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The Best in Freeware
Eliminating the commercial applications, such as Norton Ghost, and considering only free hard drive clone software, narrows the list down considerably, as even some of the best freeware comes in ‘professional’ grade for a price. The purpose is not to compare the extraneous features of pricey packages, but rather, to get down to basic considerations. The four applications referred to here are all top contenders, but each has its own strengths and drawbacks.
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Macrium Reflect Free
The free edition of Macrium Reflect is an outstanding choice for personal use. It is compatible with all current versions of windows and has support for writing to network drives and DVD. Additionally, an image of the hard disk can be rendered while working in Windows if the Volume Shadow Copy Service is enabled and running. A bootable rescue CD can be created in either Linux or Windows. There are only a few drawbacks with the free edition; it won’t verify the integrity of the image it creates, and it is restricted for business use.
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DriveImage XML is worthy of mention as it has a number of features in common with Macrium Reflect Free. It is compatible with up-to-date versions of Windows and also makes use of Volume Shadow Copy for backing up while the system is in use. One advantage of DriveImage XML is it allows the user the option of selecting individual files from the backup image to restore. However, it is inferior to Macrium when it comes to creating a bootable rescue CD. It doesn’t provide for Linux, and there is a bit of manual toiling to be done outside the software in creating the Windows recovery CD. Business use is restricted in this version as well.
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Clonezilla Server Edition
An aptly named application, Clonezilla is a monster. And although monsters are powerful, they can also be scary. For the intrepid power user or IT admin, Clonezilla Server Edition is the logical choice for high-volume image deployment. Through multicasting, Clonezilla can transfer a single disk image to multiple hard drives simultaneously. It’s open source, and, for business use, the only completely free hard drive clone software in its class. It does come in a slightly less intimidating flavor for smaller jobs. Clonezilla Live is more suited to single, local machines. Still, some computer savvy is required.
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XXClone offers some unique benefits worth considering. Instead of the low-level sector copying method used by most cloning software, it copies most of the hard drive data as files and directories, and essentially defrags the source drive prior to cloning. This means your target volume can actually be smaller than your source volume. XXClone is simple to use, though it doesn’t support network deployment. Additionally, the free version is not compatible with Windows Vista or Windows 7.
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The Best For Your Needs
Ultimately, the choice comes down to what you’re working with, in terms of your system and the complexity of the tasks you need to perform. Seeing the options available in freeware, choosing free hard drive clone software should be the place to start. You’ll more than likely find a solution that won’t cost you a dime.