Clone Your System To Save Time Restoring Backups

by Anil Polat · 21 comments

mirror image of handWe’ve talked about using free alternative software to back up your important laptop files and free online backup to keep your travel photos safe. Both options are good ways to make sure your data isn’t lost when your hard drive is. One thing these backup methods won’t do though is restore your programs and settings to the way they were when your computer crashed. If you’re a digital nomad working from the road, it’s especially important to get your laptop back to the way it was so you can get working again quickly.

Fortunately there are several simple methods you can use to prepare a your laptop to get it back to just the way it was, ready for the files you’ve so diligently been backing up.

CloneZilla (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)

This open source (free) program creates a disk clone of your system. Basically Clonezilla takes a snapshot of your entire system, including all of the programs you’ve installed, their individual settings, and any modifications you’ve made to your operating system. Creating a disk clone is a straightforward task and all you need is an external hard drive to store the image. Cloning will save you a lot of time getting your system back up and running and you won’t have to fish around for installation disks and try to remember quite exactly how you modified your Firefox plugins.


DriveImage XML (Windows)

Similar to CloneZilla, DriveImage XML is a Windows-only cloning program. It’s free and one neat thing about DriveImage XML is that it can do cloning on the fly, so you can do other work while you create a clone. That makes it easier to create clones on a more regular basis so you can have recent versions of a clone available if you end up needing to restore your disk. DriveImage XML can be set up to run automatic backups on a schedule you choose.

driveimage xml

A Screenshot

This simple restore method doesn’t do anything but help jog your memory in case you don’t bother with creating clones. Windows users open your Start menu, snap a screenshot, email it to yourself to serve as a reminder of what programs you had. Mac and Linux users can do the same and if there are certain programs you’ve spent a lot of time customizing you can screenshot the setting screens as well.

mac screenshot

Have Something!

Assuming you’ve got your data backups in order, installing programs and getting your system settings in place is the most time consuming and frustrating part of a disaster. Do yourself a favor and at least have a few screenshots. If you’ll be on the road for an extended period of time or your laptop is absolutely critical to your work, having a good disk clone will come in handy and save you from lugging around a bunch of installation disks and product IDs.

[photos by: where are the joneses, Yos Wiranata]

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Barbara @ Hole In The Donut Travels February 16, 2010 at 17:32

I’ve been using my Mac’s built-in Time Machine. Wonder if that does the same thing?


2 Kyle February 16, 2010 at 18:28

Technically, Time Machine does not do a clone, but it’s just as good and in some cases better than doing a clone. If someone, say, steals your computer your clone might be completely useless because as soon as you try to restore what you had on your old computer to your new computer, it won’t work. It’ll think that you are trying to steal their software by installing it on multiple computers.

The short of it: stick with Time Machine and you’ll be ok 🙂


3 Barbara @ Hole In The Donut Travels February 16, 2010 at 20:15

Thanks Kyle – sure makes life simpler. Sometimes technology dries me crazy – changes faster than I can keep up with it, and I’m retty technically competent. Wonder what others do?


4 Anil P. February 17, 2010 at 06:46

I agree with Kyle although you won’t be able to use Time Machine as a bootable disk. Here’s a good rundown of what Time Machine can and can’t do:


5 Chris - The Aussie Nomad February 17, 2010 at 04:34

For Mac’s I’ve used Super Duper and its perfect. Image across to an ext hard drive any time you like and make it bootable. That way when your system goes down simple pull the hard drive out of your external caddy and fit it into your mac.

You can then boot up and keep on working like nothing ever happened.


6 Anil P. February 17, 2010 at 06:49

Just checked it out, are you using the free version or full? I guess without the scheduling you just have to run the backups manually from time to time?


7 Chris - The Aussie Nomad February 17, 2010 at 06:53

I used a paid version (been 12 months since I updated it) and just run manual updates when I have made significant changes. Used it to upgrade my hard drive 6 months ago and will use it to do that again before I leave for Europe.

Time machine is nice for backup but this provides exact cloning. Just get an external hard drive caddy and its easy to just swap the drive out and away you go again.


