How to clone a Windows 11 system disk for free

Martin Brinkmann
Apr 15, 2022
Backup
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35

This guide walks you through the steps of cloning the system disk (or any other disk) of a Windows 11 PC for free. The method should work on devices running previous versions of Windows as well.

I bought a new Windows 11 PC this week for Office work and noticed that the Solid State Drive was slowing things down. It had a good amount of space, 512 Gigabytes, but as soon as write processes would start, it would slow down things on the entire system considerably.

I had a good 256 Gigabyte Solid State Drive still lying around from an old PC and decided to replace the slow SSD of the new PC with the fast SSD of the old. Cloning copies all data from one disk to another. Since I did not want to reinstall Windows or apps, I decided to clone the disk as this would speed things up significantly.

While there are many guides on cloning available on the Internet, most appear to advertise paid products. This guide uses a free disk backup software, Macrium Reflect Free to be precise, to clone the system partition of the slow SSD to the fast SSD.

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First thing you need to do is download Macrium Reflect Free. You can do so from the developer website, but need to supply an email address to do so. You may also download the software from third-party sites such as Softonic.

Note: you may want to decrypt an encrypted partition before you start the process, as the encryption software may not play nicely because of the changed disk.

Installation should not pose any issues. One thing that you need to do is connect both hard drives to the PC as you will copy data from the running system disk to the new disk.

Macrium Reflect Free displays all disks and their partitions in its interface. Select "clone this disk", which you find under the main system disk in the interface.

clone disk main

The clone window opens and the main disk is displayed at the top as the source disk. Activate "select a disk to clone" to pick the destination drive.

clone disk

Use the "delete partition" action to remove any existing partition from the second disk. Since you want to copy the system disk, you need to make sure that the entire disk is free.

clone exact disk

Once done, select the copy partitions button and then "exact partition offset and length" from the selection menu.

You should see an exact copy of the disk structure after the selection. Note that you need sufficient space on the new disk so that all data that is on the source disk can be copied. The two disks do not need the same amount of space, but there needs to be enough free space available.

clone disk macrium reflect

Select next to proceed and then next again to skip the scheduling part. Since this is a one-time operation, there is no need to schedule the task so that it can be executed again in the future.

Macrium Reflect Free displays an overview on the final screen. There you find information about the cloning and each of the partitions that the backup app will copy in the process to the new drive.

overview disk cloning

Select the finish button to complete the configuration. Macrium Reflect Free displays a "what do you want to do now" prompt next. Just select "ok" on the screen to start the cloning right away. You may also select cancel to postpone it.

start cloning

The program warns you that all data on the target disk will be overwritten in the process. You should close all other programs now and save all work before you continue.

You get another option to cancel the process. Check the "All target volume data will be overwritten. Confirm to proceed" box and select continue to start the process.

clone starting

The length of the process depends on a number of factors, such as the performance of the source and destination drive, and the amount of data that needs to be copied.

You get a clone completed message in the end if everything processed without major issues.

clone completed

Once done, all that is left is to power down the Windows PC, remove the old disk and replace it with the new. The PC should boot from that disk and Windows 11 should start as it has before if everything worked out well.

Now You: have you cloned disks before? How did you do it?

Summary
This guide walks you through the steps of cloning the system disk (or any other disk) of a Windows 11 PC for free.
Article Name
This guide walks you through the steps of cloning the system disk (or any other disk) of a Windows 11 PC for free.
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This guide walks you through the steps of cloning the system disk (or any other disk) of a Windows 11 PC for free.
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Ghacks Technology News
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Comments

  1. Rick said on April 15, 2022 at 5:09 pm
    Reply

    I’ve used Macrium for cloning before and it worked well. More recently, I cloned an older laptop’s hard drive to a Samsung sata SSD using Samsung’s data migration software (free) and was actually pretty impressed with how easy it was.

    1. Arty said on April 16, 2022 at 12:15 am
      Reply

      My experience with Samsung’s data migration was incredibly poor. It did not work. Their customer service was the equal of their data migration software. I retained the old disk and worked around the lack of disk space with aggressive cleaning of WinSxS but have an OEM licence and cannot move Windows forward until there is more space to do it.

      Using the above, clone then expand the partition.

  2. Tachy said on April 15, 2022 at 5:20 pm
    Reply

    Western Digital still offers a free version of ‘Acronis True Image’ for download.

    The UI does have buttons for other Acronis products that are not free, just don’t click on them.

    I use it to clone laptop HDDs to new SDDs with a powered USB3 to SATA connector.

    (The adapter doesn’t have to be powered but, powered = faster)

    It works perfectly and is really easy to do.

    The “Acronis True Image for WD” can be found here – ‘https://support.wdc.com/downloads.aspx’ and they won’t ask for any information.

    1. Alex said on April 15, 2022 at 7:36 pm
      Reply

      Does it work for non-WD products?

      1. Alex said on April 15, 2022 at 7:51 pm
        Reply

        Apparently not.

