Taming Clonezilla: Free open source disk imaging and backups

Clonezilla is powerful and flexible but hardly straightforward; here's how to harness the popular drive-cloning software

Among the many tools out there for cloning drives and performing full-system backups, one came to my attention for being both free (and open source) and powerful: Clonezilla, a product of the Free Software Labs of the National Center for High-Performance Computing in Taiwan.

Clonezilla's power, however, is matched by complexity. You can get a lot out of it, but at the cost of paying close attention to what you're doing. Here's a guide to getting just what you need from Clonezilla -- without wreaking havoc on your system or being swallowed by the monster.

Clonezilla performs two basic kinds of disk-copying operations: disk-to-disk and disk-to-file. Disk-to-disk is exactly what it sounds like -- a way to directly copy the contents of one disk or partition to another. Disk-to-file copying allows a disk or partition to be saved to a series of files, which are kept together in a directory located on either a network-attached disk or a locally mounted one (for example, a USB-connected hard drive).

Clonezilla comes packaged in an ISO image file, which can be burned to a CD and booted. It can also be unpacked to a USB flash drive and booted if your system supports that; late-model systems generally do.

The USB-boot method is far faster than CD, and the Clonezilla site includes instructions on how to create a bootable flash drive. I prefer method B from that list, although you have to pay close attention to which drive letter is being used for the USB drive.

Getting started with Clonezilla
When you choose an option from Clonezilla's boot menu, the default should work fine for most PCs. If you only have one copy of Clonezilla and need to work with multiple PCs, select "Other modes of Clonezilla | Clonezilla live (To RAM)," which allows you to remove the boot media and use it on another computer once Clonezilla is finished loading.

Clonezilla's boot options include a RAM-resident version, freeing admins to use the same boot media immediately on additional computers.
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