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- Cloning your system from within Windows
- Cloning from a WinPE recovery environment
- Physical cloning
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Whether as a home user or as an IT support professional, there may be occasions when you would want to create a clone of your computer’s hard drive or operating system. Probably the most common reason you’d want to do this would be so that you can migrate your system to a Solid State Drive (SSD). After migrating the contents of your existing drive to an SSD, you would remove your hard drive and replace it with the SSD. The computer should then boot as normal.
I want to look at three entirely different methods you can use to clone your Microsoft Windows system to a new drive. The first method uses software running under Windows. The second involves booting into a Windows preinstallation (WinPE) recovery environment. The third method employs a physical clone operation and requires removing the source drive from the computer. Depending on your circumstances, one of these methods is likely to be more suitable for you than the others.
Cloning your system from within Windows
If you don’t want to open up your computer physically, and you’re simply looking for a Windows application to perform the clone operation for you, then this is the way to go. You’ll need to use some sort of enclosure for your destination drive so that it can be connected to your computer using a USB port. These are called hard drive enclosures. They are extremely inexpensive and available from almost any computer parts store. After inserting your new drive into the enclosure and connecting it to your computer, Windows will detect the presence of an additional drive.
As far as software goes, my personal favorite is called Macrium Reflect. You’ll find that the free version is all you need to perform this clone operation. After you’ve downloaded and installed the software, launch it, and you’ll be presented with a view showing the disks found by the software. You should see your current boot drive at the top, and underneath, you will see the drive you have connected by USB using your enclosure. All the partitions currently present on the drives will be displayed.
To clone your current operating system disk to the new disk, select Clone this disk… underneath your source disk. You will then be prompted to select a destination disk, and you should click on your new drive. Then select Next to launch the clone operation. The destination disk must have at least the same capacity as the source disk for this to proceed.
It is also possible to select only certain partitions to be copied. This might be useful if, for example, your source drive had a second partition used for data. Still, all you really wanted was to clone the bootable partition containing the Windows operating system.
Cloning from a WinPE recovery environment
This is my preferred option because the software I use provides additional functionality. In particular, it allows you to exclude certain items from your clone, and it can be used to clone to a smaller destination disk. This, of course, assumes that everything you want to clone will actually fit onto the target disk. This method is also likely to require less time than the first method, particularly if Windows is running slowly on the old hard disk.
The software I use is called Paragon Hard Disk Manager. This software can also be used from within Windows, as with Macrium Reflect, and it offers additional functionality beyond just cloning. In particular, it can be used for backup and recovery, partition management, and secure the erasure of disks.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the software, you need to create a bootable flash drive to enter the WinPE environment. Paragon Software provided full instructions about how to do this in their article How To Create USB Recovery Media.
Once you have created your bootable flash drive, you should connect an enclosure containing your new hard drive to your computer, as described above. Then boot from the flash drive into the WinPE environment. You should see your source drive displayed and underneath this your new drive. At the top of the screen, you are presented with a menu from which you can select any of the four tools available. The option you’ll want to select is called Drive Copy Advanced. Then select the option to Migrate to launch the migration wizard.
Once you have launched the wizard, you can select whether to migrate the operating system, including your files and folders, the whole disk, or a single partition. I would normally select the first option as I’m not usually interested in any other partitions on the disk. You then choose your target disk, following which you can select any folders or file types you would like to exclude. This is useful if you are migrating to a smaller disk. You can then proceed with the migration.
I should add that Macrium Reflect also offers the option to create Windows PE rescue media. It’s worth experimenting with both products and some of the other excellent products available until you find the one with which you are most comfortable.
This option means that you don’t use any software to perform the cloning operation. You might use this method if you were unable to boot your computer. For example, a system board issue might be preventing you from booting your machine whilst the contents of the hard drive itself are intact and functional.
For this method, you will require a dual hard drive enclosure. You would then insert your source disk into one slot, your destination disk into the other, and press a button to clone the source to the destination. This obviously requires you to have physically removed your source disk from the computer, though this would normally be the case anyway if you are planning to replace it with the cloned drive. For this method to work, the destination drive must have at least the same capacity as the source disk.
There are three very different methods you can use to clone a hard disk containing a Windows operating system. As an IT support professional, my own choices have been influenced by the costs of technicians’ licenses for the various products and other factors such as convenience and speed.
As a home user, these factors are unlikely to be as significant for you as you are likely to be performing a one-off clone operation. You may find the physical cloning option to be unsuitable as it has a slightly higher hardware cost, requiring a dual bay enclosure. You are then left to select from among different products, either running from within Windows or from a WinPE environment.
Thank you for reading!