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First thing: I am not asking what software I'm supposed to use. I already know the answer: Ghost (proprietary), Clonezilla, and dd (if I'm careful).

What I really want to know is if it is possible to (essentially) bit-for-bit clone my entire installation (OS, installed software, activation(s), etc.) to an external USB hard-drive, and then boot off of that (if I need to, I know how to edit BIOS settings and use Plop boot manager), and work with it day-to-day as if there was virtually no difference from using my internal HDD now.

Again, I'm not asking how to install Windows to an external (because I know I'd need to do some special workaround), I'm asking if I can clone everything and boot off of it.

In case you're wondering why I'm going to this trouble: I'm using a Lenovo Essentials laptop that has an unmodifiable partition table (due to recovery crap), and has all 4 of its partitions spoken for (3 primary, one extended, cannot change the extended). Anyway, my thought is that if I can clone everything and boot off of it when I need to, and just have a Linux distro on the internal HDD, then that could work.

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Good question, I've been meaning to test this myself but have been busy with a computer that wont post, I would think so, at least for linux it would be no problem as it's built to run off anything, as for windows, might work, might need to run startup repair on first boot because if there are any other drives connected it might possible see the drive as a different letter, best to use dd to make sure you get a clean exact copy. – user88311 Jun 27 '13 at 13:41
Are you asking about cloning Windows to an external HDD and booting directly from the drive when it's connected via USB? Windows won't ordinarily run from a USB drive. – Karan Jun 27 '13 at 15:38
Having linux on the external drive is the smarter option, more or less. – Journeyman Geek Nov 22 '13 at 0:17

4 Answers 4

Yes you can, I use drive clone 9. Then after clone is done change your boot option in bios to boot to the cloned usb HDD ,just to check if the clone was created correctly.

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Will this work if the your booting off of a flash drive with cloned hard drive on it? (I'm in the same situation and my hard drive is very small [drive capacity = 40gb; used space=22gb; flash drive=30gb]). The new computer has a sata hard drive in it (80gb) and I'll want to move the contents of the flash drive to the sata hard drive, is that possible? – www139 Jun 22 at 2:16

Yes, you can. Specifically, this is known disk imaging, and is used all the time in the enterprise world for managing fleets of laptops or systems used by employees. It works for OS X, Windows, Linux, BSD, Solaris, and should work for any other OS.

Special preparations have to be made if you plan to move some OSes to a different system, but if you're just going to clone the internal drive and boot the same system off of the clone, you'll be fine!

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So you're saying a cloned copy of Windows will boot from and run off an external USB drive? – Karan Jun 27 '13 at 15:40
@Karan I've not tested, but I would expect it to. I would not expect that you can take it to another computer and boot it there, though, as that would deactivate Windows. I know you can image it from one internal harddrive to another just fine. If Windows doesn't boot from a USB external because it's USB, then that's an issue involving booting Windows over USB, not imaging Windows. – Darth Android Jun 27 '13 at 16:14
That last bit is what I'm focusing on. Windows normally refuses to boot from USB, and booting is an integral part of the question along with cloning. – Karan Jun 27 '13 at 17:32

If you force windows to recognise the USB hard drive as a non-removable hard drive, then there shouldn't be any issues. How you would do that I'm not too sure as I haven't done this before, but this page may be of help -

Theoretically, you would set the registry key, clone the hard drive, and then hopefully the registry key that you set would let windows boot off the now non-removable hard drive (even though it's actually a USB hard drive)

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Personally you can but I would start fresh for best results if something were to go wrong at any given time. I have done it before from fresh anyway as post and booting to OS was easy and hassle free if you set the bios to start from external devices, and plus your bios has to support it. So if you choose to do any other good luck because there is always a chance to lose a *.dll file that halts your best efforts.

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