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In a few hours I'll have a new 500GB Sony laptop, filled with the usual Sony rubbish which I'll promptly be replacing with Ubuntu or Crunchbang or something. However, first I want to make a full clone of the drive (including recovery partitions), should I wish to return it to Sony or sell it on in its factory state.

The problem is that the only backup drives I have are less than 500GB - the biggest I have is 250GB or so! So I need to backup and compress on-the-fly.

What's the best way to do this? Presumably dd piped into gzip would do the trick, or does anyone have any other suggestions to accomplish this?

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You won't really be cloning 500 gigs of hard drive. You'll only be getting the parts of the hard drive which are currently occupied by the OS and data. As long as the drive you're sending your image to is bigger than the amount of data on the drive you're cloning you should be fine. –  Chris May 24 '10 at 13:00
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Have a look at Clonezilla, it may do what you are wanting. Most drive imaging programs also compress the drive as they go and the machine shouldn't come to you with the 500GB drive completely full so as long as you have at least a good proportion of that 250GB free I wouldn't worry too much.

Clonezilla's site states: "Filesystem supported: ext2, ext3, ext4, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, jfs of GNU/Linux, FAT, NTFS of MS Windows ... (yadda yadda) For these file systems, only used blocks in partition are saved and restored. For unsupported file system, sector-to-sector copy is done by dd in Clonezilla."

The answers for How to transfer a RECOVERY partition to a new HD of a DELL Inspiron 1420? suggests that Clonezilla may be better (but slower) for saving the recovery partition.

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That's what I figure. Just hoping the unallocated part of the drive is zeroes rather than random data! –  Dave May 24 '10 at 8:19
    
I've used Norton Ghost at work before now and to be honest it was pretty good at being able tell what space was actually used and so would only actually back up the data that was needed. I would hope that as Clonezilla claims NTFS compatibility that it too can tell that blocks are empty and so not copy them. Found a link that seems to suggest it knows not to copy empty space but as always YMMV ;) : raiden.net/articles/review_clonezilla_12 –  Mokubai May 24 '10 at 8:47
    
Mokubai: My main concern is the backup client trying to be too smart and just ignoring the recovery partition entirely, which I know can simply appear as unpartitioned "un-used" space. Any experience with Norton in this scenario? –  Dave May 24 '10 at 9:03
    
Sadly I haven't had any experience with recovery partitions, I would hope that if Norton or Clonezilla find a partition with a format they don't understand then they would simply do a low level copy. From what I've seen the recovery partitions are simply hidden FAT32/NTFS partitions but I couldn't say for sure, my work lappy has a partition labelled "RECOVERY" that isn't hidden but is NTFS so should copy fine, but I've mostly done "clean" installs and never got the recovery disk to work. My home machine also has such a partition but I wouldn't be able to look at it for a good few hours yet. –  Mokubai May 24 '10 at 9:41
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I use Acronis True Image Home 2010 for these kinds of operations.

It is a great tool to have - you create a (linux based!) bootable media with a GUI-based application for making and restoring backup images of disks or partitions (including compression and skipping empty space). I also use the included Windows application to make incremental backups of my whole system, which I can restore to bare metal in case of a disk crash etc, or just recover single files if I need. It works great with external USB drives, saving disk images to FTP/CIFS share and so on.

I got the OEM version for free (bundled with my external Seagate drive), but buying it online is less than $50, and you can download a 30-day trial by clicking here, although the trial will only let you restore backups when booted from the rescue media, not create backup images. You should still be able to create the backup image from the windows app.

Edit:

Changed info about the trial version...

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I've found with all the new PCs that I've purchased over the last couple of years that they either come with DVDs that allow the re-installation of original software (OS, programs and recovery partitions), or a utility pre-installed that allows me to create DVDs that do the same. Have a quick look through the installed applications for a utility that creates "factory restore" DVDs before looking for other solutions elsewhere.

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Ah yes, laptop just arrived and I see it mentions recovery discs must be made manually. No recovery DVDs included, unfortunately... oh well. –  Dave May 24 '10 at 11:43
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