When it comes to selecting drive imaging software or free cloning software, the two most important factors are Reliable Image Creation and Restoration along with Ease of Use. The software has to be able enough to complete its intended task without failing at any time because if it can’t do so, it defeats the entire objective of image backup creation at the first place.
There are software available that are simply great at making the actual backup images and also provides the ability to mount and explore these images without any problem of any sort, but they lack in ease of use to actually perform a recovery with images in the discussion.
Drive or Disk imaging is now a must have tool for most of the users, both novice or professional, because of it’s ease of use and the convenience that it provides. In case a user wishes to recover his/her computer from a system crash, he/she can easily do it without any time taking the process of reformatting and reinstalling the operating system. With drive imaging, there is no reason to reinstall Windows because it brings the ability to restore an image to the hard drive in few fraction of the time it usually takes to reinstall operating system with all the programs and settings.
When it comes to types of disk imaging programs, they are generally of two types: Offline and Online. Most of the imaging software are online programs which means that they can run as well as create images inside of Windows even when the operating system is running. The offline type is those programs that they run in alternative environments such as WinPE, MS DOS or Linux, to create and restore all backup images with Windows not running at that time.
In general, most of the applications offer a variety of options for creating images. You can have the option to take back up only in the used sector of the disk, which will essentially create an image of only those particular sectors on the hard disk that are used by the file system. This option is way better that the option of creating a clone of the drive. A clone is an exact sector by sector mirror copy of the hard drive which also includes the unused sectors. These images can also be saved to an external hard disk or a USB Flash Drive, burned to a CD or DVD, a separate partition on the hard drive, etc. Some programs can use image backups as a sort of file backup and mount images to a drive in explorer so that restoration of individual files can be done.
Windows 7 provides a new and enhanced Windows Backup and Restore application providing the ability to create disk images. It creates an image of any partition on your hard drive in case it’s formatted to use the NTFS file system, but it also includes partitions of the system and it doesn’t let you opt out. The drive that you are trying to use to create the backup must also be formatted to use the NTFS file system.
This backup program is best for both the novice and the advanced users, with an elegant and clean user-friendly GUI. Disk Backup, System Backup, Partition Backup and File and Folder Backup are the primary backup options. It also presents with good options for all the modes of backup like the ability to create backup related comments, whether to encrypt or not, selecting the level of compression, etc. along with Differential and Incremental backup modes.
Now talking about the essential functions that are missing in other programs’ free versions are included in AOMEI Backupper free Edition. It doesn’t have any “nag” screens asking to upgrade. By making few clicks, you can start your system backup in progress.
The Backup and Recovery process is quite swift. You are also presented with options to recover the image at a particular location. It also supports NAS(network storage). There is no options regarding reinstating the MBR that could cause major problems in a multi-boot environment, but this problem can be overcome by selecting not to do a system restore and only restore the partition that contains Windows.
After you complete the installation of this free cloning software, you will be presented with a pop-up box for registration that also contains a particular serial key specific to your PC. On clicking “ok,” an internet connection is required to authorize the serial before you start to use the program. Also, one should keep in mind that the WinPE recovery disk will not function correctly in case the software is not registered.
This software also installs a service called an Image Mounting Service which is set to Automatic run upon Windows start up. It can also be set to “Manual” too.
When it comes to creating a backup, its quite straightforward. You have to select the partition you wish to take backup of and click the icon with the folder and the drive above it. Then you will get a pop-up window where you can select your backup location which can be another hard drive across a network or directly onto a CD or DVD burner. On clicking the advanced button, you will have the option to set compression level, exact copy (clone) or Intelligent sector copy along with split file size.
A series of little boxes will be presented before you that link straight back to a wizard for any task you wish to perform along with a link to load up, hard drives showing traditional GUI.
The partitioning support that was present in the older free versions for including a full partitioning suite has been removed. Though, all buttons have been greyed out in the free version with a button stating “Unlock disabled feature”. Important things in this software are Backup, Differential Backup, Restore, and Check Archive Integrity. It also provides the option to back up to a Virtual Disk, Restore from a Virtual Drive and also Incremental Backup to a Virtual Drive.
Backup Image Creation
Another important feature is the “Backup Capsule” which creates a reserved partition for the backups storage managed by Paragon. If you removed an old backup then you could not remove its entry in the Backup Capsule.
So, go ahead and try these free cloning software and let us know about your views and suggestions in the comment section below.