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Hard drive cloning and disk-imaging software is infinitely useful for end users and IT managers alike. Whether you’re just making a hard drive recovery partition, blasting full images to dozens of systems across a network, or creating virtual machines for a testing environment, cloning software has got you covered. Not all cloning applications and utilities are created equal, though. There are numerous options available, at various price points—including free—with a diverse range of integrated features.
For a related story on how to clone a hard drive or SSD, click here.
In some ways, all cloning and imaging utilities are similar. Assuming they work properly, at their most basic level, cloning utilities make bit-by-bit, accurate clones—or images—of a drive or partition. And those images can be quickly and easily restored or moved to a new drive (or VM) in the event of a problem. There are plenty of cloning utilities to choose from, and Windows itself even has the ability to create disk images built right in. But if you start to dig in and compare the options and capabilities of the multitude of utilities out there, you’ll quickly find that their lists of features are as varied as their price points.
Fret not. We have rounded up a half-dozen hard drive cloning and disk-imaging utilities and will attempt to demystify the selection process for you here. If you’re looking for a basic, free solution that does little else but clone disks or create images, or a more comprehensive product that also offers some cloud storage for backups, we’ve got something on tap that fits the bill.
Loaded with features and relatively affordable
The moment you launch True Image 2014, it is immediately clear that the folks at Acronis get it. Although Acronis True Image offers arguably the most comprehensive set of features in the group, it also sports the most well-organized, easiest-to-navigate menu system of the bunch.
At first, users are given the choice to take a virtual tour of the various parts of the program, which explains how to back up data, when to recover data, and how to leverage Acronis’s cloud storage capabilities (5GB, free). Novices should definitely take advantage of Acronis’s help system, as it lays a solid foundation and does a good job explaining many of the program’s features.
As users tunnel deeper into Acronis True Image 2014’s menus, they’ll find a wealth of options for cloning disks, creating images, performing incremental backups, synchronizing folders, creating recovery media, and much more.
Despite a plethora of options, True Image 2014 is surprisingly easy to navigate.
Not only is Acronis True Image 2014 relatively easy to use and loaded with a wealth of features, it’s also the most affordable of the paid options featured here. At $50 for the standard desktop edition, Acronis True Image 2014 isn’t exactly a steal, especially when there are competent, free alternatives available, but it’s certainly an application we’d buy if we were in need of a comprehensive all-in-one disk-cloning and backup solution.
Acronis True Image 2014
Norton Ghost reincarnated, with new name and additional features
For years, when you discussed cloning or imaging a system, Norton Ghost came to mind. The utility was so popular, in fact, that somewhat like Google, the brand became a verb: “Ghosting” a system was synonymous with cloning a drive or taking a system image. Earlier this year, though, Symantec discontinued development of Norton Ghost and moved on to a new, all-encompassing cloning and backup solution dubbed Symantec System Recovery.
Symantec System Recovery is offered in a few versions, which target home, corporate, or enterprise users. It is the $85 Symantec System Recovery 2013 Desktop Edition of the software that will be of most interest to you, our good readers. Like Acronis True Image, Symantec System Recovery 2013 can do everything from incremental backups to full drive clones, and the utility supports virtually any type of storage media, from USB flash drives to network volumes. Symantec System Recovery 2013 can even send backup images and data to an offsite FTP.
Symantec System Recovery 2013 Desktop Edition has got it all, and then some.
Although Symantec System Recovery 2013 Desktop Edition is feature-rich and should be easy enough to navigate for knowledgeable PC users, its interface and UI aren’t quite as refined as Acronis True Image 2014, in our opinion. It is also the more expensive option of the two. Ultimately, though, Symantec System Recovery 2013 Desktop Edition is a quality product, worthy of consideration, especially if you’re already intimately familiar with Ghost.
Symantec System Recovery 2013 Desktop Edition
Powerful, easy to use, and has enterprise-class DNA
StorageCraft, a respected provider of enterprise-class backup solutions, scaled down some of its wares to produce ShadowProtect Desktop 5. One of the advantages to having enterprise-class roots is that ShadowProtect Desktop 5 is about as reliable as they come, but the app also looks somewhat dated in comparison to competing products from Acronis and Symantec. It also seems like the developers of ShadowProtect Desktop assume their users have a certain level of expertise with image-based backup solutions, because the program’s help system isn’t terribly detailed.
With that said, experienced PC users will probably dig a number of ShadowProtect Desktop 5’s features. The utility can take images of disks or partitions and save them virtually anywhere. After an initial image is created, the program can then take incremental backups at whatever schedule the user desires. ShadowProtect Desktop 5 will also let users open images to restore individual files or folders, and images created with the program can be launched as a VM inside VirtualBox, should users want to experiment on an image without necessarily restoring files.
It may not be as well known as its rivals, but ShadowProtect Desktop 5 is an excellent image-based backup suite.
It’s not the prettiest of the apps featured here, and ShadowProtect Desktop 5 is the most expensive by a few bucks, but it’s a powerful solution that will serve savvy users well.
ShadowProtect Desktop 5