Cloning Your Hard Drive

This week I experienced a bit of panic when my laptop stopped recognizing its own hard drive and refused to boot up. Fortunately, I maintain a backup of all of my data. (We’re a little obsessed with backing up data here at ProfHacker.)

However, I wasn’t sure why my laptop was no longer getting along with its hard drive. Was something wrong with the drive? Or was something wrong somewhere else? I had an easy way to find out.

I’m a Mac user, and I use Chronosync to maintain a bootable clone of my laptop’s hard drive on an external hard drive. What this means is that I plug the external hard drive into my laptop and then–when booting up–instruct the laptop to use the external hard drive (rather than the internal one). If the computer were to work after this process, then I would know that the problem was with the hard drive. If not, then it could probably–but not necessarily–be some other problem.

The result? Success! The laptop booted up just fine from the external drive. So after shutting it down again, I opened up the computer, checked the connections to the internal drive, and then tried booting up again. That did the trick. The problem must have been a loose connection. (I’m going to be more careful from now on when carrying my laptop around with me in order to minimize the jostling it experiences…)

Mind you, I’m not saying that all you need to do is maintain a bootable clone of your internal hard drive. In fact, if you’re a Mac user, be sure to maintain backups by buying an external hard drive and taking advantage of Time Machine: you’ll have access to multiple versions of your data going back over several months (depending on the size of the external drive). However, you might also consider maintaining a bootable clone of your internal hard drive–not only because you will be able to do what I describe above, but also because you could easily swap out a nonworking internal hard drive for your working clone. Pretty cool, huh?

What about you? Do you maintain a bootable clone of your hard drive? How’s that working out for you? I’m especially interested in hearing from Windows users: what kind of software do you use to do so? Let us hear from you in the comments, please.

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Steve Jurvetson]

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