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

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.
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.
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 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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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).

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!)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

And Clonezilla begins to work its magic.

And continues.

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.

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

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.”

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.