How to clone a hard drive on both MacOS and Windows

Cloning your hard drive can be a lifesaver. Here's how to do it

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A straight backup of your most important files is one of the most important steps you can take in retaining the data that’s nearest and dearest to you. But beyond having a remote cloud backup somewhere safe, learning how to clone a hard drive is another great way of protecting your information. It’s even more versatile than just backing up individual files too, since if your system fails, you can pop in your backup drive and pick up right where you left off.

Cloning a hard drive not only backs up your files, but gives you an exact copy of all of your data. That includes the operating system, drivers, software, files, folders — everything. That makes it great as a fail-safe, but also makes moving to a new drive far easier since you don’t have to install everything again.

Windows

Step 1: Download Macrium Reflect 7

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There are a number of great hard drive cloning applications you can use, but our favorite is Macrium Reflect 7. It’s a powerful and capable tool, with cloning and backup functions. The free version is entirely suited to our needs, but if you want the paid for version ($70 for Home users) you also unlock encryption, incremental backups, and ransomware protection. There is also a 30-day free trial you can take advantage of if you want to try it out.

Whether you opt for the free or paid version, download Macrium Reflect 7 from the official website. In a somewhat frustrating move, it will download a downloader, but once it’s complete, you can install the application as you would any other.

Step 2: Ready your drives

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Make sure that both the drive you want to clone, your “source” drive, and the one you want to clone that data to, your “destination” drive, are both plugged into your system. That can be through internal or external connections, but they must both be plugged in and recognized by the system. To make sure they are, open up Macrium Reflect 7 and on the opening page you’ll see a collection of all the drives in your system and their respective partitions.

This is also a good time to make sure that your destination drive has enough space. It will need to have more free space than that of your source drive in order to receive all of that new information. If it doesn’t, you can use cleanup tools from Windows and third parties, or you can learn more about how to free system space with our guide here.

Step 3: Manage partitions

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To start the cloning process, first select the source drive and then the blue Clone this disk… link underneath it in the main window. A new window will appear that will ask you to select a destination disk. Click the area that says Select a disk to clone to… and choose your destination disk from the list that appears.

Note: Remember that any existing data on the destination drive will be erased as part of the cloning process, so be sure to backup any information on it before proceeding further.

You can manually delete existing partitions if you so choose, but it’s not necessary. If there are any partitions on the source drive that you don’t want to copy over to the destination drive, untick them using the relevant boxes. Then select Copy selected partitions. Alternatively, drag and drop the particular partitions you want to clone to the new drive.

If you’re unsure, just clone all of them and work out what you don’t need later.

If you are moving to a much larger drive, it’s also a good idea to increase the size of your main partition to best take advantage of it. To do so, select the largest partition on your source drive (usually C:) and select Cloned Partition Properties. On the subsequent screen, select the box that says Maximum size, then press OK.

Step 4: Start the cloning process

Once you’ve sorted your partitions and drives and think you’re ready to begin the cloning process, just double check everything one more time– it never hurts. When you’re doubly sure, select Finish and then OK to start the cloning process. Depending on the size, speed, and usage of your drives, this process can take quite some time.

When it’s finished, your new drive should be just as functional as the old one.

MacOS

Cloning a hard drive on MacOS is a little easier than Windows because you can use its built-in Disk Utility tool to perform the same kind of drive clone function. There are plenty of third-party alternatives you can use, like the popular Carbon Copy Cloner, but Disk Utility does the job just fine. You don’t need to have the latest version of MacOS Mojave, but it’s never a bad idea to keep your Mac up to date.

Step 1: Boot to a different volume

The only downside to Disk Utility compared to some third-party tools, is that it unmounts drives to speed up the copy process. That means you can’t perform a drive clone from the same volume as you’re booted to. You’ll either need to boot from another drive or volume with a functioning MacOS install, or alternatively, use the Recovery HD volume.

You can access the Recovery HD volume by restarting your Mac while holding down the CMD + R keys.

Step 2: Ready your drives

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Whether you’re using an internal or an external drive, make sure that both the source drive (the one you’re cloning) and your destination drive (the one you’re copying the data to) are plugged in and recognized by the system. You may want to switch your Mac off and plug them in before powering it up again, but when you’ve done so, open up Disk Utility. You can do so by selecting the Spotlight search tool (it looks like a magnifying glass) and searching for Disk Utility. Then select the corresponding entry.

You should see both your source and destination drive listed in the left-hand window. If you can’t, select View followed by Show all Devices.

Step 3: Select your drives

Select your destination drive from the list of volumes on the left-hand side. This is the volume that will have the data copied to it and will be erased as part of the process, so make sure to select the correct one and that any important data on it is backed up. Then select the Restore button from the top menu. It looks like a circular arrow.

In the new pop-up window, select the Restore From bar and choose your source drive — the one to clone the data from.

Step 4: Start the clone process

Double check everything and make sure that you have selected the correct destination drive and source drive and don’t have them back to front. When you are certain everything is in order, press Restore to start the clone process. Depending on the size and speed of the drives in question, the process may take some time. Wait for it to complete.

When it’s done so, you should have a fully cloned drive that you can use as you wish.

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