How to Clone Hard Drive to Smaller Drive

Here is the situation: You want to clone (or copy) a hard drive to a new drive, however, you do not have a hard drive of equal or bigger size to restore the image to. This has happened to me many times, and many times I have wondered what to do. Norton Ghost does this seamlessly, but I had to purchase it and I was not going to make the same mistake most of us do, “just throw money at the problem”, specially in this era of open source software.¬† I knew there had to be a free solution out there to clone my hard disk and after a little bit of research and testing, this is what I came up with. Resize the partition using GParted and clone the partition using Clonezilla, which is in my opinion the best hard drive cloning software available.

In a nutshell, this method will involve resizing the partition of the original hard drive using GParted, then running a filesystem check on the resized partition and using Clonezilla to copy the reduced image to the external hard drive. Finally we are going to transfer the reduced image to the computer with the smaller hard drive.

Method Summary:

- Reduce partition of big hard drive using GParted.
- Let operating system boot so it can do a file system check.
- Save reduced partition using clonezilla's "saveparts" option.
- Restore partition using Clonezilla's "restoreparts" option.

What’s Needed for This Project:

- Clonezilla live CD (free, open source)
- Gparted live CD (free, open source)
- External Hard Drive or Slave Drive (just to copy the compressed image to)


GParted

Step 1: Donwload the GParted live CD

Step 2: Once GParted has finished booting, follow the steps in the picture down below.

1 – Click on “Resize/Move” and a new window will appear.
2 – Drag the right side of the partition bar to the left until the desired size is reached.
3 – Click on “Resize/Move” (the one on your current window)
4 – Click on “Apply” when done.

 

Operating System

Now that we have finished resizing our partition, let the computer boot so it can check the filesystem and fix any possible errors before we start to clone hard drive.


Clonezilla Backup

I am displaying detailed Clonezilla instructions because some people tend to panic when they  see text based menus.

Step 1: Download the Clonezilla Live CD and boot your computer with it, click on “Start_Cloenzilla” at the first screen of the wizard and click “Ok” to continue.


Step 2: Choose “Device-Image” and click “Ok


Step 3: Choose “local-dev” and click “Ok“, make sure you have your USB external hard drive plugged in. If it was not, then plug it in now.


Step 4: Select you external hard drive from the list of available ones and click “Ok


Step 5: Choose “top_directory_in_the_local_device“, this just means that you do not want to save your image inside any of the directories already created in the hard drive. Clonezilla will create a directory and store all image files there. Click “Ok

 

Step 6: Select “saveparts” to save only the desired partition and not the entire drive. Click “Ok


Step 7: Give the image a name and start cloning.


Clonezilla Restore

To restore the image, follow the same steps as in the “Clonezilla Backup” section in this tutorial and when you get to “step 6” select “restoreparts“, choose the hard drive image containing the partition you would like to restore and start the process.


Final Thoughts

So far this is the easiest method I have found to clone a hard drive into a smaller one. It only involves one extra step over Norton Ghost, but everything is done with open source software. Not only Clonezilla is one of the best hard drive cloning software, but also it is free, same goes for GParted. This Means you have the programs at your disposal 24/hr and day 7 days a week no matter where you are. You can backup your hard drive without having to worry about licensing fees or carrying CDs around with me. They are always there at the click of a button.

22 comments:

  1. Merrill Yee, 14. November 2011, 8:26

    Pablo,
    Thank you for letting me know that I need to connect my SSD to the SATA controller directly when using Clonezilla. Since I’m trying to clone my hard drive on my Lenovo T61 notebook to my SSD I believe I have one option: Purchase an ultabay SATA hard drive adapter so I can insert my SSD into the Ultrabay hard drive adapter which is attached to the SATA controller. Do you know if Clonezilla will mount my SSD as the external drive? Thank you again.

    Merrill Yee

     
  2. Pablo Garcia, 7. November 2011, 9:14

    Hi Merrill
    Never use adapters with Conezilla. You need to connect the device directly to the SATA or IDE controller.

     
  3. Merrill Yee, 5. November 2011, 13:16

    I’m trying to clone a larger hard drive to a smaller SSD. I got GParted to work and was able to decrease the amount of free space in the first partition consisting of data and free space. However, when I used Clonezilla and the Kingwin EZ Connect SATA to IDE Adapter for 3.5″ and 2.5″ hard drives, Clonezilla would not mount and show my external SSD. Is there a driver problem with Clonezilla not recognizing the Kingwin EZ Connect SATA to IDE Adapter?

     
  4. dbent, 12. August 2011, 17:15

    I found this worked for me (not Acronis or Clonezilla):

    I resized my original HDD system drive partitions to a size smaller than the destination drive (SSD) using Magic ISO.

    Then copied my partitions to the smaller drive using Magic ISO.

