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I've got a dying internal Windows 8 hard drive in a desktop PC. I want to copy the data off of it, but it doesn't boot properly, so I was wondering if I could instead boot from a bootable disk containing a cloning software, then clone it to an external hard drive (connected via USB 3). Then, if and when that is successful, I'd like to buy a new internal HD, pop that in, and then copy the data back from the external drive to the internal one.

What software would allow me to create this bootable disk to perform this backup operation?

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You would never guess, a "backup software" would allow you to do so. :-) Think about it. If your bootdrive dies and you have a backup (however you created that in the first place) you need a way to get it back on. So these softwares usually come with a bootable disc. – TheUser1024 Sep 16 '13 at 7:15
Yep that's true, although "usually" is certainly not "always", that's for sure. Acronis True Image looks like an interesting software, though. – Gary Sep 16 '13 at 15:46
:-) Well, i can confirm that the product you mention supports this kind of operation. And there is a "Home" Version in case this is a home-PC. – TheUser1024 Sep 17 '13 at 6:51
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I ended up using Acronis True Image. I installed it on another Windows computer I had, then created a boot DVD from it. I then popped the boot DVD into the dying computer's DVD drive, booted from it, then plugged in an external HD to the PC and told True Image to clone the internal drive to the external one. I then swapped the internal drive with a new one, and cloned the external drive to the new internal drive. It's good as new now!

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GParted Live is a small bootable GNU/Linux distribution for x86 based computers.

I've used this to move partitions on the same drive but I see no reason why it wouldn't let you do the same thing across multiple drives.

The dd command would be something along the lines of:

dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb

Be sure to find the correct devices before you run it, sda and sdb are probably not right because it depends on your system. You can identify the disks with fdisk -l if they are different size disks.

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It doesn't look like it does what I want; there's a warning on its homepage that says "CAUTION: Creating a whole disk or partition image backup is recommended before you resize or move a partition. Some free software (GPL) disk and partition image tools are available:", so it looks like it's pointing us to other software if we want to backup a partition first. – Gary Sep 16 '13 at 15:47
You'll see that recommendation with anything that messes with data. If you're comfortable with linux command line you can use dd to do what you want, id be surprised if gparted didn't have it installed. – Clint Priest Sep 16 '13 at 16:37
I added some info to the answer on using dd. the "man dd" command will give you all the details on the command and there are many google results with info on how to do this as well. – Clint Priest Sep 16 '13 at 16:45

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