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If I clone a hard drive, will I have to install an OS on it and all the programs?

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Wow, this is the most specific question I've ever seen asked on Superuser. I love how you go in depth on how exactly you're planning on cloning the hard drive. – Breakthrough Sep 11 '09 at 1:04
Thanks – Chris Tarazi Sep 11 '09 at 3:16
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Nope. By definition, cloning is making an exact copy. So if you're really cloning, reinstallation of the OS and programs should not be necessary.

See Wikipedia on disk cloning.

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Thanks I will just need a couple more answers from people to confirm. – Chris Tarazi Sep 11 '09 at 1:00
Instead of more answers, go by upvotes. – Svend Sep 11 '09 at 1:23
Upvotes are better :) – alex Sep 11 '09 at 6:11

In general, yes, cloning a hard-drive will just work (like all other people already said).

On Linux, it will work. No doubt about that.

However, I'm not sure about how Windows will behave, because Windows might detect that the hard-drive has changed (by looking at the serial number - which CAN'T be changed by software) and thus might give some trouble. I guess it is unlikely to happen, but I've never done that on Windows, so I can't answer for sure. Give it a try, and report back!

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+1 Good point about Windows detecting the hard drive change. It might consider it significant hardware change and force a reactivation. Assuming the target hard disk isn't radically different (e.g., SCSI, running of 3rd party controller card) then you should boot ok. – hyperslug Sep 11 '09 at 3:12
I've done it, and Windows never said anything. – alex Sep 11 '09 at 6:11
@alex, great! – hyperslug Sep 11 '09 at 17:24
Yeah, I think it should work as long as it doesn't require some sort of new driver (for SATA HDD, maybe) to boot up. Otherwise Windows will probably take minor hardware changes in stride. – Nathaniel Sep 11 '09 at 17:25

In general, disk cloning creates an exact copy of the hard drive, so reinstallation of the OS and applications is not neccessary.

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If you clone the hard drive containing all of the system files, then no you won't have to reinstall the OS and all of the programs that you have (at least not the programs that had been installed in your system at the time of the cloning. I'm not sure if Norton Ghost is free-to-use, nonetheless there are several really good, free-to-use utilities out there. I have been using Macrium Reflect free edition for System Backups. It has a very user friendly gui for those of us who are not too comfortable plugging away on the command line. One recently released free-to-use utility that has gotten some rave reviews is EASEUS ToDo Backup.

If on the other hand the hard disk you cloned does not contain the partition where your OS is residing in, nor any of the programs that you want to backup, the resulting cloned image will consequently also not have an OS nor any installed programs.

Essentially you're seeking to make an exact copy when you clone/ghost (or almost an exact copy).

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time to post my favorite tutorial again :)

Radified Guide to Norton Ghost - A Tutorial on How to Create, Save & Restore Hard Drive Back-up Ghost Images

the strategies presented here can be applied to any disk cloning program.

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Depends on the software if it relies on different security features it will need to be reinstalled.

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