Cloning With Linux 3 Ways
Disk Duplication Demystified
Making an image copy of your system disk is a great way to create a backup. With the cost of portable USB drives at all time lows, you could keep a couple around for rotation purposes. If your main drive does crash, you could be back up and running in a matter of minutes. Now all that's left is making the actual image copy. There are lots of ways to accomplish this task, and we'll spell a few of them out to help you along.
The biggest issue with making an image copy of your system disk is that you must boot from another device to get a true copy. Options include a "live" CD or bootable USB. You probably have a copy of your favorite distribution's installation disk lying around somewhere, so that would be an obvious choice. For our purposes we'll use the Ubuntu 10.4 distro on a USB disk. The second option would be to use an actual disk duplication distro like Clonezilla. This turns out to be one of the easier ways to get the job done, especially if you're not too comfortable with the command line.
Option One: Bootable Ubuntu USB Disk
Creating a bootable Ubuntu USB disk is a cinch if you have a running system. It's really not that hard if you don't either. The one thing you do need is the distribution ISO file. If you don't have that readily available, you'll have to download it from the Ubuntu site. There is an option on the download page with instructions on how to create a USB disk on Mac OS X, Ubuntu and Windows.
You should be able to boot straight from the disk once you have it created. It's possible you might have to change your BIOS setting to allow the system to boot from USB. Many newer systems (like Dell machines) have an option to bring up a boot menu when the machine first powers up by pressing the F12 key. Once you get the system booted you're ready to make your backup image copy. You might want to run the Disk Utility found under the System / Administration list. This will give you the opportunity to look at the disks attached to your system and their organization.
The Disk Utility provides a number of utilities including mount / dismount and format volume. It's a good idea to go ahead and format the drive if you're reusing an old Windows disk. GParted 0.5.1 comes standard with the basic Ubuntu 10.04 boot disk. It includes an option to copy a partition. Instructions for doing the work can be found on either the GParted site or on the Ubuntu forums. There's also a GParted Live CD if you want to go that route.
Be prepared to wait a while if you choose to backup your system to an external USB drive. The total estimated time in our case was almost four hours. One really good alternative is to use a disk caddy adapter like the Thermaltake BlackX ST0005U. It has an eSATA connector that speeds up the data transfer process tremendously. This is a must have if you're the type that frequently tears into systems or builds new ones.