8 Anil P. February 17, 2010 at 06:57

Thanks Chris!


9 Pete March 14, 2010 at 11:44

I’m using a MAC with bootcamp 3.1 and Windows 7. Can CloneZilla be used to make an exact copy of the disk to an external HD? In the event of a system failure, would boot up from the CloneZilla disk and reinstall both the MAC and Windows 7. If not CloneZilla, is there anything that would work.


10 Anil P. March 14, 2010 at 13:58

Clonezilla lets you do a sector-by-sector copy of the hard drive (one of the setup options) which makes a copy of the entire disk. This *should* work to get both of your partitions copied so you could reuse them in case you need to recover the disk. I haven’t personally tried this method though and can’t say for sure, but I’m nearly certain it would work.

Best of luck and I’ll do some more digging to see if I can get you a more definitive answer.


11 Pete March 14, 2010 at 17:02

From where would you boot the CloneZilla disk? Bootcamp or use the utility disk obtained by inserting the MAC boot up disk first while holding down “C”?

Thanks for your help


12 Anil P. March 14, 2010 at 19:55

You’d use the live disk (or USB stick) you create to boot up on the Mac system.


13 Pete March 14, 2010 at 20:45

I got that, however my question is 1. do I select this CloneZilla boot up option from the MAC bootcamp screen. The bootcamp screen would show the MAC, Windows 7, and CloneZilla icons. Or 2. do I first boot up using the MAC program disk while holding down the “C” and then eject the MAC disk and finally insert the CloneZilla disk?


14 Anil P. March 15, 2010 at 14:58

Hmm…I’m not 100% sure to be honest since I haven’t done it. My best guess would be to boot up using the Mc disk utility since Bootcamp is just recognizing the live disk and probably assumes you’ll mount it as a new drive.

Hope this helps a bit!


15 Pete March 15, 2010 at 17:52

Thanks, will try it next week. At least the first step. Don’t want to borrow trouble, so as long as no crash—-no try (unless I get really bored one day)


16 Anil P. March 16, 2010 at 08:36

Good luck…if you remember would appreciate you posting the steps you followed here. Could be useful to others curious to try the same thing. Thanks!


17 Pete March 24, 2010 at 18:10

Made the clone this morning.
1. used an external hard drive as the target.
2. You can not partition the external HD, clonezilla wants it all.
3. Booted up from bootcamp. Could not use other method, because I could not eject the MAC bootup disk at that point.
4. Followed on screen directions for live version, and chose disk to disk cloning.
5. It first cloned the MAC partition and then went on to clone the bootcamp Windows 7 version.
6. When viewing the external HD on the MAC platform you see two icons, one representing the MAC clone and one the bootcamp windows 7 clone.

Now just have to wait for a crash to see if it can restore both systems. Hope that day never comes.

If anyone has any restoration stories for bootcamp would love to hear them.


18 Anil P. March 25, 2010 at 04:31

Pete, I appreciate you dropping by and taking the time to jot down the steps you too – I’m certain they’ll help someone reading. Will pass this around and see if I can get any restoration stories for you.

19 Penny McGraw January 6, 2011 at 03:27

I was wondering if a flash drive can back up my lap top files, restore points and or clone my computer the way i have it.
My last computer had a virus. And I lost everything, even the preloaded programs.
Also if I may ask. Can I USE my lap top back up to fix my other computer. So I can have programs, Like is it legal. It need windows, the whole nine yards.
Thank you; Penny M ….. from West Virginia


20 Anil P. January 6, 2011 at 06:49

You won’t be able to clone to a flash drive since finding one big enough is likely impossible for the time being. A portable hard drive is the best way to go for disk cloning.

About your second point; are you planning on creating a clone and running it one a second computer as well?


21 Rose July 18, 2013 at 07:23

I am using Stellar Drive Clone for my Mac since 2 years and never felt the need of any alternative. As far as Clonezilla is concerned it is a good option for cloning and imaging for those working on many plateforms like Mac, linux and windows.
But, for users like me Stellar Drive Clone is the best as it can support windows partition of your Mac disk.


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