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How to Clone a Drive (and why you might want to)

clones

Paranoid Cautious as we are here at ProfHacker, we’ve written a lot over the last few years about keeping good backups of our work. Knowing that there’s always a second copy of that critically important file — and/or that we can revert to an earlier version of it — provides a lot of peace of mind.

That said, there are times when it’s useful to have a backup of our entire system, not just our files. For that, imaging or cloning a drive will do the trick. PCWorld ran an article explaining the differences between cloning and imaging (and the relative advantages of each) back in March. There are a number of tools that can do either job. Interested readers might find that their operating system’s built-in tools will do what they need; those looking at third-party options might consider DriveImage XML (for Windows), Clonezilla (for Debian or Ubuntu-based Linux), or SuperDuper! (for Mac). All are free for private, individual use.

For my own purposes this past week, I opted to clone my drive, since I wanted a backup that was bootable and that could, if needed, be copied back to a freshly reformatted hard drive. In this particular instance, I was upgrading my Mac to Mavericks, and I wanted to be able to go back to Mountain Lion if I ran into any problems and/or just didn’t like the new operating system.

Backing up isn’t the only use case for cloning a drive, though, nor is cloning limited to hard drives. Last week I wrote about installing Linux to a USB drive. It would be a simple thing to have a master copy of such a USB drive, and clone that master to make copies for anyone (friends, colleagues, students) who might need a tiny pocket computer. (Time permitting, of course, the ideal would be to teach people to install Linux on the drive themselves, but time doesn’t always permit.)

What use cases have you encountered for cloning or imaging a drive? What are your favorite tools for getting that job done? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by hjmediastudios]

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