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Free Computer Imaging and Cloning Programs

Posted by on 27 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: imaging

Several weeks ago, we at Computer Repair Vancouver discussed the basics of imaging or cloning a PC. We discussed how imaging or cloning is analogous to a hard drive wide copy/paste. When you create an image, you are simply copying your hard drive (and oftentimes storing it on a separate computer for safe keeping). When you are imaging a machine you are taking a previously completed copy and pasting it onto your machine (in effect erasing your computer’s current data structure).

The Pros and Cons of Imaging

Why would you want to make a backup of your entire PC? As we mentioned last time, most Window’s based applications, as well as the operating system itself, can not be backed up easily onto a CD or USB key. See, most Windows’ applications make use of the registry (a special area of your operating system). Consequently, you would need to find all of the applications registry entries and then add them to the computer you would like to transfer the application too. This is a daunting problem, one that even computer repair people rarely do. Consequently, it is best to back up your entire environment, every bit on your hard drive. This way, you don’t need to worry about having forgotten to copy a particular file (or worry about the location where a particular file has to reside). When you are creating an image you are not only copying files, you are also copying locations of these files.

One of the major problems that Computer Repair Vancouver has found regarding the imaging/cloning process is that it is not nearly as easy to perform as say a conventional copy/paste action. You can not right click on your hard drive, select copy, choose a destination directory, and then select paste. Rather, you need to make use of a specially designed imaging program which is capable of not only creating an image (which it usually stores as a single file) but also retrieving this image and placing it on the same, or a different, PC.

Great, you are thinking to yourself; just let me know which application is the best so that I can download it, install it, and use it! Unfortunately, like usual, the computer gods are not on our side. There is no single “best” imaging /cloning application out there. Rather, there are a multitude of different applications each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some are free while others are commercial and cost hundreds of dollars. Some require you to boot them from a CD or DVD while others allow you to use them from within the Window’s environment. Some are said to be stable while others are not.

It has been our experience here at Computer Repair Vancouver that free imaging applications are sufficient for the common computer user (and even for many smaller businesses). Therefore, this is what we will be touching upon. A short list of the most popular free imaging/cloning programs would include: Paragon Backup and Recovery (free edition), Macrium Reflect Free, PartImage Is Not Ghost (PING), CloneZilla, and FOG. If you are truly interested, go and Google each piece of software and read through their documentation. From this information, you should be able to get a reasonable view as to what each is about.

In regards to list just mentioned, members of Computer Repair Vancouver have had experience using three imaging software applications (in addition to Norton Ghost which is a paid package): PartImage Is Not Ghost (PING), FOG, and Paragon Backup and Recovery (free edition).

PING

Ping Imaging Software Logo

PartImage Is Not Ghost (which we will refer to as PING henceforth) is an extremely popular program for imaging and cloning machines.

The advantages of PING are as follows:

  • It is stable and has been around for quite some time.
  • You do not need to download network drivers in order to use it. Older versions of Norton Ghost required you to download DOS network drivers in order to image via a network; unfortunately, finding DOS network drivers can be problematic at times.
  • Its website has excellent step-by-step instructions on how to create an image as well as use that image (when reimaging).

The disadvantages of PING are as follows:

  • The program itself is run from a bootable Linux CD/DVD; in other words, it is not run from within the Windows Environment. Overall, this is a good thing as it makes sure that everything is able to be copied correctly (problems may arise if you attempt to copy files while your operating system is running). The problem lies not with technical experts, such as us here at Computer Repair Vancouver, but rather with laypeople. The common computer user tends to enjoy the graphical environment of Windows (which we understand completely).
  • Setting up another computer in order to store your images can be a bit of a challenge. Despite saying this, the PING website does an excellent job of describing how it is done.
  • We have run across machines which would not boot off the PING CD/DVD, however, in all fairness they tended to be rather old machines.

Overall PING is a great imaging tool to use as long as you are computer literate. If you are computer illiterate, however, we would caution its use.

FOG

FOG Imaging Software Logo

FOG is more than an imaging/cloning program; it is a complete environment.

The advantage of FOG is as follows:

  • Using a FOG server, you are able to manage your images and their deployment via a browser.
  • Like PING, you do not need to worry about Network Drivers when using FOG.

The disadvantages of FOG are as follows:

  • Unless you are a computer expert and need to image tens or hundreds of machines don’t even think of going near it. It is an excellent program with a multitude of features, yet it requires a great deal of setup. You could potentially read through the documentation; however, like we mentioned previously, FOG is a framework as opposed to a simple program. It will honestly take you months to learn how to set it up properly.

Paragon Backup and Recovery

Paragon Backup and Recovery Imaging Software Logo

Paragon Backup and Recovery is a program which has been around a while, but has just started to gain credibility recently. In all honesty, we here at Computer Repair Vancouver have not been using Paragon for very long, therefore, take what we have to say with a grain of salt.

The advantages of Paragon are as follows:

  • It provides a variety of wizards which guide you through the process of creating an image as well as imaging a machine.
  • You can perform many of its operations from within the Windows environment. In other words, it acts like a normal program (there is no need to boot it off a CD/DVD in most circumstances).
  • You do not need to worry about network drivers in order to use it.
  • According to evidence on the Internet, it is fairly reliable in its current iterations (the same can not be said of it in past iterations).

The disadvantages of Paragon are as follows:

  • We haven’t had a great deal of time to check it out; however, there don’t seem to be a great deal of problems with it. Sure, it doesn’t have the feature set of FOG, however for the average computer user, its simplicity more than makes up for these defects.

Conclusion

So there is just a small taste of the programs available to image/clone your machine. As you can tell, we here at Computer Repair Vancouver tend to recommend newcomers make use of Paragon (or even Macrium Reflect Free) in cases where they wish to image their machine. They are both fairly easy to use and are considered fairly reliable in this day and age.

Today we will not dive into any application; however, next time we will begin a discussion regarding how to image using Paragon Backup and Recovery.

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