In This Article
What is Disc Cloning?
Disc cloning refers to the process where the contents of a hard drive, CD or floppy disk are copied to an image file and then moved to another location.
- The process of disc cloning or duplicating data saves time, despite the additional step of imaging, especially while creating or formatting a partition and while installing the operating system software.
- The difference between disc cloning and making a standard copy is the intermediate step of imaging the content. This basically brings over both the files that are currently in use and the hidden files.
- Cloning of discs has its characteristic downsides and the major one of them is the chances of copying unexploited sectors.
- Disk cloning has several use cases and benefits, such as the recovery of a full system through a backup, reboot, or restoration, or during the installation of a new hard drive.
- The process is also used for commercial purposes allowing companies to set up new computer systems without having to install the programs individually on every identical machine.
Understanding Disc Cloning
Disk cloning, in simple terms, refers to duplicating data on a hard disk or any other digital storage device, such as a Solid State Drive (SSD), with the help of specific software or hardware techniques.
This process is starkly different from regular file copying in the sense that it creates a copy in an image file before moving it onto another drive.
In addition to that, disc cloning can also duplicate a few other things that are not possible with standard file copying methods such as:
- The filesystems
- The partitions
- The meta data of the drive
- The slack space on the drive
Typically, disc cloning is used in combination with drive imaging. In this process the data that is cloned is saved on another drive or in one or more files instead of being copied directly onto a different drive.
You can clone any kind of storage medium, provided it connects to the computer system through different ports such as:
- Universal Serial Bus (USB)
- Non-volatile Memory Express (NVMe)
- Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA)
Software and hardware cloners are used for cloning, but the software cloners offer more flexibility since they can ignore unsolicited data, preventing them from being duplicated. This reduces the overall cloning time.
Software cloners also allow resizing partitions and filesystems, which ensures that the data is cloned to a drive that is either equal to or greater than the space used in total.
On the contrary, almost all hardware-based cloners typically need to use a destination drive that is equal to the size of the source drive even if the used space is just a fraction of the total space.
Also, the hardware cloners are capable of cloning only the used space and are relatively more expensive.
The Working Process
- The process typically starts by copying the contents of the source drive. A small amount of data from this source drive is read and then stored in the memory of the computer.
- This data is then written either to a disc image or directly to another location or destination. This destination is typically connected to the computer system.
- The clone is performed by using a disc cloner, which is usually a hardware-based drive cloner that does not need a computer.
Disc cloning has several different applications and use cases such as:
- Deployment – This is the most common use of disc cloning where a group of computer systems with the same kind of hardware is set up much more quickly by using a similar configuration to load programs and operating systems.
- Administration – Administrative challenges are overcome in large computer environments such as in educational institutions that need all computers to be clean, updated and configured correctly.
- Digital forensics – This is another common application of disc cloning for the preservation of data for future analysis.
- Creating backup – Disc cloning helps create proper backup solutions. Being the same as the original data, it can be used to restore and recover corrupted files and databases.
- Drive upgrade – Larger and older drives can be upgraded much faster by cloning into a new drive installed in the system since there is no need to reinstall applications, operating system, and drivers manually.
Cloning a hard drive may sound very technical and intimidating, but it is actually quite an easy process, provided you follow the right steps. This will eliminate the chances of losing your data.
There are lots of great disc cloning tools available for Windows users, and most of them are free, popular, easy to use, and hard to go wrong with. The steps to follow are as follows:
- Download and install the tool
- Run it
- Look at the list of disks connected to the computer
- Choose the disk you want to copy
- Click on the right option from “Clone This Disk” or “Image This Disk”
- Choose the destination disk
- Schedule the clone if you want or skip it
- Start the cloning process.
For the Mac users, there are different sets of cloning tools available, which are also easy to use with almost the same process to follow.
What Does Disk Cloning Do?
Fundamentally, the disk cloning process copies every bit of information perfectly from the hard drive of one computer to another.
It copies the contents of the source drive into an image file before copying it to the destination disk, thereby providing the full image of it at a single point in time.
It also allows the home or office users to have a perfect setup of computers with all settings and applications that can be used any time.
The data files, such as Microsoft Word documents, videos, and images can be stored on a different hard drive or volume.
This ensures that all the computers are in perfect sync and have the same programs.
This means that all the users will have the same experience, irrespective of the specific machine they are using and despite the fact that each may hold different data sets.
This means that the data in the Word and Excel documents may be different on each computer, but their versions will be the same on every computer, just as will the user interface and the ways in which these programs can be accessed.
Is It Better to Clone or Backup?
Ideally, both cloning a hard disk and creating backups are useful solutions, though their functions are different.
It is better to clone your hard disk if you want a copy of your files handy and access them quickly in the event of a system crash. On the other hand, a backup is a good option to turn to for help in restoring any lost data.
Considering the pros and cons of the two will help you have a better understanding.
The benefits offered by hard drive backup are as follows:
- It allows easy management since there is only one file.
- Several backups can be made and saved at the same time if the target disk is large enough.
- The backup files use less space since they can be compressed and even encrypted.
However, the most significant downside of backup is that you will need to use the backup software in particular in order to access documents and files or restore the data or system to its earlier state.
On the other hand, the benefits offered by hard disc cloning are as follows:
- The cloned data can be edited and used immediately since it is copied directly to the target drive.
- A cloned system drive containing the operating system can be booted and mounted immediately as a new drive.
