Can you copy a hard drive to another hard drive?

Yes, it is possible to make an exact copy of a hard drive and transfer it to another hard drive. This allows you to migrate your data, operating system, applications, and settings from one drive to another or make a backup of your drive that can be restored later. There are a few different methods for copying hard drives depending on your needs.

Why Would You Want to Copy a Hard Drive?

There are several reasons you may want to copy the contents of one hard drive to another:

  • Migrate your data to a new, larger hard drive
  • Upgrade from a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) to a solid state drive (SSD)
  • Backup your hard drive for disaster recovery
  • Duplicate a drive to troubleshoot issues or test changes
  • Copy your operating system, applications, and settings to a new computer

Copying a hard drive allows you to transfer your full setup to new hardware with minimal effort.

Considerations for Copying a Hard Drive

Before copying a hard drive, there are some important factors to keep in mind:

  • The destination drive must be the same size or larger than the source drive
  • Copy the entire drive sector-by-sector for an exact clone
  • Use a utility designed for drive cloning for best results
  • Drives should be connected directly via SATA or USB, not over a network
  • Copy to the destination drive first before making it the primary drive
  • Have a backup of important data in case anything goes wrong

Following these best practices will ensure your drive copy goes smoothly. The next sections will go over software solutions and hardware duplicators that make cloning drives easy.

Using Drive Cloning Software

Dedicated drive cloning and backup software provide the simplest way to copy a hard drive. These utilites are designed specifically for duplicating drives sector-by-sector to create an exact copy. Here are some top options:

Acronis True Image

Acronis True Image is a popular commercial software suite that includes drive cloning as one of its many features. It can copy your partitions or entire drive as an image file or directly clone drive-to-drive. Useful tools like automatic scheduled backups, incremental backups to only copy changed data, and the ability to mount images as virtual drives make Acronis a top choice.

Macrium Reflect

Macrium Reflect is another excellent commercial cloning utility for Windows. It creates complete backups of your system drive that can be restored to dissimilar hardware. An easy to use interface walks you through the cloning process. Free and paid versions are available.


Clonezilla is a great free open source option for drive cloning. It copies partitions or whole drives sector-by-sector. Clonezilla supports a wide variety of file systems and operating systems. It’s a bit more technical than some commercial solutions but offers advanced options for power users.

EaseUS Todo Backup

For a fully featured cloning and backup tool, EaseUS Todo Backup is a top choice. It makes creating drive images and clones simple with guided wizards. Advanced backup schemes, scheduling, and imaging for restoration are also included. The free version covers cloning while the paid version adds features like backups to cloud storage.

Using Drive Cloning Software

These drive cloning utilities all follow a similar basic process:

  1. Install and open the cloning software
  2. Select the source drive to copy from
  3. Choose the destination drive to copy to
  4. Verify the destination is equal or larger than the source
  5. Choose options like sector-by-sector clone vs file copy
  6. Click clone or copy to start the process
  7. Wait for the process to fully complete

Advanced tools like Acronis and Macrium provide fine grain control over the cloning process if needed. But in most cases, the default options give you an exact clone.

Using a Hardware Duplicator

Another option for copying hard drives is to use a dedicated hardware duplicator device. These appliances allow you to copy drives without connecting them to a computer. Two common types of hardware duplicators are:

Standalone Cloning Dock

A standalone cloning dock includes slots to insert two hard drives. It clones the source drive in one slot to the destination in the other slot as a built-in function. No computer required.

For example, the StarTech SDOCK2U33EB dual bay dock copies drives at speeds up to 6Gbps with offline cloning.

Multi-Bay Duplicator

More advanced drive duplicators have multiple bays to copy several drives at once. These are made for IT teams that need to duplicate many drives efficiently for deployment.

The Produplicator MFR series are commercial-grade copiers that can duplicate up to 11 hard drives simultaneously. The master drive is inserted into one source bay, while target drives go into the other bays.

Using a Hardware Duplicator

Using a dedicated hardware duplicator to clone a drive just takes a few steps:

  1. Insert the drive to copy into the source bay
  2. Insert equal or larger target drives into the destination bays
  3. Configure any copy settings like file system optimization
  4. Start the copy process with the duplicator controls
  5. Wait for the cloning to complete
  6. Verify the cloned drives

Hardware duplicators take the computer completely out of the equation for simple drive-to-drive copies. The standalone and multi-bay options provide good flexibility for home or business use.

Cloning a Drive Manually

You can also choose to clone a hard drive manually by copying files from one drive to another. This involves connecting both the source and destination drive to a computer and using built-in copy functions.

Here are the general steps to clone a drive manually:

  1. Connect the source and destination drives to your computer
  2. Create a temporary backup of your source drive if desired
  3. Use the copy/paste function in your OS to copy files from the source drive to the destination
  4. Copy hidden folders like your Users folder
  5. Repeat the copy process for all partitions on the source drive
  6. Manually copy boot sectors and gPT data not visible as files
  7. Use the chkdsk and sfc utilities to check for errors

The downside to manual drive cloning is the technical skill required. You have to copy all files and system data perfectly to create a bootable clone. So it’s best to use drive cloning software instead for most users. But manual cloning allows you to copy drives without any extra cost.

Alternatives to Cloning for Drive Upgrades

While cloning is the best way to directly copy your full hard drive contents, there are alternatives if you just want to migrate to a new drive:

  • Clean install – Perform a fresh OS installation on the new drive and copy over only your data/settings.
  • System imaging – Images like Macrium Reflect archives allow restoring your OS partition to dissimilar hardware.
  • Migration tools – Some SSDs include tools to migrate your OS and data from an old drive.
  • Cloud backup – Back up your files to a cloud service like Dropbox to sync them to a new computer.

These options copy only your personal data. They require reinstalling apps and reconfiguring settings, unlike cloning your entire drive. But they provide more flexibility when changing hardware or OS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cloning better than imaging for drive backups?

Cloning creates an exact sector-by-sector duplicate of your whole drive. Imaging backs up your partitions into compressed archive files. Cloning provides a bootable backup for full disaster recovery. Imaging archives allow restoring partitions to dissimilar hardware more easily.

Can you clone a hard drive to an external drive?

Yes, hard drives can be cloned both internally and externally through SATA, USB, and other connections. External enclosures that accept both 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives provide a simple way to clone to an external USB hard drive.

How long does cloning a hard drive take?

Cloning speeds depend on the hardware and connection types. Copying via USB 2.0 will be much slower than internal SATA III. For a 1TB hard drive, cloning could take 2-3 hours over USB and 1 hour or less internally. Using SSDs can speed up the process compared to HDDs.

Can you clone a larger hard drive to a smaller one?

No, there is no way to directly clone a larger drive to a smaller drive. The destination must be the same size or bigger to hold all the copied data. However, you can image a drive or selectively copy only certain files/folders to a smaller drive if needed.

Is it better to partition a drive before cloning?

For an exact clone, it’s best to copy the whole drive contents as-is first before changing the partitions. Resizing partitions can cause problems if done before cloning. After cloning, you can format or partition the destination drive as needed.


Cloning your hard drive provides a great way to migrate your full OS, applications, and data to new hardware or create a backup. Drive cloning software like Acronis True Image provides the simplest option with sector-by-sector duplication built-in. Standalone hardware duplicators offer efficiency for mass drive copying. And manual cloning gives a DIY choice.

Just be sure to clone to an equal or larger drive and use a utility designed for cloning for best results. Follow the steps outlined for your software or hardware of choice. Then you can easily copy your hard drive contents to a new device.