A disk image is usually one large file that stores a copy of a drive or an entire storage device, such as a USB or on tape. The disk image system uses compression to reduce the size of the file so it takes up much less space than the system it is archiving.
The main use of disk imaging is for backup. It is also useful as a temporary measure when decommissioning a disk. The original disk can be thrown away immediately, giving the owner time to go through the contents at a later date to look for useful and important files. Disk imaging is also used by forensic investigators to take a complete copy of an entire device for examination offsite while allowing the suspect to regain the use of that device quickly.
Here is our list of the 10 best disk imaging software available in 2021:
- Clonezilla Available for workstation and server operating systems, this free disk imaging system is lightweight and suitable for individual computers or entire networks.
- Acronis True Image Acronis True Image is a combination of disk imaging and file backup utilities. It is available for a wide range of operating systems and also includes antimalware.
- Acronis Disk Director A business disk imaging solution from Acronis that include low-level disk editing for recovery of lost or damaged files.
- EaseUS Todo Backup A choice of file backup or disk imaging in three plans for the Business Edition. It installs on Windows.
- AOMEI Backupper A range of plans for disk imaging and backup/restore services, including a Free edition. It installs on Windows and Windows Server.
- Macrium Reflect A range of backup and disk imaging plans for Windows, Windows Server, and Azure cloud.
- SmartDeploy A centralized software asset management system that includes disk imaging and installation for an unlimited number of endpoints. It runs on Windows Server.
- Paragon Drive Copy Professional Part of Paragon Hard Disk Manager, this backup system is available for Windows and Linux environments.
- Iperius Drive Image Backup On-device software that can be controlled from a central console and has an option of storing disk images in the cloud.
- FOG A free, open-source system that installs on Linux but can take a disk image of Windows, Unix, macOS, and Linux devices across a network.
A disk imaging system can also be used as a virtual drive. These are usually read-only, which is a good security feature as it means that important information can’t be damaged, lost, or altered by the users who are given access to it.
The field of backup provision has become dominated by cloud services, making disk imaging less common in business. However, since manufacturers are less inclined to include a DVD drive in their hardware these days, disk imaging can now be used to deliver software packages, which otherwise would have been shipped on a physical DVD. A disk image is useful because it acts like containerization and can hold a complete bundle of services within a secure environment together with the main application software.
Disk imaging can also be useful for organizations that need to onboard a large number of similar devices – a common setup with all of the necessary software can be stored on a disk image and copied to each new device over the network. This process can be automated, saving technician hours of work.
Choosing a disk imaging system
Although many cloud storage providers use the same virtual drive concept that is available with many disk imaging systems, these services are not usually included when listing disk imaging services. This is because, although they can give access to stored files through a mounted disk process, each file is stored individually, rather than as a complete drive compressed into one file.
Disk imaging systems are software packages for installation. Fortunately, most of these software packages are small and they operate very quickly. Although they need to be run on a host, their reach is not limited to the computers upon which they are resident. The typical interface for these systems allows the user to copy from one location to another. This can be performed across a network or even across the internet.
The best disk imaging software
A big advantage of disk imaging software is that it isn’t considered cutting-edge technology, there are many providers in the market, and so the packages are usually very affordable.
Many disk imaging tools charge business users and allow private individuals to use the software for free. Even those packages that are charged for can often be experienced for free during a trial period. So, disk imaging software won’t break the bank. Having one of these tools on hand means that the systems administrator will always have a quick way of copying a disk at a moment’s notice.
There are many disk imaging systems available. A lot of these have been in circulation for a long time and they are very stable and not prone to virus infection. We have looked at the market and derived a list of some very solid and reliable disk imaging tools.
You can read more about each of these options in the following sections.
Clonezilla is a free utility that is good to have on hand for emergency disk backups through imaging. The program can be run from a USB stick, which makes it possible to use it on different operating systems.
