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Tutorial: Using the Free Clonezilla Hard Disk Utility

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By: coypu76

January 4, 2016

You've seen commercial products like Acronis True Image and Norton Ghost for copying disks quickly and easily, but you may not have ever heard of the best software in the world to duplicate entire disks - even disks with multiple partitions - at a logical level: Clonezilla!Clonezilla is available at It's a Linux live CD that's Free and Open Source software you can download quickly. Use it for disk to disk clones, make an image of a disk on a hard drive for imaging other disks or save a complete snapshot of your file system.Clonezilla does not make a physical level forensic copy of a disk!  For that, you need DD, other utility or my favorite, Guymager.  You can read about Making a Forensic Disk Image Using Guymager HERE, but today we're not talking about forensics.  We're talking about basic bread and butter tech support.Just recently, I had a client with a Windows PC that had a popup error saying "Windows detected a hard disk problem" and offered to begin a backup. I was able to get a new hard drive, connect it and the original drive, and use Clonezilla to duplicate the drive before there were any unrecoverable errors. This fixed the problem very quickly, without having to re-install anything.In the tutorial below, I'll be cloning a 500GB notebook drive to a new SSD to make it run quicker, cooler and with less power usage.Clonezilla is also versatile. It can do disk-to-disk clones and disk-to-image clones for any of these scenarios:
  • Disk to same capacity or larger disk (the simplest scenario and what I'm doing here)
  • Disk to larger capacity disk, expanding partition size (great when you have a disk that's running out of space and just need a larger disk)
  • Disk to image file on a USB Hard Drive or other storage system
It also has a full-featured enterprise imaging system designed to host multiple disk images on a centralized image store and allow large deployments using PXE boot.  That's outside the scope of this tutorial, but you can read about it on Clonezilla's site. The Basic SetupThe setup I'm using here is a homebuilt desktop PC built from a barebone kit a couple of years ago. I don't use it as a PC any more, but keep around for jobs like this. It has a power supply with plenty of leads, and a surfeit of SATA headers on the system board. Here, I've connected the source drive to one SATA port, the destination drive to another and connected power to both drives.Basic hardware setup Using ClonezillaBoot Clonezilla from a CD (it's less than 300MB so it fits nicely on CD media, no need for DVD) or a USB stick (you can get instructions on how to make a bootable USB on the Clonezilla website). Hit Enter here to take the default option.Clonezilla Opening Screen Choose your language on the next screen, tab to and hit Enter.Language Selection Accept "Don't touch keymap". Tab to and hit Enter.Keymap Selection Start Clonezilla - Tab to and hit Enter.Start Clonezilla Here, we're cloning a disk directly to another disk (the fastest method). Still, take a look at the choices - if you don't have a cloning system with multiple ports like this desktop, you can still use Clonezilla. Clone to a disk image on an external USB disk drive or onto a local drive that has sufficient free space to hold an image, then run Clonezilla a second time to clone from the image back to the new drive. It's easier and quicker if you have a desktop you can use like this one, but it will work fine with an external USB drive. It just takes twice as long. Tab to and hit Enter.Device to Device  Beginner mode is fine for what we're doing here. Clonezilla has plenty of scenarios built into beginner mode. Expert mode is used when you are, for example, cloning onto a larger drive (perhaps your client ran out of space and this is why you're cloning to a larger drive) and you want to expand your partitions proportionally on the new drive.Beginner Mode This will be a disk to local disk clone. If you don't have a desktop with more than one SATA port, you can clone to an image and write the image back to the new disk after installing it. Go to Clonezilla's website to read documentation on other scenarios and options.Disk to Local Disk Exercise caution here! Choose the source disk - the original disk you are cloning from. In this case, it's easy to tell - we're going from a Western Digital regular hard disk to a Samsung SSD, so I choose the WD disk as my original.Select Source Disk (Exercise Care!) There are only two disks attached to this system, so there's only one disk left to choose, the SSD. If your system has multiple disks attached, play close attention! The destination disk will be overwritten, destroying any data on it!Select Destination Disk If disk is healthy, you can skip checking.Skip Interactive Checking Clonezilla and other disk imaging systems will have problems on an unhealthy disk. In this case, I know the disk is healthy because I checked it using a SMART disk info utility. I also deleted temp files and cleaned up profiles before I began to make things go as smoothly and quickly as possible. You'll want to make that part of your disk cloning checklist.Command Revealed Here, you get a peek behind the curtain. Clonezilla is actually a scripted GUI interface to the ocs-onthefly Linux command, which you can use in expert mode. Note the options, and later on, you can drop out to the command prompt and look at the man page or read about it on Clonezilla's web site. The choices you have made result in this command script stored in the /tmp directory.Verify: Are You Sure? Clonezilla does a first safety check here for a review of your source and destination disks. Check carefully before hitting Y for yes!Verify Again: Are you Really Sure?And, Clonezilla gives one more sanity check - a chance to make absolutely sure you have the source and destination disks right, before you overwrite the entire destination disk, destroying any data that's on it.Partition Table and Final Execute Finally, Clonezilla shows the partition table for the disk being imaged when you are doing a full disk clone. This disk has three actual usable data partitions (it's a dual-boot Windows and Linux system) and several utility partitions. Hit Y for the last time and Clonezilla will go to work.As it runs, Clonezilla will show in a text screen the status of the current partition being imaged including the elapsed time and estimated time until the current partition is complete. The small utility partitions go quickly. Larger partitions with lots of data take more time as might be expected.Go have a cup of coffee, attend a meeting or go to lunch. This was a 500GB drive, but it only had about 200GB of data on it; the actual clone took less than a half hour. Still, it takes time to move that much data even when we're connected directly to the storage controller and going straight from disk to disk. When cloning an image to an external USB drive, it will move fairly quickly if you are using a USB3 port and drive, otherwise it will crawl along. Be patient. Clonezilla works well even if you are using slow equipment.When the job is done, Clonezilla will tell you and give you a prompt to exit to the shutdown screen. SummaryThis concludes the tutorial. Explore the Clonezilla tool, which is, hands down, the best and easiest to use disk cloning utility on the planet - and it's FREE. It will become an absolutely indispensable part of your tech toolkit!
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