The best free disk imaging program: a comparative analysis (updated)


What is the best way to safeguard your computer and undo a system disaster? Most would agree that is done best by making a  so called ‘disk image’, where your entire system partition is backed up and cloned, and the image saved on a different physical hard drive.

Disk images are also an excellent way to keep data entire hard drives or partitions backed up and optionally compressed and/or encrypted.

But not all freeware disk imaging tools are created equal. This article aims to find out which free disk imaging software is the best .

To answer this question we conducted head-to-head tests on four of the best free disk imaging programs that are available on the internet: Paragon Backup & Recovery 2012, DriveImage XML, Easeus Todo Backup, Macrium Reflect, the Windows 7 built in imaging, and Redo Backup. See the results below. Last updated: Nov 30th, 2012

hard drive imaging illustration

In our last update of this article we added 2 programs to the mix (Redo Backup and Windows 7 own internal imaging function), we fixed some data in the comparison table, and editing the article according to the new info.

The list of programs that were considered:

  1. Paragon Backup & Recovery 2012 (Advanced) Free (v / 28.05.12 )
  2. Easeus Todo Backup (v 5.0)
  3. Macrium Reflect (v 5.0 build 5167)
  4. DriveImage XML (v 2.44)
  5. Redo Backup (v 1.0.3)
  6. Windows 7 built in imaging

We excluded a number of programs such as CloneZilla and Seagate Diskwizard (for various reasons; see why).

Note: if you would like you can skip the analysis below and jump straight to our results section (download links are under the results section).

The criteria:

  1. Imaging and compression performance: which program is the best in both speed and compression. This was the most important factor we looked at.
  2. Restoration speed: we measured this, which may be important for users who need to restore images frequently.
  3. Feature comparison: we considered a handful of functions that we think to be important.

The Test:

We installed all four programs on a Windows 7 64 bit OS. Next, we imaged that partition with each program across all compression settings (i.e. 3 or 4 times for each program). Next, we restored these images back one after the other, to gauge restoration speed. Here are the results.

The Data:

[expand title=”Click here to see the data”]

Original partition size = 18.7 GB

ProgramCompression ModeBackup SecondsBackup SizeCompression %Restoration Seconds
EaseUsNormal3437.61 GB41%495
EaseUsMedium5196.38 GB34%648
EaseUsHigh6806.25 GB33%638
ParagonFast6429.67 GB52%603
ParagonNormal5526.64 GB36%513
ParagonBest6505.55 GB3%482
Macrium ReflectNone66111.5 GB61%577
Macrium ReflectMedium4786.74 GB36%577
Macrium ReflectHigh6166.52 GB35%575
Driveimage XmlNone84017.3 GB93%1585
Driveimage XmlFast81911.4 GB61%1516
Driveimage XmlGood14416.04 GB32%1644
Redo BackupN/A6646.9 GB37%173
Windows7 BackupN/A173011.7 GB62.6%663


1. Imaging and compression performance:

Backup Chart Nov30

The pink box above shows the best performance: the fastest image creation and the smallest file size. Easeus ‘normal’ profile is the best bet (small file size and very fast imaging speed).

Generally speaking, Easeus comes out on top IMHO, but if you are looking for the smallest image size then Paragon is your best bet (i.e. Paragon’s best compression mode). Macrium Reflect also does well generally speaking, but if you are using Macrium Reflect because you think it is the fastest, as I was, our test shows Easeus is fastest, and Paragon does more or less just as well on speed. Redo does pretty well as well with a fast, small size backup.

DriveImage XML did not fare so well (all of the datapoints outside the pink box), and Windows 7 took by far the longest and created a large backup file (the second biggest in our tests).

2. Restoration speed

Restoration Snapshot Nov30

Four things to say about this chart:

  1. Restoration time = the red bars, the smaller they are the better. The grey bars are imaging times, just for reference.
  2. Redo Backup is the fastest to restore. Considering that it’s backup time and size was very good as well, it is definitely a good option.
  3. Restoration time is roughly similar for Paragon, Easeus, and Macrium Reflect. DriveImageXML stands out for taking way longer
  4. Easeus ‘normal’ compression profile (my favorite profile from the imaging performance section above) is one of the fastest to restore, which pretty much confirms Easeus as my favorite free disk imaging program.

