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I just got a new-ish HP laptop. I plan to install a few different OSes on it for multi-booting along with the installed Windows. Before I mess with any of that, I'd like to make a bulletproof, ready to go, copy of the current hard drive, including a functional system restore partition, on an external drive that I can switch in if anything goes wrong or if I just want to put things back as they were.

I've seen this done with two identical model hard drives, but I'd like to use a larger hard drive for the backup if possible.

I'd prefer to do this with free software, and I'm comfortable booting Linux from a thumbdrive or similar.

  • I'd prefer to do this with free software, and I'm comfortable booting linux from a thumbdrive or similar. – user3558488 Jan 3 '16 at 18:03
  • Not tried myself (hence no answer), but I'd take a look at Clonezilla. Even better of course would be to use a Live-CD (so nothing of your hard-disk is mounted, which guarantees a "clean copy"). If you're open to that, check out SystemRescueCD. Running Linux, using partimage for cloning. – Izzy Jan 3 '16 at 20:11
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I use Clonezilla for that, and it never failed me.

http://clonezilla.org/

Very complete and robust piece of software. From their website:

Features

  • Many File systems are supported: (1) ext2, ext3, ext4, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, jfs, btrfs and f2fs of GNU/Linux, (2) FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS of MS Windows, (3) HFS+ of Mac OS, (4) UFS of FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD, (5) minix of Minix, and (6) VMFS3 and VMFS5 of VMWare ESX. Therefore you can clone GNU/Linux, MS windows, Intel-based Mac OS, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, Minix, VMWare ESX and Chrome OS/Chromium OS, no matter it's 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x86-64) OS. For these file systems, only used blocks in partition are saved and restored. For unsupported file system, sector-to-sector copy is done by dd in Clonezilla.
  • LVM2 (LVM version 1 is not) under GNU/Linux is supported. Boot loader, including grub (version 1 and version 2) and syslinux, could be reinstalled.
  • Both MBR and GPT partition formats of hard drive are supported. Clonezilla live also can be booted on a BIOS or uEFI machine.
  • Unattended mode is supported. Almost all steps can be done via commands and options. You can also use a lot of boot parameters to customize your own imaging and cloning.
  • One image restoring to multiple local devices is supported.
  • Image could be encrypted. This is done with ecryptfs, a POSIX-compliant enterprise cryptographic stacked filesystem.
  • Multicast is supported in Clonezilla SE, which is suitable for massively clone. You can also remotely use it to save or restore a bunch of computers if PXE and Wake-on-LAN are supported in your clients.
  • The image file can be on local disk, ssh server, samba server, NFS server or WebDAV server.
  • AES-256 encryption could be used to secures data access, storage and transfer.
  • Based on Partclone (default), Partimage (optional), ntfsclone (optional), or dd to image or clone a partition. However, Clonezilla, containing some other programs, can save and restore not only partitions, but also a whole disk.
  • By using another free software drbl-winroll, which is also developed by us, the hostname, group, and SID of cloned MS windows machine can be automatically changed.
  • This recommendation might benefit from some caveats. I have some Linux ability, but no means an expert. I found Clonezilla to require an incredible amount of time invested, compared to any similar software. On just one adventure, I put my image to be restored on a bootable USB along with CloneZilla. I was shocked to find that (the version I was using) absolutely did not consider this use case - the boot (usb) drive was NOT a viable option for image source. I had to 'trick' clonezilla by sticking the USB drive into a different USB port after booting in order to read my drive image from it. – user1445967 Dec 14 '17 at 9:49
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I use Acronis TrueImage.

Bootable: It can be installed on Windows, but also comes with a bootable DVD (shipped as ISO, additional cost if you want it physical), so you can create a copy without modifying your system. I don't know if they provide the ability to boot from USB stick in case you don't have an optical drive.

Commercial: It's neither free nor open-source. A license is at ~40 €.

1:1 clone: sector-by-sector cloning is possible. For partition types known to TrueImage, you could also skip the free space. In that case, you'll not be able to restore deleted files.

Larger target disk: TrueImage will copy the contents into a single file, so it does not care about the size of the disk. It can even compress the file so you save additional disk space and can keep several backup copies. As an alternative, you can also copy the partitions directly, destroying the file system on the destination disk.

In your case, the following approach may be best:

  1. Create a copy from the internal disk to the external, copying partitions directly (not as a file)
  2. Switch internal and external drives
  3. Boot from the cloned drive to see if everything is still fine
  4. If so, install the other dual boot OS

Like that you'll always have the original drive as a backup and you don't need to worry whether the backup is really functional.

1

The Superuser blog itself recommends Macrium Reflect. I found it easy to use and yet quite powerful.

  • And it's available as a free version for homa and commercial use. Wow – Thomas Weller Apr 28 at 19:22
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As you're open to booting Linux from a "removable disk", I'd recommend taking a look at SystemRescueCD – a live Linux system developed for troubleshooting and repair. It ships a.o. with Partimage, which is intended to create copies of disk partitions. Your images can be stored on an attached drive (e.g. USB disk), or even a remote machine (via network).

This should perfectly match your needs:

  • boot from the CD, so you can create a clean copy
  • create an image of each partition, and store that to a backup drive
  • if needed, repeat the action to restore from those backups (e.g. in case you don't like the outcome of your experiment ;)

Another pro: backups will be compressed, so they consume less space. Of course, you could also use those images to create a "disk clone" if you prefer – but for that, you would need to prepare the target disk with the corresponding partitioning.

For other alternatives, see also LifeHacker: Five Best System Rescue Discs.

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In the category of 'free' options I found GNOME Partition Editor, or GParted, to be a good enough solution.

https://gparted.org

I did not specifically require a GUI, but theirs was functional enough for my needs.

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