You may have come across the terms ‘cloning’ and ‘imaging’ in the past. Indeed, it’s not difficult to become confused about the distinction between the two. This is especially a problem when programs will use the words interchangeably. So what is the difference between cloning and imaging?
Both methods can make exact copies of what is on your hard drive. Cloning, as the name suggests, clones everything on the drive over to a new drive. It is a strict copy of the first and is useful when you’re upgrading a hard drive or the first one is failing. The only issue here is that you either need to have two drives installed in your system or own an external hard drive. It’s also very important that you select the correct drive to clone during the process. If you choose the empty drive then you’ll be making a mirror image of that and losing everything on the other drive forever – so be careful!
Imaging a drive is more useful when backing up. It is the process of creating a backup file that you can access at a later date should the need arise. You can use this image to recreate the drive, either onto the original location or on a new drive. When creating an image of a drive it is advisable to have two copies. The first you would store away and the second you can use for incremental backups. This is useful if, for example, a virus has been slowly installing itself on your system. Having the original image will mean that you’ll still be able to roll back to your system state before the virus showed up.
If you are upgrading your hard drive then the best option would be to use cloning as it is simpler (as long as you are able to have two drives attached at the same time). However, if you are looking for a backup solution then it would be wise to use imaging. This is because a lot of imaging programs offer the ability to have incremental backups, meaning that it only updates the data that has changed since the last backup (saving time and storage). It also offers more security, since malware might have a hard time infecting a compressed backup file. Finally, imaging offers you more flexibility when it comes to where to store the backup compared to cloning. While cloning is restricted to another drive, imaging can be on media like DVD (although this is probably unadvisable if you have large amounts of data).
Hopefully now you have a better understanding on what cloning and imaging is and which method is suitable for each situation. Remember, though, that a lot of programs will get these terms confused and may either use the wrong one or use them interchangeably. Make sure you read up on exactly what the program will do in the documentation before you carry anything out. In broad terms, a clone is useful for making a carbon copy while an image is good for backups.
Cloning vs. Imaging Hard Drives
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