3. Features:

Note: we are discussing the FREE versions here. The paid versions typically have more features. This is not an exhaustive list of features but rather a list of what we thought most noteworthy.

EaseUs freeParagon freeMacrium Reflect freeDriveImage XMLRedo BackupWin 7 imaging
Support for hot processing: i.e. the ability to create images of the system partition without a reboot.Yes.Yes.Yes.No. LiveCD only.No. LiveCD only.Yes.
Selective restore:i.e. the option to or restore specific files from an imageYes (also allows mounting images).Yes (also allows mounting images).No.Yes (also allows mounting images)No.Yes. Allows browsing backups and restoring files and folder.
Option to backup and restore system files only.Yes.Yes.Yes.No.No.No.
Ease of bootable Media Creation:whether on CD or USBEasy (from within the application)Easy (from within the application)Easy (from within the application; Linux based). WinPE bootable media also available; but is a large download.Difficult. You have to download WinPE; add a plugin to it; and make a live CD. (Or DL and burn Ultimate Boot CD).Large download. 250 megs; have to burn ISO to media.Easy . It will burn a recovery DVD on demand; but strangely will not burn to a USB stick. Or use your Windows disc.
Incremental / selective backup:i.e. to change an existing image to only reflect changes in the source.YesNo. Not in the free versionNo. Not in the free versionNo. Not in the free versionNo.No.
The ability to restore an image to adifferent size hard drive.Yes. Uncheck sector by sector to do so.Yes. Will let you specify the new size of the partition before restoring.Yes.Yes.Yes.Yes.
Support for GPT formatted disksYes.Yes.Yes.No.No.? Unsure.

Excluded programs:

We excluded CloneZilla because we found it too complicated and not user friendly. Seagate Discwizard was excluded because it only supported hard drives made by Seagate and Maxtor.


[+] is a pro, [-] is a con

EaseUS ToDo Backup Screenshot

Our FIRST choice: EaseUs ToDo Backup Free

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick



  • [+] Easy to use and friendly
  • [+] Excellent performance for both imaging speed and recovery speed, as well as compression
  • [+] Easy creation of bootable media
  • [+] A good set of features overall. The only free program to perform incremental backups.

Paragon Backup and Recovery 2012

Our close SECOND choice: Paragon Backup & Recovery 2012 (Advanced) Free

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick



  • [+] Easy to use and friendly
  • [+] Excellent performance for both imaging speed and recovery speed, as well as compression (although EaseUs above might have a slight edge)
  • [+] Easy creation of bootable media
  • [+] A good set of features overall
  • [-] You need to register the program with a valid email (for free).

Redo Bakcup Screenshot

Tied for second place: Redo Backup

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick



  • [+] Excellent performance for imaging speed, but also the best recovery speed recorded in our tests. If you need to frequently restore images this may be the one for you. Without a doubt one of the best free disk imaging options out there.
  • [+] Redo Backup performs truly byte-for-byte, “bare metal” disk imaging (thanks Gregg DesElms for pointing that out)
  • [+] The Live CD contains many tools that could be helpful in recovery situations, including file recovery.
  • [-] A 250 meg download, you will need to burn into bootable media.
  • [-] Somewhat un-user friendly, and requires getting used to. Also LiveCD only, operating from outside the OS. For some, a disadvantage, for others not so much.

Macrium Reflect ScreenshotOur THIRD choice: Macrium Reflect 

  • [+] Easy to use and friendly
  • [+] Excellent performance for both imaging speed and recovery speed, as well as compression
  • [-] Provides a comparatively small set of features in the free version.

DriveImage XML screenshotOur FOURTH choice: DriveImage XML

  • [-] Lags the others on every other front: Performance, ease of use, and creation of bootable media, etc.
  • [-] Creating bootable media can be labor intensive, requiring downloading a huge WinPE ISO and adding a DriveImageXML plugin manually to it before burning. An easier option (thanks to commenter Richard below) is to burn “Ultimate Boot CD for Windows” which comes with DriveImage XML plugin preinstalled.

Windows 7 imagingOur fifth choice: Windows 7 internal imaging

  • [+] Preinstalled with Windows, so there’s nothing else to install. You can use the Windows installation CD to perform a restore.
  • [-] Takes the longest time to perform a backup in our tests by far. Restoration time is reasonable though.
  • [-] Very low on features in general.

