Other knowns are Ctrl + G for Gigabyte motherboards. At this stage you need to assign Raid to one or more disks and also Mirror disks.

    After this Windows Install will ask for drivers. Install them – the Windows Install continues.

    Mirror is an exact copy of your primary hard drive, and each action is a direct copy on-the-fly.

    If primary fails – then swap to that SATA / IDE plug, refit new (equal or larger) hard drive. During next boot, and after BIOS, a dialogue will ask to mirror again!

    You can use 2 Striped and 2 Mirror for extra preformance and redundant Mirror!

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