From viruses and software bugs, to hardware failure or human error, there are many potential dangers waiting to trash your files.
And if the worst happens – you lose personal photos, your music library, important business documents – then that could be a real disaster. Which is why it’s a very good idea to back up your PC on a regular basis.
This is never going to be fun, of course, but with the right software it’ll be easier than you think. And you may not have to spend anything, either, because there are some great free backup and disk cloning tools around.
Whether you want to copy the contents of your Documents folder somewhere, clone one drive to another, or create a backup image of your entire system, we’ve found plenty of programs that can help.
So what’s the best free backup and disk cloning software? Read on for our recommendations.
1. AOMEI Backupper
If you like your backup programs to be simple than AOMEI Backupper’s straightforward interface will appeal immediately. Choose the drive or partition to back up, the destination drive, and a click later Backupper will be creating an image for you.
The program has plenty of power, though, if you need it. There are options to encrypt or compress your backups. You can create incremental or differential backups for extra speed. You’re able to restore individual files and folders, or the entire image, and there are even disk and partition cloning tools.
What you can’t do, unfortunately, is schedule backups – they must be run manually. But otherwise AOMEI Backupper is an excellent tool, packed with features yet also easy to use.
2. EaseUS Todo Backup Free
Just like most free (for personal use) editions of commercial products, EaseUS Todo Backup Free has a few limitations – but the package still has more than enough features for most people.
The program can run both image and file-based backups, for instance, manually or on a schedule. You’re able to run full or incremental backups.
An option to limit write speed reduces the impact backups have on your system performance. It’s possible to individual files or folders, or an entire image via the program’s recovery disc. And there are tools to clone and wipe drives, too.
On the negative side, you don’t get encryption, there’s no differential backup, and you only get a Linux-based disc (not Windows PE). But EaseUS Todo Backup Free still looks like a great program to us.
3. Redo Backup and Recovery
Redo Backup and Recovery is an imaging backup tool with a difference. Instead of installing a program, you download a large (249MB) ISO file, and burn it to CD or USB key drive. Then just boot from it to launch a simple tool which can back up your drives, and restore them later (even if Windows won’t start).
There’s also an undelete tool, and even a web browser if you need to look for help on your PC problems.
4. Cobian Backup
Cobian Backup is an excellent file backup tool with lots of features. You get full, differential and incremental backups, for instance; zip or 7zip compression; AES 256-bit encryption; include and exclude filters; a strong scheduler, backup to or from FTP servers, and the list goes on. Every aspect of the program is extremely configurable, too (there are more than 100 settings you can tweak).
PC or backup novices are likely to find this a little overwhelming. If you’re more experienced, though, you’ll love the amount of control Cobian Backup gives you over every aspect of the backup process.
5. Macrium Reflect Free
One of the most popular free (for home use) disk imaging programs around, Macrium Reflect Free delivers a solid, if basic feature set via an easy-to-use interface.
The program doesn’t have incremental or differential backups. And you don’t get encryption or password protection. This does make creating a backup job very easy, though (choose the source drive, the destination, maybe set the compression level and you’re done).
There’s a capable scheduler; you can mount images in Windows Explorer, or restore them entirely with both Linux and Windows PE-based recovery discs. And overall Macrium Reflect Free is a great choice for anyone who wants a simple but reliable image backup tool.
6. DriveImage XML
Free for personal use, DriveImage XML is a lightweight alternative to the more bulky imaging competition. Backup is as easy as choosing a source drive, a destination, and (optionally) setting your compression level.
Restoration is just as simple, and the only significant extra is an option to copy directly from one drive to another.
There are some complications elsewhere. Click “Task Scheduler”, for instance, and you’ll get instructions on how to manually set up Windows Task Scheduler to run your backups. But if you need just a basic drive imaging tool then give DriveImage XML a try.
FBackup is a capable file backup tool, free for both personal and commercial use. The interface is simple and straightforward, and there are a number of features you don’t always see elsewhere.
Plug-ins allow you to back up individual programs with a click; there’s support for include and exclude filters; and you can run “mirror” backups, which just copy everything without zipping it up (which makes restoring files very easy).
Compression isn’t so good, though (it’s the weak Zip2), and the scheduler is also more basic than you’ll see elsewhere. But if your needs are simple (or you’re tired of “free for personal use” tools) then FBackup should appeal.
8. Backup Maker
At first the free-for-personal-use BackupMaker seems like any other file backup tool, with incremental or full backups available, scheduling, compression, encryption, include and exclude filters, and so on.
But interesting extras include support for online backups to FTP servers, and running backups automatically when a USB device is connected.
The program stores data in Zip files, too, making them very convenient to access. And Backup Maker comes in a tiny 6.5MB download, far more manageable than some of the bulky competition.
If you’re a home user looking for capable file backup then Backup Maker could be ideal.
Just like Redo Backup and Recovery, Clonezilla isn’t a program you install: it’s a bootable environment which you can launch from a CD or USB flash drive.
And it’s seriously powerful, too: you’re able to create an image of a drive; restore an image (to one drive, or many at the same time); or clone a drive (copy one drive to another), with plenty of low-level control over how this works.
While Redo Backup and Recovery focuses on ease of use, though, Clonezilla is more about providing advanced options, like “run unattended Clonezilla via PXE booting”. It’s not complicated – it’s probably the best free disk cloning software around – but the program is aimed at experienced users, and backup beginners should look elsewhere.
10. Paragon Backup & Recovery 2013 Free
Another free (for personal use) version of a commercial drive imaging product, Paragon Backup & Recovery 2013 Free is a good tool with some restrictions.
There’s strong support for the basics: you can create image backups (full or differential), compress and encrypt them, use exclude filters to help define what’s included, run backups on a schedule, then restore specific files and folders or the entire image.
Extras include the “capsule”, a separate partition to help keep your backups safe. And a good set of basic partition tools is included, too.
Problems? You don’t get incremental backup; you can’t clone disks or partitions, and the interface occasionally feels a little complex. Still, Paragon Backup & Recovery 2013 Free is a quality tool, and well worth your attention.