Download links

We would love to hear your opinion on your favorite free disk imaging software. Did we miss something above, a feature that you think important?, a program that is not listed?, etc… let us know in the comments section below.

  • Tim

    nice write up…great choices.

    • Sam Moore

      I used “EaseUs ToDo Backup Free” for about 6 months under Windows 7. It often had “backup failures” for no apparent reason. From what I understand, this backup software works by as a service. For some reason, I needed to re-enable the service (via the ToDo application) every now and then. I did this by re-validating the backup settings.
      It has been one of the most clunky backup systems i’ve come across – I won’t use it again.
      I am about to try Paragon’s backup – hopefully, this one works better.

  • C. A. Liebert

    I’ve always used Norton Ghost or Acronis TrueImage. Back in the days when I bought them, freeware imaging software was mostly unix-like with text command line. Since then much has changed as I see. I will for sure try out the winner.

  • Actually for DriveImageXML, you don’t need to download WinPE and add a plugin to it You just have to download the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows and run its setup program and let it burn a CD or DVD. DriveImageXML is included in that live CD by default. I’ve used it often on client sites to make image backups and it works well if not the fastest utility.

    I agree Clonezilla is too complicated for normal users. PartImage on SystemRescueCD is a bit better, but still requires some Linux comprehension to be usable.

  • chris

    Thanks for this article. I do miss the built-in Windows Image Backup of Win7, though. It is quite fast at both saving and restoring so would be useful to see it compared to the rest.

  • Olly

    Macrium does support “hot processing” (volume snapshot and save without reboot) and you only have to do the massive download if you want a winpe based restore disc. Linux based iso option is built right in and can be saved as an iso or burnt directly.

    • Olly

      I have also done a restore to a larger hdd and had the option to expand the partitions to fit the new disk. That option is gives inside the windows app, not sure about the linux restore disc but the winpe version likely also has that feature.

      • Samer Kurdi

        Olly: thanks for this. You are right, we made a mistake. Will publish an update of this post in the next few days.

  • Panzer

    Samer, Contact us is down again …

    • Samer Kurdi


  • Tom

    Thanks for the review, it’s even helpful to know that they all actually work…
    Dunno who did the graphics – but I have *no* idea what length e.g. 1,350 seconds is – I’m sure most other people work better in minutes too.
    DriveImage XML’s sins seem to be forgivable to me.

  • kwacky1

    Thank you for this timely review. I’ve been using Macrium Reflect for a while and was disappointed when I upgraded to Windows 8 to find out that the free edition of Macrium Reflect does not support GPT formatted disks. So imagine my delight after reading this review to find out that Easeus Todo Backup Free does support GPT disks out of the box!

  • Ted Baxter

    Macrium reflect supports ‘hot processing’.please edit your feature comparison table.

    • Samer Kurdi

      You are right, we made a mistake. There were other inaccuracies as well. Will publish an update of this post in the next few days.

  • TA

    Latest version of Macrium Free supports GPT disks.

  • Peter

    The results in the table in paragraph 3 would be soooooo much easier to read if the table cells had (eg. light gray) borders.

    • Samer Kurdi

      @ Peter: we added some formatting to the table. I think its a lot better now.

  • Stephen Bennett

    ? ? ? Macrium Reflect certainly does ? support hot processing.
    Your comparison should reflect that actual feature availability
    for the best ? imaging tool available ? MACRIUM REFLECT?

  • Marcus Geier

    EaseUS products have worked very well for me. Even when I messed up, nothing was lost and recovery was easy and fast.. Had BIG problems with DriveImage – will never use again.

  • Hmm. Nice article.

    I’ve had a lot more success with Redo Backup, though, apparently. I’m a little surprised by what’s reported, here, as the problems with it. I like it, in particular, because it’s true “bare metal” backup, which is the very thing about it which makes it both different, and in it difference, inherently better than any of the others in at least one area: Those who want a truly byte-for-byte, wars-and-all, truly “bare metal” disk image. Hmm. I’ll have to play with it some more to see if I can replicate the problems. Interesting.

