Last week I mentioned that I’d seen an intriguing post on Lifehacker entitled “Copy and Paste your Entire Hard Drive with Two Clicks with GParted.” This sounded rather improbable to me, but I wanted to check it out.
There was a small problem with doing so, because the link on the Lifehacker site is broken, but I figured out how to fix it and was able to go over to Sourceforge to download the GParted Live CD .iso file. (“GParted” stands for “Gnome Partition Editor,” but that’s not of particular interest to the non-geek, and in particular the non-Linux geek.)
At first it seemed a bit strange to be using a Linux tool to back up a Windows drive, though at second thought it actually makes sense. I automatically distrust anything that tries to back up the Windows operating system from within Windows, because the system state keeps changing. I normally make drive images using Ghost 8 after booting my machine from the non-Windows Bart-PE CD. (PE stands for Pre-Environment, another thing you probably don’t want to know about. Bart is just the guy who assembled this useful CD.)
Assembling the Bart-PE CD was beyond me; the Ur-Guru made mine. But the GParted Live CD is ready to burn: just start up your CD-burning software, open the .iso file, and burn. Presto: a bootable CD.
So I shut down my computer and booted from the CD, and after selecting the appropriate language/keyboard layout, I was in GParted and it was showing me the partitions on my C drive. Not that it actually said “C drive,” mind you. It said “dev/hda1”. “Dev” stands for “device,” and there’s a menu at the top where you get to choose devices. My choices were hda1 (my C drive), hda2 (my D drive), and sda1 (the FreeAgent Go drive). My Maxtor Shared Storage II network drive was conspicuous by its absence.
That was the first problem, because if you copy a partition with GParted, you have to copy the whole thing, and it doesn’t get compressed. I don’t have 80 GB free on either the D drive or the F drive. So there was no place to put the drive if I copied it.
And even if I’d been able to see the network drive (which has about 200 GB free at the moment), copying and pasting with GParted doesn’t just fill in empty space, but reformats the whole drive, thus wiping out anything on there. (It does give you a big warning prompt to prevent you from doing so.)
So yesterday I pulled out my not-yet-recycled X drive, which was completely empty and is an 80 GB drive like my C drive, hooked it up to the USB port, and rebooted with the PArted Live CD. I was then able to select the partition representing the C drive (hda1), hit the “copy” button, select the partition representing the X drive (sda2), hit the “paste” button, and apply the operation.
I was a little surprised that I had to do something more than hit the “paste” button to start the drive copy, though when you’re partitioning drives and potentially removing all the data on them, it’s not a bad idea to have to take an extra step or two. But even without that, it’s definitely more than two clicks, because you have to navigate between partitions.
Still, once you get past the unfamiliar-to-Windows-users (and probably even less familiar to Mac users) interface, it is a straightforward procedure. I hit the “apply” button and off it went.
Copying 80 GB is not a speedy activity even over USB 2.0 hi-speed, but I was about to leave for a client appointment anyway. I started the copying around 9 or 9:30 AM, and when I got home at about 1:30 PM it was finished. I exited GParted, selected “eject and reboot” from the shut down menu, and took a look at the X drive in Windows Explorer.
It was all there: everything on the C drive, including the label “local disk.” I’m presuming I could boot from the X drive, now, as long as I set the BIOS on my machine to look for a USB device before checking the local hard drive. And I could use GParted again to copy the partition onto a new machine—though it would have to have identical hardware for me to be confident that there wouldn’t be weird issues with drivers for things like sound and graphics cards that would mess it up.
I’m not likely to start using GParted instead of Ghost, if only because I can do the Ghost backups onto my network drive and keep several of them there. But it’s free and it requires only a moderate degree of geekiness to use. It also handles just about any conceivable file system, so you should be able to use it on Macs as well as PCs and Linux boxes. And restoring files from the GParted backup doesn’t require any proprietary software. (That’s the good news and the bad news, as there’s no way to encrypt the files and anyone could take that drive and have access to everything in my machine.)
Two clicks is definitely an exaggeration, though. Perhaps I should talk to Lifehacker about truth in advertising.