A clone is a direct copy, bit for bit, so that the data stored on the cloned drive is identical to the data on the original drive. From the operating system to the hidden directory files, from your desktop to the device drivers, everything is copied identically. Swap the old drive out for a freshly made clone and there should be no functional difference. You can also use the cloned drive in another PC, and aside from some potential missing drivers due to hardware differences, it should work just like your old system, making it an ideal backup in the event of a damaged PC. The downside to this, however, is that a direct bit-for-bit clone will usually be the only thing on the backup drive.
Tools and Utilities
For those who want to clone their drive directly, there are several tools available such as Macrium Reflect Free, ShadowCopy, Clonezilla, and EaseUS Todo Backup Free.
Cloning a drive, or even saving a backup image, requires having someplace to save your data to. When backing up an entire drive, you’ll want to have a drive of equal or larger capacity set aside for backup, and nothing else. You have two real options: A bare hard drive, or an external drive.
A bare drive is exactly like the drive you already have in your laptop or desktop—it’s the actual drive, but not yet installed in a machine. Once you’ve acquired the drive, you can either install it as a second drive or purchase a compatible drive enclosure for it. These drives come in several physical sizes, meant for desktops or laptops, and both spinning hard drives and solid-state drives (SSD) are viable options. For cloning purposes, you’ll want a drive with at least as much memory as the data you’re cloning (the amount of used memory in the original drive). For example, if you only have 200GB of data stored on a 500GB drive, some cloning tools will let you clone the data to a drive smaller than 500GB, so long as there is space for all 200GB of data. For a drive that can literally be swapped for the one already in your PC, you’ll definitely want to get a drive that is the same size and connector type as the original.
Making the Clone
Once you’ve got your back up drive, cleaned up, and figured out your backup utility, it’s time to start cloning. Connect the destination drive, open up your backup utility, and follow the utility’s directions to copy the contents of your hard drive to the backup. Depending on the size of the drive to be cloned, the amount of data stored on the drive, and the speed of both the original and backup drives, this process may take anywhere from several minutes to several hours.
Caring for Clones
Once the drive is completely cloned you’re done—for now. What you have is an exact copy of the original at that moment in time. Any future changes in files, programs, or anything else will only be reflected on the original drive.