How to Clone a Hard Drive

There are two approaches when it comes to cloning a hard drive – hardware and software. Both of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.

Cloning a hard drive is easier than you might think, providing you have the right hardware or software. Cloning a hard drive copies the complete contents of the drive, including the files, the partition tables, and the master boot record. Imaging copies all of this data into a single file on another drive, which can then be restored onto a new drive or the existing drive. Imaging is typically used for backups, whereas cloning is employed for upgrading drives. So why can’t you simply drag and drop your files? This would be fine for an unbootable drive; but an operating system can’t be transferred so easily. Only cloning or imaging a drive can make a reliable working copy. Cloning is a much easier method, and requires as little as a second drive and coning software, although some may choose to use a hardware-based hard drive duplicator.

Using a hard drive duplicator is one of the easiest ways to clone a hard drive. This piece of hardware allows you to plug in two SATA drives, and clone the contents of one onto another. StarTech sell a fairly inexpensive duplicator for £57.59, which accepts 2.5” and 3.5” SATA drives; you can also buy an adapted if your hard drive uses the old IDE interface. The drawback of duplicators like this one is that they will normally only work if the new drive has the same storage capacity or larger, which poses a problem if you’re upgrading to a drive with a smaller storage capacity, which is typical in the case of solid-state drives (SSDs). This is where the software approach can be more useful. There are some free hard drive cloning apps, like Macrium Reflect Free, but they are normally very light on features and can have interfaces that are difficult to navigate. Two pieces of paid hard drive cloning software that we’d recommend are Paragon Dive Copy 15 Professional, and Acronis Disk Director. Paragon Drive Copy 15 Professional costs £26.99, and allows you to clone to a smaller capacity disk by excluding certain files. Acronis Disk Director costs £35.99, and has a free demo available to try before you commit.

Hard Drive Cloning