Disk imaging software is a valuable tool for IT administrators deploying several physical machines in the office or an army of virtual machines on a server. It’s great for computer manufacturers churning out thousands of computers a day for eager consumers wanting an off-the-shelf machine that will work as soon as they get home. But it also solves many problems for the home user.
There’s plenty that the best disk imaging software can do for you at home. Like the IT administrator, it lets you create an exact mirror copy of your hard drive that you can use to restore your computer after a catastrophic failure. Normally, having to reload your operating system followed by all the programs you were using and preference settings is a time-consuming process, but keeping a hard disk image turns those hours into minutes. And keeping an updated pc clone can turn your moment of frustration into one of relief. By design, the image format provides exceptional stability of cloned hard drives and other storage media, including optical discs.
There aren’t a lot of disk imaging options out there, so they compete for your business with specialized features built around their imaging capabilities. Knowing what you need disk imaging software for is the best place to start. Be it for backup, virtualization or distribution, there are a lot of ways that disk imaging software can work for you, and we’re here to help. Top Ten Reviews has found the 10 best disk imaging applications available to help you find the absolute best possible option for you. Some of our logic can be found in our articles on disk imaging software, but it's also worth taking a look at our top three picks. Acronis True Image is easily the best overall backup tool, but Paragon Hard Disk Manager is best if you’re working with data recovery on multiple platforms. O&O DiskImage might be where you want to go to take care of your emulation needs.
At a minimum, disk imaging software must create a usable image of your targeted file, disk or hard drive. We looked beyond that requirement for disk imaging software that not only captures and loads a usable image, but also has exceptional usability and compatibility. The last thing you’ll want to do when trying to resurrect your computer is get stuck in a long learning curve or find that the software you’re using can’t even identify the file you’re trying to open. We place a high value on imaging software that is easy to use. Below are the criteria we used to evaluate disk imaging software.
We looked for imaging software that gives you options for cloning your data. The best imaging software is going to be the one that will image your open files, even from an optical disc. Incremental and differential update options should also play a big part in your decision, along with backup verification to make sure they will be usable when you need them. Added options that allow you to skip auxiliary files while offering compression and encryption may mean the difference of success and failure in your disk imaging operation.
Virtualization is what many have used disk imaging for in the past. As an image, your computer can exist in a virtual testbed environment, allowing you to experiment with software and settings you’d probably never dream of installing on your physical computer. Oftentimes, emulated drives and machines can be set to work within predefined parameters of RAM and disk usage to keep them from interfering with your computer’s normal operation.
Restoration & Storage
Using disk imaging software for its backup utility is almost a no-brainer, since one of the best features of an image file is its ability to run in a pre-OS state. It’s perfect for boot-time recovery operations, as it’s the tool that works when nothing else will. Some disk imaging programs even offer their own Linux-based mini-OS or work with WinPE – the Windows Preinstallation Environment – to get your computer going again when the OS doesn’t even want to try.
It is critical that your disk imaging software restore your system perfectly, but unfortunately, not all programs will. Some simply will not restore an image file to a hard drive having a different size, which can be a challenge if restoring to dissimilar hardware. Only some will do this. Most, though, at least allow you to restore individual files and folders. A few even create versioned copies so you can roll back through changes.
Help & Support
Maintaining a backup drive image in case of disaster – or simply to set up new hard drives – is critical, and any confusion or trouble can be very alarming. We looked for companies that offer telephone and email support, along with online user guides, FAQs and knowledgebase materials. Video tutorials and online communities are excellent support options as well.
There are plenty of uses for disk imaging and plenty more tools to help you get the job done. Whether you are planning for the next catastrophic failure, hoping to deploy your own virtual machine clone army, or have your own ideas, you want the right software for you. We’ve gone through and answered some of the basic questions any avid hunter of new imaging software will have.