Does cloning a drive make it bootable?

Cloning a drive refers to making an exact copy of a hard drive. This includes copying all the data and partitions on the drive byte for byte. The clone will be identical to the original drive and will have the same capacity. Cloning can be useful for backup purposes or when upgrading to a larger drive. However, an important question is whether cloning a boot drive will make the cloned drive bootable as well. There are several factors that determine whether a cloned drive will be bootable.

What is required for a drive to be bootable?

For a hard drive to be bootable, it requires an operating system and active partitions. Specifically:

  • The drive must contain an operating system such as Windows, Linux, or Mac OS.
  • The drive must have a bootloader installed such as Master Boot Record (MBR) or GUID Partition Table (GPT). The bootloader contains information on how to boot the operating system.
  • The drive must have a bootable partition marked as active. This tells the computer which partition contains the operating system files to boot from.

As long as the above requirements are met on the drive being cloned, the clone should be bootable as well.

Cloning software

Most disk cloning software is designed to automatically clone everything including the operating system files, bootloader, and partition structure. This enables the cloned drive to be bootable. Some popular cloning tools include:

  • Carbon Copy Cloner for Mac
  • Macrium Reflect for Windows
  • Clonezilla for Linux
  • Acronis True Image for all platforms

These tools clone not just the data but also critical boot files to ensure bootability. However, it is still important to verify after cloning that the cloned drive has the same partitions and that the boot partition is still marked active.

Things that can affect bootability

While cloning typically makes the cloned drive bootable as well, there are some caveats:

  • If the source drive has multiple operating systems and boot partitions, only one can be marked active at a time. The clone may default to a different active partition.
  • If the target drive is smaller than the source drive, it may not fit all the required boot files.
  • Some cloning software offer options like not cloning unused space or not cloning certain partitions. This can omit critical boot files.
  • On Windows, drive letters may change after cloning which can impact bootability.
  • Some boot environments like RAID arrays require additional drivers that may not get cloned.

So while cloning typically makes a drive bootable, it is important to verify bootability after cloning and troubleshoot any potential issues.

Verifying bootability of a cloned drive

Here are some steps to check if a cloned drive will boot properly:

  1. Connect the cloned drive to the computer either externally or internally.
  2. Enter system BIOS settings and make sure the cloned drive is recognized and listed in the boot order.
  3. Set the cloned drive as the first boot option to test booting from it.
  4. Save changes and exit BIOS to reboot the computer.
  5. If the system boots successfully into the operating system from the cloned drive, it is bootable.
  6. If the cloned drive fails to boot and gives errors, then there is an issue.

This process verifies if the boot information was properly cloned to the new drive. If the cloned drive does not boot, you may have to investigate further into potential causes.

Troubleshooting cloned drive boot issues

If a cloned drive fails to boot when set as the primary boot device, here are some things to check:

  • Use disk management software to check if all the source drive partitions were correctly cloned to the new drive.
  • Confirm the boot partition on the cloned drive is marked as active.
  • Check for any changed drive letters or missing volumes on the cloned drive that may impact boot files.
  • Examine the bootloader configuration and confirm it matches the source drive.
  • Reclone the drive taking care to clone all partitions and not omit any space.
  • Update motherboard firmware and disk controller drivers if needed.
  • Try a different cloning tool in case of software related issues.

Troubleshooting boot issues requires examining the cloned drive partition structure, bootloader, and system configuration to pinpoint what is preventing successful booting.

Best practices for cloned drive bootability

Follow these best practices when cloning a drive to ensure bootability:

  • Use a cloning utility that clones all partitions and the master boot record.
  • Select options to clone unused and hidden space on the drive.
  • Make sure the target drive is same size or larger than source drive.
  • After cloning, check partition structure and active boot partition.
  • Update motherboard BIOS/firmware before cloning if outdated.
  • Disconnect original source drive when booting from the clone.
  • If dual booting, reconfigure bootloader on the cloned drive.

Paying attention to partition alignment, boot files, and boot sequence settings while cloning goes a long way in avoiding bootability issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you clone a drive and boot from it?

Yes, cloning a drive typically makes it bootable as well provided the clone includes the operating system, boot partition, and bootloader configuration. Most cloning software is designed to replicate everything that makes the source drive bootable.

Why won’t my cloned hard drive boot?

If a cloned drive does not boot, common reasons include incorrect partitioning, missing boot files, drive letter changes, bootloader issues, or hardware incompatibilities. Troubleshooting involves checking partition alignments, boot settings, and system configuration.

Do I have to reinstall Windows if I clone a drive?

No, reinstalling Windows is generally not necessary when cloning a drive. The clone should have the same Windows installation as the original. However, you may need to reactivate Windows or reset the activation if you are cloning the drive to a new computer.

Can you clone an SSD to HDD?

Yes, you can clone a solid state drive (SSD) to a hard disk drive (HDD) as long as the HDD has adequate storage capacity. The cloning process makes an exact sector by sector copy. Just make sure to check bootability after cloning to an HDD.

How do I clone Windows to SSD?

To clone your Windows installation to an SSD, use drive cloning software like Macrium Reflect. Connect both the source and SSD drives, then clone all partitions to the SSD. Set the SSD as first boot device in BIOS and verify Windows boots properly from the SSD.


Cloning a drive makes an exact copy including critical boot files, provided the cloning process replicates all partitions and master boot record information. However, it is important to confirm cloned drive bootability, check boot sequence settings, and troubleshoot any potential issues that could prevent booting from the clone. Following best practices for drive cloning helps avoid bootability pitfalls.