There are three editions of Clonezilla:
- Clonezilla Live – A portable version to be used for one device at a time. The program creates a bootable sector on the USB so it can be used on a device that has no operating system installed on it.
- Clonezilla Lite Server – This version operates across a network and is able to write to many devices at a time.
- Clonezilla SE – A central disk image server that is able to handle a larger number of endpoints than Clonezilla Lite Server.
Clonezilla isn’t perfect. The system isn’t capable of accessing individual files on an image and it can’t do incremental backups. It will just copy and store an entire volume or disk and write out the whole lot. The user interface is a little clunky. However, many systems administrators prefer to use the command-line utility of Clonezilla to build it into their own automation scripts.
One of Clonezilla highlights: Lightweight, and available for Linux, Unix, and macOS as well as for Windows.
- Available for Linux, Unix, and macOS as well as for Windows
- Free and easy to use
- A useful tool to have on hand for emergency disk copying even if you don’t have a policy that requires regular disk cloning.
Pricing Model: Free of charge.
Download: Get your free copy.
2. Acronis True Image
One problem with selecting a disk imaging service is that most utilities either work for Windows or Linux. Acronis True Image is one of the few disk imaging systems that is available for both. It is also able to operate on mobile devices running Android or iOS.
The capabilities and extra facilities of Acronis True Image make it a standout product that is way ahead of the competition. The only reason this disk imaging service didn’t make it to the number one slot in this list is that it is intended for home use. It only installs on one device at a time and there is no networked version. That means that it needs to be installed on each supported PC and the technician would have to visit each machine and run the service manually in order to get an image or install it. That just isn’t practical in today’s business environment.
Pricing Model: Small businesses that operate out of a single office would find this tool suitable. The base package, called Essential, costs $49.99. The system includes ransomware protection and antimalware.
Download link: Acronis True Image offers a 30-day free trial.
3. Acronis Disk Director
This Acronis backup product is aimed at businesses. It can be used to create virtual drives and it runs on Windows. The tool is able to back up just about every known operating system.
A disk editing feature in the tool enables you to access disk content down to memory block level, which enables you to recover lost data and reassemble fractured pointers on storage segments. Images can be made of the entire volume or disk right down to and including the operating system, enabling bare metal installs.
Pricing Model: Acronis Disk Director is available for Home or for Business use through one-time purchase plans
Download Acronis Disk Director for a 30-day free trial.
4. EaseUS Todo Backup
EaseUS has two modes: incremental backup and disk cloning. The backup service works through the operating system to copy files, while the cloning service gets down to the hardware and copies segments off the disk. Both services have a corresponding restore system.
EaseUS is available for free, which makes it very attractive. However, this service is aimed at home users and isn’t intended to work for large businesses. There is also a paid version that has more features. This is called the Home edition and this is where the disk imaging service is available – the Free edition only has file backups. A Business edition is able to operate across a network and includes a scheduler for automated backups.
All versions of EaseUS Todo Backup run on Windows and the Business edition is able to back up data on other operating systems remotely. The Business edition also includes disk cloning functions. The Business edition is available in three plans and you can get a free trial of any of them.
5. AOMEI Backupper
AEOMI Backupper is available in seven different editions. One of those plans is an RMM service and all install on the Windows and Windows Server operating systems.
The headline version of the AOMEI Backupper is the Free edition. This is a nice option for home users and its use by businesses isn’t allowed. Curiously, AB Professional isn’t allowed for use by businesses either. These two editions plus the AB Workstation plan install on Windows and not on Windows Server. The AB Server, AB Technician, and AB Technician Plus plans are all written for Windows Server.
The AB Technician and AB Technician Plus plans are priced per technician and there is no limit on the number of devices that Backupper can access. These two are also more likely to appeal to midsize and large companies because they can operate over the network, while the other function on the protected device.
All options provide file backup and restore management and disk cloning and all but the free version offers protection for backup systems with encryption.
