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I want to make a fully bootable clone of my Windows-XP or Windows-7 hard drive with no boot cd or dvd so that in the case of a catastrophic hard disk failure I can just take my "clone" and install it without any further action. Can anyone recommend any software that will do this ? thanks B

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You can use Disk2VHD to create a .vhd container of your hard drives. You can create that image while running Windows and you can even save the file to the drive of which you're taking the image.

These VHD containers can be mounted in Windows 7:
enter image description here

If you own a Business or Ultimate edition, you'll also be able to natively boot VHDs.

You can also pull files from the container using 7-Zip.

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Thanks for your answer but that isn´t really what I mean, I want to create an exact copy of my existing harddisk onto another harddisk of the same size so that I have two exactly identical harddisks that I can interchange. – BoA Oct 6 '12 at 7:58

Any drive imaging software like Acronis True Image, Norton/Symantec Ghost etc. will do.

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Look into cloning software.. I'll be a naughty boy and include a quick survey too.

Norton/Symantec ghost and acronis are not free. (people tend to prefer acronis but both are good).

Clonezilla is ugly as hell but ok if you are ok with it.

Paragon and Easeus make good partition software but they make cloning software too.

Paragon drive copy is apparently not free.

Easeus disk copy is apparently free.

There's also Macrium Reflect

Another method, and this may only work if the hard drive has identical geometry. Is to boot off a linux live CD and use the dd command, or ddrescue command (ddrescue gives a progress bar so is preferable for it). It just copies the whole drive bit for bit. You can copy just a partition too but I wouldn't play with dd in the context of making a backup unless you know what you're doing and be sure to test it too(and of course, if tested and it works then you backed it up right and restored it right)!

Some of these programs will be reading a partition making an image file of it. Some will just clone a partition to a partition, maybe a drive to a drive. I wouldn't worry too much about whether they make an image file, or whether they directly clone a drive to another drive, unless you have a strong preference. Both are OK for a backup and have their advantages and disadvantages. An image file means it can sit on your current hard drive just as a file, and even another hard drive too, and when you want to restore it you can use it. If it's not as an image file, and it's just directly copying the drive to another, then it means you'll probably want to be careful how you treat your backup drive and where you place it. For example you don't want to corrupt the windows installation on your backup drive. But it's fast it's there done already. An image file is very portable and when you want to make a full backup to another drive, from an image file, you can. Though a lot of the time I don't I just open an image file in the backup software and get the files I want from it. Image files are generally proprietary though.. So an Acronis image file can only be opened in Acronis, and even free programs that make image files, like Macrium, uses a priorietary format that can only be opened in Macrium, etc though maybe VHD is generic.

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You could either use disk cloning software, a raid setup (software or hardware), or Disk2VHD and VHD2Disk combination to create an image and 'extract' that image to another (or the same) harddrive.

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