However, the significant downside of creating a clone of a hard disc is that it requires more space due to the immediate creation of the partitions on the target disk, which actually does not allow compressing or encrypting the data.
It also does not allow creating and storing more than one version of the duplicate data on a drive at a time, and differential or incremental cloning is not possible.
Should You Clone or Partition a Disk?
As such, there is no “best” method among these two because both of these methods serve different purposes.
In most cases, people choose to partition a disk over cloning in order to dual boot to another operating system or to have more control over file management. Cloning, on the other hand, is an ideal process to move a perfect copy of one system to another.
However, partitioning your disk will actually not be a proper backup method per se. It is also not as popular a method as it was in the earlier days because Windows today offers much better file management.
Still, partitioning can be a useful method for you in a lot of ways, especially if you are using a laptop computer that does not allow adding an additional hard drive.
Actually, partitioning is a process for those who are extremely organized and want everything to be likewise, with different partitions for storing different types of files. This helps them as follows:
- Operating systems can be separated from the files, which makes it easier to reinstall them and also protects the files from infection.
- It allows fine-tuning every partition by encrypting a few of them instead of all of them at once.
- It also allows installing Linux or other operating systems on the existing hard drive.
However, partitioning may be a bit of a complicated process to follow by the new users and may even result in accidental overwriting of data. And they will also have to keep more track of the multiple partitions for proper management.
Typically, disk partitioning gives a sense of security to the users but it is actually untrue. This is because all the partitions are actually on the same drive and if it fails, all disk partitions will go down with it.
Therefore, you should not opt for disk partitioning if you do not have a particularly strong reason for it.
Disk cloning, on the other hand, is more useful than disk partitioning. This is because:
- The clone image can be used to restore a computer very easily to its exact earlier state. It is very easy to recreate an exact configuration on another machine.
- It also serves as a useful and complete backup in the event of a system crash or similar catastrophe.
However, disk cloning is not a fast process and the image consumes a lot of space on the disk. Apart from that, when transferring an image to another computer system, there may be problems with the driver or other stability issues.
Can You Install SSD without Cloning?
Yes, you can install an SSD without cloning but for that you will have to install a new Windows copy on the SSD. The rest of the data stored in the HDD must be copied and pasted to the SSD.
However, the operating system cannot be copied. This means that you will need to install a fresh copy of the Windows operating system.
However, installing an SSD without cloning to replace the HDD is not a viable option because you may not get all the data on the HDD copied on the SSD by the copy-paste option.
This is because there may be a lot of hidden files on the hard drive that are important for the system to work properly.
Disk cloning, on the other hand, will give an exactly identical copy of the old HDD to the new SSD and can be performed in a few easy steps by using a proper disk cloning software.
Does Cloning Erase the Original Drive?
No, cloning will not erase anything on the source drive but will delete or overwrite everything on the destination drive.
Ideally, in cloning, everything from the source drive is copied exactly as it is on the target drive, so nothing is deleted from it.
But the target drive will be overwritten and therefore everything on it will be deleted.
Therefore, make sure that you have created a proper backup of the vital information on the target drive before cloning. It is best to use a new drive as the destination drive for that matter.
Do You Need to Wipe a Drive Before Cloning?
Simply put, it is certainly not required to wipe a drive before cloning because the process will overwrite the target disk.
However, if you are thinking along the lines of cloning your drive, there are a few specific steps before you start the actual process. These steps include:
- Always create a backup of the most vital data and information on the target drive first on an external drive. This is important because all of the data on the original hard drive will be overwritten during the cloning process. You will certainly not want to lose any of those in case anything goes wrong during the process.
- Always check the storage space of the hard drive that you want to clone to make sure everything is cloned in it. This will save you from running into space problems during the process, especially when you upgrade an HDD to an SSD. Trying to clone too much data will result in failure and the data being overwritten.
- You must also be prepared and knowledgeable enough to open the computer so that you can replace the hard disk when the cloning process is complete.
- If you are using a laptop computer with only one available slot for the hard drive, make sure you have the right USB or SATA cable to connect the new hard drive to the system during the cloning process.
Most importantly, make sure that you have two drives, one as the destination drive with adequate free space to clone the data from the other drive, called the source drive.
Cloning vs Imaging
- Disc cloning is done while upgrading a hard disk, replacing a damaged, failing, or corrupted disk, but without reinstalling the operating system. On the other hand, imaging is done to create backups of important files on a computer or a damaged system by transferring large amounts of data.
- Disc cloning is the process where a one-to-one usable copy is made, but in comparison, disk imaging is the process where an archive is created byte by byte as a compressed file.
- Disc cloning is more efficient as it can be run quickly for recovery. However, disk imaging is useful only when it is restored.
- Disc cloning puts only one copy on the drive. On the other hand, disk imaging is much more flexible as it allows storing several image backups on a single drive with full, incremental, and differential bit by bit backups.
- Disc cloning produces a precise, uncompressed copy of everything on a hard drive. On the other hand, disk imaging creates a large file or a compressed image of the hard drive that can be restored to an external device.
Does Cloning Reduce SSD Performance?
Though the cloning process will not reduce the performance of the SSD as a direct consequence, it may be reduced depending on the type of SSD you are using and the operating system you are running.
However, the performance will surely be lower than a clean install, but the difference will be hardly noticeable.
Disc cloning offers several benefits especially in terms of data transfer and backup.
It will allow creating an exact copy of the original drive along with the settings and your preferences kept intact.
However, the process may seem intimidating in the beginning, but it is actually very straightforward.