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How would you recommend backing up an entire hard drive?

Back story:
I often help others perform a clean OS installation (usually Windows) or migrate to a new hard drive. I like to begin with a full disk backup, so I can later revert the entire process, retrieve individual files, preserve factory-installed diagnostics, etc. In the past, I've used some combination of dd/ddrescue (single step for drive, but space inefficient) or ntfsclone for individual partitions.


  1. Store NTFS partitions efficiently
  2. Navigate partition(s) to retrieve individual files
  3. Preserve partition structure, MBR, etc
  4. Preserve factory-installed diagnostics or recovery partitions
  5. Restore entire image to a new hard drive
  6. (Optional) One-step archive

marked as duplicate by Ramhound, David, Tog, Journeyman Geek, Moses Jan 17 '14 at 4:25

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  • Recommendations of entire product categories can be being a specific product plug. Weighing the pros and cons of various free or paid solutions is also common discourse. – kmarsh Jan 15 '14 at 22:53
  • OK you have a point there. Maybe this needs to be nominated for duplicate status? – kmarsh Jan 15 '14 at 23:03
  • @kmarsh - I actually already voted to close it because the author seems to be looking for product recommendations ( or the original revision of the question was one ). – Ramhound Jan 15 '14 at 23:24
  • @Ramhound Since I'm already involved I think I will defer to other moderators and go with whatever their consensus is. – kmarsh Jan 16 '14 at 15:37

Free solutions such as G4L and Clonezilla can operate both over a network to a file server, or direct connect to SATA/SCSI or a USB-SATA adapter as either the source or the destination. They compress the image takes up less space than the drive or partition being imaged. To optimize beforehand it is best to zero empty space.

Paid solutions include Ghost (now Symantec System Recovery) and Acronis True Image. I have used the latter in its free download form from Western Digital, and it is convenient in that it does not require a network or CD boot like G4L does. I believe Seagate offers similar free functionality in the form of DiscWizard.


I use R-Drive Image for this exact purpose.

Some of the Key reasons I purchased it:

  1. It has great compression.
  2. It supports raw bit for bit disk images.
  3. You can tell it to ignore errors and keep trying (for data recovery purposes).
  4. File System support is not needed (because it can do a raw bit for bit) but it does support many (including expand when restoring to a larger drive).
  5. You can restore individual files and folders (for the many file systems it supports).
  6. You can mount images for read-only purposes (logical data recovery is the main thing I use this for).
  7. It can check image files for errors after creating it (think checking a CD/DVD after burning it).

I cheat. I write a file full of Zeros to the disk, then delete the file. I then use dd and gzip (or similar) to compress the drive, getting really good compression on the parts of the disk which are full of zeros. I then get an exact duplicate of the disk which is efficient from a space point of view (but not very fast to accomplish)

This is not a 1 step process, but should be able to be scripted into a single command easily enough. (At least under Linux).

  • How does this allow for data recovery? The author wants to be able to reverse the process. What you describe would destroy the data and would literally kill a SSD. – Ramhound Jan 15 '14 at 23:23
  • I think you might have misintepreted me. I did not say overwrite the disk with Zeros, I said create a file full of zeros, then delete that file. That process takes the free space and makes it zeros, which compress well. You then have a filesystem/filesystems which are more compressible, and you simply compress the entire block device (for example cat /dev/sda | gzip > /backuplocation/sda.gz - to undo this, gunzip < /backuplocation/sda.gz > /dev/sda – davidgo Jan 16 '14 at 0:17
  • Clarify your answer and I will remove my downvote – Ramhound Jan 16 '14 at 2:06
  • This is not an answer to the original question but an explanation for part of my answer. As such it should really be a comment under my answer. I suggest deleting it as an answer and creating that comment. – kmarsh Jan 16 '14 at 15:36

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