The AOMEI Centralized Backer is a multi-site system that includes multi-tenant features that will appeal to Managed Service Providers (MSPs). This plan includes the ability to serve an unlimited number of endpoints on an unlimited number of sites, so it would be good for the central IT departments of large corporations as well as MSPs.
AOMEI offers a 90-day unconditional money-back guarantee on all of its paid plans.
6. Macrium Reflect
Macrium Reflect provides disk imaging and backup/restore. The base version of this tool is the Free edition. Businesses are allowed to use those free tools. It needs to be resident on the computer that it is imaging. However, you could just download many free copies if you have several endpoints to protect.
The software installs on Windows and it can back up a live OS onto a USB stick that includes a boot sector. This enables technicians to set up a PC with all allowed software, take an image, and then use that copy as a standard setup for all new PCs.
There is a Server edition that runs on Windows Server and also networked solutions for larger businesses with many endpoints to manage. Site Manager covers one network and Macrium Multi-Site includes remote management features.
Macrium Multi-Site is a cloud service, hosted in Azure. This also has multi-tenant features that make it suitable for use by MSPs.
All Macrium Reflect products are available on 30-day free trials.
SmartDeploy offers a central console from which businesses can manage endpoints. The systems administrator adds an endpoint into the service, which gets an agent program installed on that device. From that point, it is possible to take a disk image or copy over a saved image to a new machine. Images can be stored on a local device or a cloud server.
This is a little more than a disk imaging system because the service provides a library of applications that can be installed on network devices. It is possible to create a standard setup and then roll it out to all devices, storing a record of that package instead of a disk image so that it can be set up quickly on new devices.
The system is available in three editions: Basic, Essential, and Premium. Integration with cloud storage is only offered in the Premium plan. All plans include disk imaging and the upper two plans allow control of disk imaging activities over the network and the internet from one central location. There are no limits on the number of endpoints that can be managed with any plan. SmartDeploy is available for a 15-day free trial.
8. Paragon Drive Copy Professional
Paragon Drive Copy Professional is part of Paragon Hard Disk Manager. This tool supports the resizing of partitions and backup to a USB stick as part of its disk cloning functions. The toolkit also provides a bootable disk or stick to access damaged operating systems and recover files with its Recovery Media Builder.
The USB stick version of the tool creates an entire copy of all of the files of a PC that can be operated from anywhere by plugging that USB into another computer. The system supports the creation of secure virtual drives over a network.
Hard Disk Manager is available for home users and for businesses. The software installs on Windows and Linux environments. Paragon Hard Disk Manager is available for a 30-day free trial.
9. Iperius Backup
Iperius Backup is available in eight editions. Four of those specialize in backing up specific services: virtualizations, databases, Exchange Server, and tape drives. Three of the other four editions include disk imaging. The lowest of those eight plans is Free. This includes an automated incremental backup service but it doesn’t have a disk imaging utility.
Disk imaging is included with the Desktop, Essential, and Full editions of Iperius Backup. These systems all install on Windows or Windows Server. These plans can all be managed by a central console although the backup software needs to be installed on each protected endpoint.
Disk images can be sent to cloud storage systems and Iperius also offers its own online storage service. Other utilities included in the Iperius Backup service are the Iperius Recovery Environment, which is able to access damaged operating systems and reassemble shattered files. All plans include compression and encryption of disk images. The image taking and loading can be automated and operated over a network.
All of the paid versions of Iperius Backup are available for 21-day free trials.
FOG is a free, open-source project. The software for the disk imaging system installs on Linux, but it can access endpoints and servers running Windows, Unix, and macOS as well as Linux machines to perform backup and installation functions.
Other features in the FOG system include a volume resizer, secure disk wiping, and antivirus protection. An image can be collected over a network and then applied to many other computers through multicasting. The image can include the operating system, so it is possible to create a typical endpoint set up and apply it automatically whenever a new device is brought in.