      2. Anonymous said on April 16, 2022 at 8:33 pm
        Reply

        You may have some Sandisk stick around. Sandisk is now part of WD. Plug the USB Sandisk stick into a port and now all at once your system is a WD approved system and may allow Actonis to run.

      3. Tachy said on April 16, 2022 at 1:48 am
        Reply

        Good question and one I never would’ve considered as I only use Western Digital drives.

        I tried other brands many years ago and found them all inferior in quality and I’ve stuck with WD ever since. In 25 years I’ve never had a WD drive fail, they just end up outdated and used for external file backup.

        Do other brands not offer the support software WD does?

  3. John G. said on April 15, 2022 at 9:25 pm
    Reply

    A must have article! Thanks!

  4. BM said on April 15, 2022 at 9:49 pm
    Reply

    Great! Thought disk clone required disks of the same size. Looks like not a requirement (as long as the copied part is well within the target disk’s capacity).

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 16, 2022 at 6:56 am
      Reply

      That’s correct :)

  5. Ray said on April 15, 2022 at 9:54 pm
    Reply

    I’ve used these three products to successfully clone a windows disk Easus partition master pro, Macrium Reflect & Samsung’s data migration. Samsung was the simplest.

  6. Bobo said on April 15, 2022 at 9:59 pm
    Reply

    Hmm. Sure this is correct? I have used Macrium before many times and I have first always had to shrink the larger volume so it would be able to be cloned to the smaller SSD volume. Size doesn’t matter, as long as it’s smaller..and afterwards I need to go to disk management and expand the size of the new SSD to it’s full capacity. So, has this changed in Macrium somehow since umm last year? OR is this article plain wrong?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 16, 2022 at 6:52 am
      Reply

      Bobo, the guide describes how I cloned the drive using Macrium Reflect. I did not have to expand or shrink. You can clone a larger drive to a smaller drive, provided that the used disk space of the larger drive does not exceed the available space on the smaller drive.

      Since the PC was new, only about 90 Gigabytes were used on the larger drive.

      1. Bobo said on April 16, 2022 at 10:44 pm
        Reply

        See this is news to me =) I always THOUGHT it was the size of the drive that matters, not the os and files.. DUHH.. who knew. There we have it girls, SIZE DOESN’T MATTER!

      2. Corky said on April 17, 2022 at 2:01 pm
        Reply

        Technically speaking and being pointlessly pedantic cloning is actually a byte for byte copy of the original disk so the partition would typically need to be shrunk to fit on a smaller drive.

        Whereas imaging copies just the data on the drive so can be re-imaged to any drive that has sufficient space for the data.

        Not that it matters much as plenty of people use the two terms interchangeably.

  7. frank said on April 15, 2022 at 10:25 pm
    Reply

    Nothing new here. Just an ad for Macrium Reflect. It’s good as is, and needs no shill post.

    1. Martin P. said on April 16, 2022 at 3:53 pm
      Reply

      @frank

      « Nothing new here. Just an ad for Macrium Reflect. »

      Wow… Thanks for your priceless contribution…

      Just a side note. Not every one visiting here is as knowledgeable as your comment seems to underline. Martin and Ashwin regularly provide reliable help for these folks with such articles. Now, if you don’t need the help, just don’t read the article and move on…

    2. Anonymous said on April 16, 2022 at 9:26 pm
      Reply

      @ frank
      Hi Frank, I am glad that there are not many people like you around

  8. DriveImage XML said on April 16, 2022 at 12:17 am
    Reply

    In my Windows days, I used DriveImage XML (https://www.runtime.org/driveimage-xml.htm). Not only does it do hot partition backups, but allows to extract files/directories from those afterwards. All you need is to boot to a USB with their portable software to restore. Never failed me and saved my system after many failed/undesirable “updates”.

    On Linux, life is much easier :-)

  9. frank said on April 16, 2022 at 12:49 am
    Reply

    Would love to know what were the drives ? ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 16, 2022 at 6:56 am
      Reply

      I’m not at the PC right now, but the slow disk was an Innovation IT SSD hard drive, the SSD I cloned the data to was from Crucial.

  10. Bob Stern said on April 16, 2022 at 3:15 am
    Reply

    Just curious…you mention, at the beginning of your piece, that you were wanting to “replace the slow SSD of the new PC with the fast SSD of the old”. Why is the new one slower? Due to the size? I have never thought that a mere additional 256GB would slow a drive down noticeably. Please enlighten me. Thanks

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 16, 2022 at 6:24 am
      Reply

      The SSDs are from different manufacturers. The built-in SSD had more capacity but it did not have the read and write performance of the smaller SSD that I replaced it with.

  11. Funkyy said on April 16, 2022 at 6:23 am
    Reply

    I’ve been using Macrium Reflect for about 4 years and it’s my must have program. I’m not blessed with the tech savvy of you guys (I was a late starter on computers and actually hated them at first!!), but I was able to quickly learn how to create and restore images of my system…which has saved me at least half a dozen times from having to re-install Windows from scratch.
    I haven’t used the cloning feature yet…haven’t had the need. I’m using Macrium Reflect 7, (won a permanent license so since it meets my needs I just continue with it), If I can learn how to use it, anybody can….and No, I don’t work for Macrium!!