    Regarding the other choices, I pretty much agree with everything written in the article. The ones reviewed are, indeed, the big players in this kind of freeware. Again, nice article.

    Keep-up the good work!

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    • Samer Kurdi

      @ Gregg: we’re taking another look at Redo backup, and will likely add it to an update to this article.

  • Anomaly

    How do all the programs in this article do when it comes to dual boot set up?. All my machines have some version of Linux dual booting on them so I need something that images both OS’s. The two programs you left out, Clonezilla and Redo Backup, both handle dual boots very well.
    By the way Clonezilla is not too complicated for the average user if you follow the tutorial on their web site.
    I have had no issues with Redo at all. You might want to look at these two programs again.

    • Samer Kurdi

      @ Anomaly: we did not consider dual boots, mainly because we wanted to keep things simple. But will keep it in mind for consideration in a possible update of the article.

    • cloggyjohn

      @Anomaly: I’ve used Macrium Reflect free to image and restore a dualboot setup of Windows and Linux and it worked perfectly.

  • jod

    I never gave a chance to EaseUS Todo Backup Free because EaseUs Partition Manager was beaten by Aomei Partition Assistant so I kind of thought EaseUs was a looser, On the other hand I always used Paragon Backup and recovery Free because Paragon Hard Disk Manager once when I totally messed up my partition and boot record and couldn´t boot anymore so I kind of thought of Paragon as a winner. But I´m definitely trying EaseUs Todo Backup Free now. I really appreciate this review, it helps us to think things twice.

  • Great comparison! You may want to explain the advantage of incremental back-ups over differential ones; I only looked it up today, while I used to think they were equally useful, and I was happy with Paragon. But now I may switch from Paragon to EaseUs, because from what I read incremental back-ups are indeed a serious advantage, with *much* smaller and quicker back-ups.

  • Brousse Ouillisse

    Perfect timing ! As I bought a brand new laptop with Windows7 and downloaded Windows 8 pro, I wanted to do a “backup week-end”.
    And as I experienced many issues with this Windows 8 (plus the learning curve, I must be too slow for Ms engineers 🙂 ) I was sooooo happy to revert to W7 with EaseUS…Thanks to YOU for this !

  • Duffin

    Are you sure about EaseUs having the ability to make a bootable USB/CD in the application for the free version? According to their website, the WinPE disc is not available for free users…

    • Duffin

      Nevermind, it doesn’t mention the LINUX-based bootable disc unless you click on the link for the FULL list of features.

      • Slay

        But isn’t the Free version a Trial version that will stop working after 15 days?
        Just copied from the Easus site: “The Trial Version can be tested for 15 days starting from the date of installation.”

        • Samer Kurdi

          @ Slay, there’s a Trial version and a Free version.
          The link above takes you to the free version. Here it is again.

          • Slay

            @ Samer, thanks for your reply. I already noticed this myself some time after posting my question…
            So, I did install this yesterday and ran my 1st System Disk backup without problems. Also tried the boot CD, to check if this would work in case restoring would be required. This all went well (without performing an actual restore).
            My only comment would be that the startup of this boot-CD takes very long (I was afraid it ‘hang’, but after a few minutes I saw some progress). Apparently it scans all hard-drives to look for available backups, since I could directly select my earlier created backup. But who cares about these couple of minutes, if you would actually need to use this…

  • Thanks for the comparison list, glad to see Paragon recommended.
    A program I use for its sheer simplicity is ViceVersa.
    Although it has many additional features which I haven’t struggled to master, what I like is the fact that with a couple of clicks and almost no learning curve I can mirror and restore a folder or folders in their entirety.
    Before you ask, no, I have no affiliation or connection with the company.

    • There’s no free version of ViceVersa, so its beyond the scope of this article.

  • jim

    Nice article, Samir and thanks a heap for taking the time to put all of this information together. Very interested to see the speed results of the respective products (PC Repairer, and use imaging every day on repairs).

    Great stuff! Thankyou!

    • I did not look at Ping, I’m afraid. I forgot about it and it feel through the cracks.

      I’m not sure if it’s worth adding it in a future update, unless it truly is worth mentioning. Will check it out.

