Cloning a Windows system disk using nothing but free software

As part of the process of replacing the hard disk in my server at home, I needed to clone the operating system between two drives. As my Windows Server installation consists of two partitions (my C: and a 100MB system reserved partition), I couldn’t use Microsoft’s disk imaging tool (imagex.exe) as it only works on single partitions (i.e. it’s not possible to image multiple partitions in a single operation).

I could have used commercial software like Symantec Ghost but I figured there must be a legitimate, free, way to do this by now and it turns out there is – I used the open source Clonezilla utility (I also considered some alternatives but found that some needed to be installed and I wanted something that would leave no trace on the system).

I had some issues at first – for some reason my machine wouldn’t boot from the CD I created but I found the best way was to install Clonezilla on the target disk.

To do this, I put the new disk in a USB HDD docking station and created a 200MB FAT partition on it. Next, I downloaded the .ZIP version of CloneZilla and copied the files to the new disk. I then ran /utils/win32/makeboot.bat to make the disk bootable (it’s important to run makeboot.bat from the new disk, not from the .ZIP file on the local system disk). The last step (which I didn’t see in the instructions and spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting) is to make the new disk active (using Disk Management or diskpart.exe).

With Clonezilla installed on my “new” disk, I connected it to the server and booted from this disk, electing to load CloneZilla into RAM and overwrite it as part of the cloning process.

I then left it to run for a few minutes before removing the old disk and rebooting back into Windows Server.

(Quite why I’m still running a Windows Server at home, I’m not sure… I don’t really need an Active Directory and for DNS, DHCP and TFTP I really should switch to Linux… I guess Windows is just what I know best… it’s comfortable!)

Three gotchas to be aware of:

  • If you don’t make the Clonezilla partition active you won’t be able to boot from it (basic, I know, but it’s not in the instructions that I followed).
  • Clonezilla clones the partitions as they are (i.e. it’s a clone – and there is no resizing to use additional space on the disk) – it’s easy to expand the volume later, but if you’re moving to a smaller disk, you may have to shrink the existing partition(s) before cloning.
  • The AMD64 version of Clonezilla hung at the calculating bitmap stage of the Partclone process , with a seemily random remaining time and 0% progress. I left this for several hours (on two occasions) and it did not complete (it appeared to write the partition structure to the disk, but not to transfer any data).  The “fix” seems to be to use the i686 version of Clonezilla.

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