How to clone a hard drive as a backup for your Windows computer

PC computer external hard drive HDD
You can clone your PC’s hard drive easily with a third-party program.

  • You can clone a hard drive to make a duplicate that you can use to replace a failed drive or get a new computer up and running quickly.
  • Windows can’t clone a hard drive automatically, but there are free and paid commercial programs that make the process easy. 
  • You can clone any hard drive — the system drive, a data drive, and both SSDs and HDDs.  
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Backup software is a good insurance policy against catastrophe – a failed drive or crippling malware, for example. But a clone of your hard drive – a duplicate of the drive in its entirety – has a lot of advantages as well. For example, if your primary hard drive fails or you are upgrading to a new PC, having a cloned drive means you can get up and running just by swapping in the backup. In fact, a good strategy for some users is to maintain both an incremental backup using backup software and a frequently updated cloned drive.

One important caveat: While you can clone a system (“C”) drive, it’s only useful in the exact same computer. Because of the way Windows works, you can’t clone a system drive and insert it in a new computer with different hardware components. You can clone and use a data drive (such as a “D” drive) in a new PC, though. 

How to clone a hard drive

To begin, you will need a second drive that is at least as big as the content on the drive you want to copy. It can be mounted internally in your computer or an external drive connected via USB. 

How to clone a hard drive 1
You can clone any drive, including copying your laptop’s system drive to an external hard drive.

You will also need a program capable of cloning your hard drive because Windows does not have the ability to do this automatically. You can use a free program like Macrium Reflect, which is reliable and easy to use, or a commercial program like Casper, which you can license for $49.95. The specific process for cloning your drive varies depending on the program you use, but we’ll use Macrium as an example. 

1. Start Macrium Reflect. You’ll see a list of all your drives. 

How to clone a hard drive 2
Macrium Reflect works like many clone tools. You should see all the connected drives and their internal partitions.

2. Find the drive you want to clone and then click “Clone this disk…” under the drive.

3. In the pop-up window, click “Select a disk to clone to…” and choose the destination drive you want to use to make the clone. 

How_to_clone_a_hard_drive 3
After you choose the drive you want to clone, select the destination drive you are going to copy the data to.

4. Click “Next” and then click “OK” to start the cloning process. 

It will take a while to create the clone, depending on how much data is stored on the drive. When it’s done, you will have an exact duplicate you can use to restore or set up a new PC.  

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