I'm a software developer, and we have to test our application installation and functionality on many Windows operating system versions and languages (XP, Vista, Win7; English, Spanish, Portuguese, etc; 32-bit & b4-bit.)

While we can do much of this in virtual machines, we have noticed that VM's sometimes hide problems, or raise false bugs. So, we need to do "bare metal" OS installation for much of our testing.

I have been using Acronis True Image for the past year, and am not impressed. It often gives random errors which require a reboot, and is really slow. For example, when trying to restore an image, it goes through a "Locking partition" cycle about three times (once after you click OK on each step of the wizard), each of which can take 5 minutes to complete. This all happens BEFORE it actually starts the image copy, which is sometimes quick (3-5 minutes), sometimes long (hours). The size of all of our images are roughly the same, so that is not related.

So, anyway, I'm looking to switch to something else:

  • I only need very basic functionality--just creating images of entire discs, and then restoring those images onto the exact same hard drive at a later date. That's it.
  • I'm not opposed to paying for a good piece of software, but if there is something free out there that does the job well, that would be a preference.
  • My OS on which the imaging software would run is Windows Vista, but a bootable media (into a Linux flavor) would be fine also, as long as its quick to use and reliable.


(Also, moderators, if this should be a CW, I'll be happy to mark it as such; unclear about the rules there.)


I've had good success with Clonezilla - it's free, fast (understands filesystems for optimal copying) and scriptable.

  • 1
    Clonezilla is the boss. – Zimmy-DUB-Zongy-Zong-DUBBY Mar 3 '10 at 16:05
  • We use clonezilla to image workstations allowing us to re-image a machine and get into production status in roughly 20-30 minutes. 12GB of data on an HDD typically comes down to 2-3GB in the image thanks to compression. Boot with CD and use USB HDD for the images. Network could work also. – steve.lippert Mar 3 '10 at 17:08
  • @steve: My current setup is an 80 GB drive that serves as the target for all images. All images are stored on a separate 1 TB drive on the same machine. (Separate physical drive, not just partition.) Will Clonezilla support this, or does it have to be a USB / network source? – Dave Mar 3 '10 at 18:08
  • @dave That's a supported configuration. – JamesOff Mar 3 '10 at 22:20
  • Clonezilla is the winner! It is rocking fast. I couldn't get the normal Debian version to work (display problem, I think), but the Ubuntu-based "alternate" version is working great. Now I need to figure out the boot parameters so I don't have to select my language and keyboard every time. Thanks for the tip! – Dave Mar 4 '10 at 18:53

All the Linux-based ready-made rescue CDs i've come across include dd which i've in the past used to clone partitions. I quite like it because it is not hard to make a compressed file image of a raw partition:

Backup: dd if=/dev/sda2 | gzip -1 > /tmp/image.gz

Restore: zcat /tmp/image.gz | dd of=/dev/sda2

Used this to clone a fresh Windows Server 2003 install that was on a 40GB partition, and the resulting file was 2GB.

  • It doesn't get more "minimal" than this. You should be able to find the dd command on virtually all linux boot disks. It's on the Ubuntu live CD if you want a nice GUI to run the command line under. ;-) – Chris Nava Mar 3 '10 at 17:14
  • This will work (I've used it myself to great effect), but will be very slow - it processes all of the disk even if it contains no data. The only speed up there is that it's likely to be all zeros and compress very quickly. – JamesOff Mar 3 '10 at 17:35
  • For low-level (as opposed to filesystem) copy, a pass over every sector of a partition is unavoidable. My thinking was not having to store all those zeroes avoids a second complete-partition pass (big gain if both drives are on same bus), and since its zeroes the cost of gzip -9 or bzip is not worth it. – user31795 Mar 4 '10 at 0:13

The MS Windows AIK has served me good in the past, but has a learning curve that might be a little steep. Free (as in beer) too, plus it's the officially supported method so you can be certain that it will work well.

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