  • Senior_Moment

    I’m an old-timer and I’ve been using both commercial and freeware backup/imaging software for decades on all kinds of systems. I’ve used several versions of Macrium, but the most recent one, 5.1.5529, has failed me twice! Quite strange, since it has been pretty reliable in its former versions. I made two backups with it and then ran into a situation where I decided to restore my system. The funny thing is that the backups were “verified” as they burned. I like to experiment with software, especially beta ware and freeware, so sometiimes something goes awry and I decide to play it safe by just restoring my complete system. Why? Becasue sometimes, if readers have not noticed, the Windows “system restore points” cannot always be restored. Therefore, I have a quirky habit that when I start with clean installation of Windows (whatever version) on a computer, with it’s dozens of updates, my settings, and tweaking it just the way that I like it, then I burn a Windows-only image and store. If I get a major problem, then it is actually faster a lot of times to start over with my Windows-only restoration. Once I build up the HDD the way that I want it, I also burn a complete image of the entire thing. Well, folks, I used the new Macrium version for both my Windows-only image and my complete HDD image. It went through all of the normal read, write, and verification of the images. When I recently tried to restore it, I found that it failed to read the DVDs. No image could be detected. I reached for my Windows-only backup, and the same thing there. One thing that I failed to do was to test it right after they were burned instead of just shelving them. I used to do this with Norton Ghost. Once an image is burned, even though it was verified, just take a few seconds to pop it in and read it to make certain (a second time) that it is there and is readable. That exercise would have saved me this headache.

  • Frank Meijer

    Macrium Reflect free does have selective restore options to restore specific files from an image since many years, allows mounting images, and also supports GPT formatted disks using the free version.

    I have been using these options for many years now using the free version (except for the GPT, which I have been using only since Windows 8, of course, also using the free version)…

    Strange that you did not notice/mention these features, because they are quite obvious in the free version.

  • Steven Avery


    Nice article.

    Verify should be done at the time of the creation of the image. DriveImageXL seems to be weak on verification. With Macrium, you need to remember this as your own step, there is no auto-prompt, except at restore time, not right after backup.

    Personally, I only use image software with a relatively clean OS install, especially after I get the system up to what I consider my personal base system (this still might have 25-50 programs installed, serial #s entered, stuff like that).

    My suggestion, use about 3 distinct programs for that purpose. My images are only about 10 gigabytes, so I make one or two with Macrium, one or two with Paragon, one or two with Easeus. I have used DriveImageXL too and plan to try Redo.

    They way they handle the MBR (master boot record) section seems to be a bit different. Paragon makes that a very visible part of the image, others do not mention it, and I would like to see an informed discussion as to differences.

    Personally, I consider speed and space two of the least important factors. Reliability, support, ability to handle things well like a different partition size, etc. are more important. The other day I did a Macrium image reinstall, the first image failed on verify, but I had a second right next to it, and it worked perfectly. So ..



  • Steven Avery


    Well, I looked at Redo, and apparently, based on the Sourceforge comments, it only saves the whole disk, not an individual partition. My preference is to image the c:\ with about 10 gigabytes and do backups of my data d:\ by file-by-file, there is no OS stuff there. Therefore Redo becomes overkill for most of my needs. Of course, if I was dual booting and stuff like that on a system, or wanted a full disk image, Redo could be very fine as an overall bare metal image.

    You might want to add the feature “restore by partition”.


  • Joe

    Some of the programs when installed add services that run 24/7 and use resources. Why should a program that I use once a month run all the time? I prefer to leave my windows install untouched.
    If the back up program is run from removable media and installs nothing and does not alter windows, and then restores it to its original state then its a winner. This is most important on older machines that do not have tons of RAM. Will try the Redo Backup. Thanks for the article.

  • TeachIT

    As an instructor, I have created & restored hundreds of different images through the years (and taken students through the process as well).

    Unfortunately, I have stuck with an older educational license version of Ghost as my primary tool, because almost none of the freebies (or even some of the paid ones) seem to think that image verification isn’t all that important. Verification during burn is useful, but once the disc cools down, some errors may crop up, which means that standalone verification of an image can be critical.

    I used to recommend lots of Paragon products. Unfortunately, since version 9, I have noticed a sharp increase in invalid images created that fail on restore (from hard drive or DVD image). Paragon does not have a standalone verification mode, so the only way you can tell if the image is corrupt is to do a restore, possibly corrupting the original partition if you are not restoring it to another drive. The thing that most annoys me is that Paragon denies that there is an issue, even as a paid licensee of their more advanced products.