  12. Urajmal said on April 16, 2022 at 9:35 am
    Reply

    I am using Macrium Reflect Free now for a quiet a while, as it does what I need. I can clone from small to big disks and vice versa. It does tell you if disks needs to run Check Disk and it has easy database for finding the errors which may occur because of bad shape of source disk. It has fantastic imaging tool, that makes an image which you can also run as a virtual machine in (ViBoot . Macriums own software based on Hyper-V). For older machines is this a fantastic tool. And no ads about paid software in this free tool!!!

  13. owl said on April 16, 2022 at 11:30 am
    Reply

    This application “does not require an e-mail address”.
    If you uncheck that box, you can still perform the download and install, run of the program.
    However, you must clearly state that it is for “personal use.

    Note: Clones encrypted using VeraCrypt will not be bootable. Be sure to decrypt before starting the process. After the replacement, the procedure to re-encrypt (VeraCrypt) is required.

    Even the free version supports backup of only specified partitions and clone disk creation.
    Backs up disk contents to an image file (proprietary MRIMG format) and supports restoring only partitions or the entire disk.
    Supports mounting and displaying image file contents and scheduled backup.
    Supports creating a rescue disk (bootable CD/DVD/USB flash drive) for emergency recovery.

    By default, the “Macrium” folder is created in the “Downloads” folder to download the installer file.
    After the Macrium Reflect installer file is downloaded, the installer will start and installation will begin.

    The “License key” screen will appear during installation.
    “How do you intend to use this Free edition ?” > “Home” and click,
    Check “This software is being installed for personal, non commercial use only. Commercial use is strictly forbidden.”, click the “Next” button.

    The “Registration” screen will then appear.
    “Do you want to register this installation of Macrium Reflect?” unchecked the box (You can omit the registration of your e-mail address) and click the “Next” button.

    > Now You: have you cloned disks before? How did you do it?
    https://www.ghacks.net/2022/04/14/browsers-are-crashing-with-error-code-0xc0000022-after-installing-the-april-2022-windows-updates/#comment-4519567

    1. owl said on April 17, 2022 at 6:39 am
      Reply

      @Martin,
      In Martin’s article,
      > but need to supply an email address to do so.
      > Note: you may want to decrypt an encrypted partition before you start the process, as the encryption software “may not play nicely because” of the changed disk.

      I am a Macrium Reflect Free user and the above is not accurate.
      That is why I commented to supplement (correct).

  14. TimH said on April 16, 2022 at 5:54 pm
    Reply

    @owl Use DD command under a Linux live USB to do a bit for bit clone of a disk. VeraCrypt and Bitlocker encrypted drives will work fine. Looks like Macrium is copying not cloning.

  15. Anonymous said on April 16, 2022 at 8:50 pm
    Reply

    Martin,
    HOW did you connect the second drive?? Was it through a USB connection? My guess is that it was not through USB, otherwise the drive was not bootable??

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 17, 2022 at 6:49 am
      Reply

      Not through USB. Regular SATA cable connected to the drive from the motherboard.

  16. who can you trust? said on April 17, 2022 at 7:40 am
    Reply

    — Who can you trust? — Certainly not proprietary software! —

    * Free and Open Source Software: *

    – Clonezilla
    https://clonezilla.org/

    – Rescuezilla
    https://rescuezilla.com/

  17. Imo said on April 17, 2022 at 2:52 pm
    Reply

    I used aomei partition assistant recently . Seems to work well. (free version)

  18. Foul said on April 17, 2022 at 7:27 pm
    Reply

    Foxclone is working well too…

  19. Jeff Katz said on April 18, 2022 at 5:52 am
    Reply

    Sooooo, something no one ever mentions. How to clone an encrypted disc of Bitlocker… without first unencrypting? The answer: Casper Secure Clone. Yup, it’s paid, but often on sale. If you want to use Macrium, by all means unencrypt, clone, then encrypt again. What fun. Or, just use Casper Secure and get a cloned bitlocker disc. Also, you can clone that Samsung SSD with that second unassigned partition, or resize to another disc, etc. But what makes Casper unique is the ability to clone encrypt discs. Why does no one ever mention this one? I’ve been using it for years.

  20. VioletMoon said on April 30, 2022 at 4:03 am
    Reply

    Yes, Macrium Free is a blessing to us all; certainly, viBoot and the Rescue at Boot as a choice when staring a computer are two tools rarely used.

    Two things I noted in the article and the comments: no one mentioned an NVMe drive or how one clones such a drive with Macrium; so many comments indicated that few people have ever changed a drive. Imaged and restored. Cloned. Backup full image. It didn’t make sense. Questions about size really puzzled me.

    It’s a little bit different, not too tricky, but it would be nice to have a reference in the article on working with NVMe’s.

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