    Burned a copy of GParted to a CD-R using Magic ISO.

    Replaced with old HDD with the new SSD in the laptop.

    Booted to GParted disk.

    Set the main system partition on the new SSD as a BOOT drive.

    Restarted.

    Ran the Windows repair (mine did it without a disk, but had one handy).

    Restarted. Worked.

    I would recommend backing up or cloning the original bigger drive to a spare external HD first as insurance and having a boot disk or windows repair disk handy.

     
  5. Pablo Garcia, 30. July 2011, 19:23

    Peter:
    Sorry, never tried that, so no idea.

     
  6. Peter, 30. July 2011, 16:57

    Thank you for the guide! I just have a quick question. I read some where that when you clone/restore a HDD drive to a SSD drive that the alignment might be off? They said a remedy is to “prep” the SDD drive first by booting into Windows 7 DVD and format the drive with it. Do I need to do this with your walkthrough? Thanks in advanced.

    -Peter

     
  7. adam, 29. June 2011, 16:31

    ignore my last comment, i got it to work. It looks like it didnt really write the image… i looked at it with gparted after and it showed that the disk didnt even have a partition table. i made a bootable ntfs partition with gparted, then started the process over again, and now it is all good :)

     
  8. adam, 29. June 2011, 15:49

    i followed all the instructions and when i boot off the smaller hard drive, i get a BSOD UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME.

    also, at the end of cloning the partition cloining to the smaller drive, i remember a message scrolling by about not having a mbr or something…

    any help would be appreciated!

     
  9. Pablo Garcia, 11. May 2011, 21:31

    Your encrypted drive “should” be a file inside a normal partition. Gparted cannot resize your encrypted drive but it can resize the partition that contains it. Now, if your encrypted drive takes up the whole partition then you won’t be able to resize it.

     
  10. chorob, 11. May 2011, 17:13

    Great article. I am trying to install a 64 GB SSD on my work computer that has a 128 GB hard drive. The drive is PGP encrypted. Do you know if Gparted can partition a disk that has PGP running on it? Thanks.

     
  11. Alig, 26. April 2011, 6:14

    Thank you very much for this article. Helped me a lot by moving my Ubuntu Server installation from a SATA disk to a USB drive, which I now use as primary drive for the installation, so that my server is more silent.

     
  12. Pablo Garcia, 3. April 2011, 19:36

    Hi Zippy:

    Did you do this?:

    “Now that we have finished resizing our partition, let the computer boot so it can check the filesystem and fix any possible errors before we start to clone hard drive.”

    IF you do not do that your computer imaged computer might not boot.

     
  13. Zippy, 3. April 2011, 12:27

    Followed this method, but his a bit of an issue in that the image now won’t boot… Anyone any ideas?

     
  14. Pablo Garcia, 13. March 2011, 21:45

    Of course you can. I updated the list of “things needed” to reflect this.

     
  15. Dylan, 13. March 2011, 19:22

    Can a secondary hard drive be used instead of an external hard drive?

     
  16. Squishy McSquish, 25. February 2011, 8:35

    Yeah! I initially thought this method would work but there are lots of pages on the Interwebs talking about how you can’t clone to a smaller drive and you need to use dd and it looked awful complicated. Then I found this guide and it really helped me. I tried this out using a VM (VirtualBox) and it totally worked. Thank you.

    Uncle Squishy

     
  17. Maarten, 17. February 2011, 8:08

    Hello,

    Thank you so much , i’m using clonezilla in my company ( i’m the IT guy here ), i love the program and it saved me tons of work, but i hated the fact i could not clone to a smaller HD, with your tuturial guide here i just managed to bring this feature alive in my company and it worked perfect !!!

    thumbs up for this 1

    Regards,

    Maarten

     
  18. akgreen, 10. January 2011, 19:39

    Great article! Just used this approach on new server and now have a recovery partition with a clone of my Windows 2008 partition in it. Now that I understand things a little better, using the same tool set, could I create an image of the server partition and save it in my recovery partition, make the recovery partition bootable to clonezilla, and then restore the image file to the server partition?

     
  19. Jordan N., 8. January 2011, 11:27

    Pretty much what I was looking for, but I was wondering if there were a way to clone the image directly to the new drive, instead of requiring an intermediary backup drive.

     
  20. Oran, 2. December 2010, 15:56

    I am so glad that you wrote this. I thought that I couldn’t clone my hd to a smaller drive, and then you showed me that it was both possible and beautifully simple (I wish that I had thought of it, too).

     
  21. hyongju, 27. October 2010, 11:50

    Thank you very much. This is exactly the thing I need right now!

     
  22. Pat Martin, 24. October 2010, 11:53

    Very nice article! I imagine that this is getting a lot of hits from people wanting to upgrade to SSD.

     

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