    Easeus seems to work well, Macrium didn’t like certain configurations (can’t remember exactly what, but couldn’t use it in 2 classrooms), and having to customize different Clonezilla boot CDs for each classroom makes it not worth the hassle (though it is very flexible and the recommended freebie for mass restores).

    I would strongly suggest that standalone image verification be added to your criteria. There is no bigger waste of storage than a bad image. There is nothing more suicide inducing for an IT guy than finding out the hard way that an image is bad, and that image was your last hope. Otherwise, a fine article.

    • jeep

      i worked mfg for years..and the last place relied on never failed as it worked with billion dollar information…verify,verify,verify.if the data is super critical.otherwise you get what you pay for..i used to love disk manager 2000 when ibm owned it…only worked on travelstars,and wd drives back in the day but it was perfect…easeus it good…dont like the speed of disk shrinking but otherwise good.also linux live cd works good too.
      35yrs computer knowledge.

  • Bruce Fraser

    Aomei Backupper seems to be a good product. Bonus: it’s free for commercial use.
    I have no idea how it compares regarding time and size. To me, those are unimportant, compared to the Number One priority of safely restoring an accurate image.

  • Steven Avery


    Thanks, TeachIT. This is such a critically important summary above that I am going to summarize some thoughts, starting with verification.


    Maybe verification could be listed in the features.

    Examples of where programs might lie:
    1) automated by default at time of image creation
    2) prompted at time of image creation
    3) available (but unprompted) at time of image creation
    4) unavailable at time of creation, only at restoration
    5) unavailable, (faulty verification only discovered on restore fail)

    This would become one of the top features. For many of us a program with only (1) or (2) would really be acceptable, although we might in certain circumstances live with (3).

    Plus, if there is any sense that the image verification has weaknesses, that could be mentioned. e.g. When Macrium ran into some configuration questions above (granting that without details it is anecdotal) would it have verified as ok anyway, since the image itself was sound ?


    Note the above request to also have “restore single partition” (I questioned above whether Redo does this). If an image has to include a large non-OS partition, for many uses this would make it unhelpful or even useless. It might even take it out of the box (putting it in a separate category like cloning or “bare metal” … rather than imaging).


    “The ability to restore an image to a different size hard drive.”

    We should realize that this can be quite problematic. And also can mean different things. A different hard drive in the same system ? A different hard drive in a PC from a different manufacturer ? (oops on drivers, etc.)

    I think the concept is a different hard drive in the same system, as after a partition change ?

    Let’s assume that it is the same system. Presumably a hard drive with more space is always acceptable ? For sure ? What happens with less space ? (Perhaps you might repartition before the restore if the system gives you the proper info.) Granted, a smart program will simply not restore a large blank space area, which may be the basic definition.

    So this is only talking about the same PC ? (Or the same model and OS?) Images should generally be considered as attached to the particular PC? Unless it is a special product designed to includes OS and driver concerns.

    Hope the above is not too confusing.


    Why does DriveImage XML have no for “Support for hot processing – No.” I have an image going for the c:/ while I type this on the web.


    Has anybody used “Option to backup and restore system files only.” ? This sounds like something similar to “System Restore” .. although clearly it could be far more advanced. It sounds a bit problematic, and definitions of system files can vary, but I would like to hear about stories of success or failure.


    Noting what Richard says about DriveImage not being difficult (Ultimate Boot CD is simple) .. it should probably cause a small change in the grid away from “difficult”.

    Sam Moore struggled with Easeus. (Note that each program had strugglers and good results, one reason I suggest imaging with 3 programs at a time on a home system.)

    The Easeus propensity to automatically start many services can be annoying. If there is no option to run “on demand” only, that is a negative feature. Others may not have a service option ? Anyway, this could be feature line.



  • ZoneKilla

    CloneZilla is the best..

  • Ted

    AOMEI Backupper does it all, smaller and faster, and it allows scheduling and incremental and differential backups. Regardless of what you read elsewhere, there’s nothing better than Backupper. I’ve done dozens of restores and there’s never been an error. The only other program that comes close is Easeus, and it creates larger files and takes much longer to restore.

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