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What cloning software do you recommend?

What cloning software do you recommend?

  • Has your nonprofit cloned your computer systems before? If so, what software package did you use? Was it an affordable solution? Were you satisfied with the results?
    senior editor, TechSoup
  • I generally set clients up with Windows Remote Installation Services if they purchase Windows Server 2003. Alternatives I've used with success are:

    1. Ghost for Unix (free, also does Windows)
    2. Symantec Ghost
    3. Hardware Cloning tools from Logicube

    The price point for Remote Installation Services and Ghost for Unix make them very attractive. Nothing in my mind is cooler than a cloning tool from Logicube, though. ;)

    Chris Shipley
    Nutmeg Consulting

  • Have been using Norton Ghost 2003 for a few years now with all kinds of success. However, looks like the most recent batch of computers we've ordered is incompatible for some reason -- some SATA tomfoolery, looks like. In short, by futzing with the BIOS I can either have Ghost start up but not detect any drives... or it will freeze up while loading.

    Am giving g4u a try now, but it's having network card detection issues. I would also be interested in any other suggestions people have!
  • I use Symantec Ghost 8 running on a boot CD, BartPE bootdisk. Ghost 8 was the last version to use the old interface (I think). With the right drivers, I have been able to get SATA, SCSI, SAS, and RAID drives to work successfully.

    There are other threads in the Soup about using BartPE. I have my boot CD set to auto-install the NIC, and then start up a VNC server, so I can monitor the ghosting process from elsewhere. It also works well as a troubleshooting disk, when a computer in a remote office needs a CHKDSK to bring the hard drive back to life.

    One idea I have read about and toyed with is getting a USB->NIC adapter, in case I come across a PC with a NIC card I don't have the driver for.

    On some computers destined for really remote offices, I'll create my own hidden recovery partition holding the Ghost image. Then if worse comes to worse, I can remotely re-image the system partition with the boot CD.

    I have used g4u a bit lately, as I'm starting to work more with FreeBSD machines. I like its simplicity, but I don't have enough experience with it yet to switch from my BartPE/Ghost8 process.
  • Nice article!

    I have used the Acronis product successfully to upgrade a batch of identical DELL laptops. I loaded one machine with Windows, Office and Norton. Applied all the patches and then cloned it onto the others. Worked Great.

    Currently I am using the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) which you can download free from Microsoft. Images made by this Kit are not disk hardware dependant as are those of Acronis.

    One requirement for cloning XP is that the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) of the source machine must be compatible with those of the targets. For details on this look at table 2-16 of the document located here

    For the machines I support the HAL restriction means I have to maintain one image for laptops and another for desktops.

    Another requirement for cloning is that the Windows image must include drivers for boot disks on all the target machines. Otherwise the image will not be able to boot on the target. In most but not all cases you can do this by running Microsoft's Sysprep tool on the source machine with BuildMassStorageSection = Yes.
  • I used g4u for the first time a few days ago to clone the Windows XP contents of a 40GB to a 120GB hard drive. The clone exited prematurely, but later I discovered the original drive had problems that the cloned drive inherited. After a repair the new drive worked fine.

    So despite the fact that the clone didn't work quite as expected, it seemed to do a very good job. The 120GB drive was 120GB, not 40GB (which ghost 8 would have done with Linux). We use a pretty complicated setup involving BartsPE and Ghost. I think I'll explore g4u further. One of the problems we have is network card drivers, and adding them to BartsPE isn't a simple task. In my experience Linux tends to have better network card support. Unfortunately the interface isn't as sweet as Ghost so g4u is a bit more difficult to get new volunteers to use. Maybe if someone wrote a dialog front end to g4u it would be more handy.
  • I've used just about every single solution in some way, shape, or form.

    On my Windows laptop, I use Norton Ghost 9 to backup my laptop image (while booted in Windows) to a USB drive. When I want to boot to another OS, I use Partimage (open source prog found on many Linux live cds, such as the System Rescue CD). I find that its USB support is way superior to the older ghosting solutions that I used to use, such as Norton Ghost 8 / 2003. When booted into System Rescue CD, I simply run (something like) the following:

    • fdisk -l (to see what drives are there)
    • ntfs-3g /dev/sda1 /mnt/windows (to make sure it is healthy, if not, I run something like ntfsfix /dev/sda1)
    • umount /mnt/windows (unmount it so that I can later image it - you obviously can't image a drive that's "in use", which mounting does)
    • cd /mnt (change to my mount directory)
    • mkdir maxtor (the name of my big USB hdd)
    • ntfs-3g /dev/sdb1 /mnt/maxtor
    • partimage (if I wanna start up the GUI)

    The Ghost 8 program on the BartPE/Hiren/miniPE-HT ISO disk that's floating around on all the bit torrent sites has incredible USB support. Anyone can boot up in that and have it automatically find just about any USB devices. There have been a couple of times that I've found USB devices viewable in System Rescue CD, but not miniPE. For the most part, however, it was very solid.

    For those who are confused by all this jargon, stick with something like Norton Ghost 8.2 (the corporate version). There you'll have a nice GUI that is helpful if you're learning to clone for the first time.
  • Have been using Norton Ghost 2003 for a few years now with all kinds of success. However, looks like the most recent batch of computers we've ordered is incompatible for some reason -- some SATA tomfoolery, looks like. In short, by futzing with the BIOS I can either have Ghost start up but not detect any drives... or it will freeze up while loading.

    I've heard that this type of tomfoolery has been easily bypassed by the "liberated" version of Ghost 8 on the BartPE disk.
  • Thanks for all the informative posts and feedback. I think this thread will be useful for experts and newbies alike. I had thought of writing something on nLite as well, which I have found useful, though not exactly in the realm of cloning. Anyone else used it in complement to cloning tools?

  • Great article and responses!
    Just a reminder about duplicating SIDS can cause undesired network issues. If not using SysPrep remember to use a tool that will create a random/new SID for the cloned or imaged PCs. NewSID or GhostWalker are two good examples. NewSID can be run in GUI mode where Norton's GhostWalker must be run in DOS mode.

    Microsoft's suggestion that this is not as critical in an Active Directory environment as network SIDs are used does not quite match real life examples.

    Best regards,
    John Sweeney
    Systems Adminstrator
    WORK Inc.
  • I've heard Acronis TrueImage or Ghost Solution Suite 2.0 are the way to go.
  • I recommend that non-profits look to the as an option for most of their software needs. For cloning I found to do a good job and is readily available.
  • We are just getting started with our computer lab and I have been very happy with "FOG" (Free, Ghost-like Cloning Solution). It's a server that keeps a registry of all the computers, which image they use and provides facilities to upload an image from a computer or send it to a computer using a built in webpage. It has many other capabilities useful for managing a computer lab, installs easily and just works.
  • I just tried G4U on some brand new HP 5800 machines we bought and it works like a charm. I did have to go download the alpha version due to something a little buggy in the HP's ethernet settings or the kernel's network drivers.

    If you go this route and want to avoid the sysprep duplicate SID problem, go and download the 'NewSID' program from They've recently been bought by microsoft, and I was able to find NewSID at

    Even if they are now part of Microsoft, Microsoft still doesn't officially support this method. Microsoft has so much material available online, I can't remember the last time I needed support from them.
  • FOG has some more exposure now.  I just heard about it on FLOSS Weekly, episode 53.  Which is a great podcast about open source software.  And it has a new website.

    Chris Shipley
    Nutmeg Consulting