Cloned discsIn my last article I promised to return with a review of my experiences testing two or three imaging (and cloning) solutions for Windows XP. (For a description of imaging or cloning, please see the aforementioned article.) Over the past few days I tested Clonezilla (a free and open source solution), Todo Backup (the free version of EaseUS‘ Todo Backup applications), and Runtime Software’s DriveImage XML. I’ll say right away that I was successfully able to image my drive partition using all three solutions. (I mentioned in my last article that I was having some trouble with the EaseUS software, but testing on the machine I had intended to image in the first place resulted in a painless and trouble-free process. In fact, EaseUS turned out to be the quickest and perhaps the easiest solution of the three I tested.) That said, I did run into some issues using each solution — issues that I hope you won’t have to contend with after reading this article. Cloning (or imaging) a disk or partition can be achieved in remarkably different ways — the way each solution operates and the manner in which a user interfaces with the solution or application can vary dramatically — and most people are likely to prefer using one method or another to preserve their system.

You’ll recall that my intention was to image a Windows XP installation — specifically, I aimed to clone a freshly-installed Windows XP Professional partition. The process of using Clonezilla was fairly easy for me because I understand a thing or about Linux and its hard drive naming conventions; for those who don’t understand the difference between hda and sda (or sda0 and sda1) or find it too bothersome to be required to burn an ISO to CD-ROM, I recommend trying one of the other two solutions. Clonezilla provides bootable images as ISOs and compressed files users must download and use to create a boot disc (or other boot device, such as a USB flash drive) from. Once booted, users are presented with the option of operating the disc via command line or running the disc’s graphical user interface (the default option, which turns out to be a text-based GUI similar to those used by classic Linux installers). Clonezilla then presents a series of options for the user to select in order to manage and execute the process of imaging a drive or partition.

Clonezilla is not a difficult tool to use but may be somewhat disorienting for users unfamiliar with text-based interfaces. If that is not an issue for you then you’ll find the swiftness of the imaging process to be a welcome change from some of the more bloated imaging software out there you may have tried before. As far as I could tell, there is no need to use the computer mouse with this program; users are only required to use the arrow and enter keys on their keypad in order to work with Clonezilla. Once I created my boot disc (I tested with a CD-ROM, and later with a USB flash drive), booted up my laptop and navigated through Clonezilla’s menu, I found this imaging solution able to produce a clone of my Windows XP partition, which is about seven gigabytes, within ten minutes. Clonezilla ain’t pretty but it gets the job done, and fast (again, once you’ve burned your ISO or USB device to boot from).

Todo Backup, on the other hand, has a much more familiar interface for most Windows users. It’s graphical user interface provides a standard visual menu system for users to navigate and set up the cloning process, and doesn’t require the creation of a boot disc in order to use. It is, in fact, a downloadable application that is installed and run from the same drive partition you wish to image. Once installed, Todo Backup is run just as most applications on your system are; the application may reboot your computer in order to complete the imaging process but you aren’t required to boot from an optical media drive (as you are with Clonezilla). I found that once I figured out how to use the application, which I had initially misunderstood, the program was able to reboot and finish imaging my partition in just about the same amount of time as Clonezilla had.

Installing Todo Backup is straightforward; simply download the application from its vendor’s website, execute the installer, and accept all the defaults in the dialogs presented. Once installed, the user simply runs the application and is presented with a fairly standard menu containing four categories from which to select a task: Backup, Recovery, Clone, and Tools. Selecting Partition clone, an option under the Clone category, displays a source selection screen:

Todo Backup source selection

From here the user selects the source — that is, the partition you wish to clone. (In my case it was the C: drive, which held my installation of Windows XP.) On the next screen you select the destination of the clone — that is, where you want to store it. (In my case it was the F: drive, which I had formatted as NTFS, the standard Windows file system.) Proceeding to the next screen the user is presented with a visual summary of the action(s) you wish to execute. Users can also tick off a check box to instruct the program to shut down the system once it is done performing its work. Once all the selections are made, the user simply clicks the Proceed button and the program will clone your partition. (It took about twenty minutes to complete mine.)

The third solution I tried, DriveImage XML, is a free solution for private (home) use but will require a fee if used for commercial (business) purposes. As with Todo Backup, DriveImage XML was easy to install and execute but operates a bit differently than either of the two solutions already presented. Upon opening the program, the user selects the task to execute — in our case, the Drive to Drive option — then proceeds through a similar selection process as with the other two solutions:

DriveImage XML

The rest of the selection process is very similar to that of Todo Backup. Once all of the selections are made and the process is executed, however, DriveImage XML took a much longer time to prepare and store my partition’s image. I am hoping all the extra time DriveImage XML takes to copy and store data indicates it is creating an image I’ll be able to do much more with than simply store away for a future occasion; I’ll explain a bit more about that in my next article.

All in all, the imaging solutions described in this article were simple enough for me to use, and other Windows XP users without much experience cloning their systems should be able to find one of these solutions useful. I’ve found, however, that recovering the images I created required a bit more work (particularly with one of the imaging solutions presented here). I’ll describe the recovery process in my next article, at which time I’ll also suggest the free imaging solution I found to be most worthy of my overall recommendation.