What Is Disk Imaging?

Disk imaging is a form of hard drive backup that places all of a hard drive’s data into a compressed file. That file can be stored on other devices, in a file system, or in the cloud. Disk imaging allows individuals and businesses to recover all data that was on a computer when the image was made.

Disk imaging bypasses the configuration stage of setting up a computer. Because it saves every detail of the previous hard drive, including current operating system, applications, and documents, computer users do not have to reset every aspect of the new computer. This makes disk images a helpful tool for businesses that want to quickly set up new computers with the same software and programs.

Installing a disk image on a hard drive typically requires a specific platform for copying images onto disks.

Disk Imaging for Data Backup and Recovery

Imaging allows a computer user to return to a previous version of the hard drive, including all applications and files stored on it at that time. If the current hard drive is compromised by malware or a virus, users can replace it with another disk image.

Storing multiple disk images in different locations, both physical and virtual, provides better protection for the computer data. If a disk image is stored in a file system, such as NAS, and that is destroyed, the image on a local desktop or in Amazon’s cloud service will still be available.

Enterprises that need to store multiple hard copies of computer data can store disk images in different locations for additional data protection.

Difference between Disk Imaging and Disk Cloning

Imaging is not the same as disk cloning. Many disk backup software programs have options for both disk cloning and disk imaging, but the two are different.

While a disk image is a compressed file that holds all data from a hard drive, a disk clone is another disk that is identical to the original. Data from the original hard drive is copied directly to the next disk. This means that disk clones can only be made one at a time.

Once disk cloning is complete, the newly created drive can be installed on a computer immediately, and that computer will have the same patches, operating system, applications, and files as the original drive. The clone can also be saved in storage for future use, should a new computer need that hard drive or the original fail. Though the cloned drive will only have the data that was on the original when it was cloned, it’s still a good backup solution for saving computer data.

Cloning a disk takes less time than creating an image. The entire cloned disk is now a copy of the original hard drive. In contrast, disk images take longer to process, but multiple images can rest on a storage device, such as a USB flash drive.

Because disk images are compressed files, they take up less storage space than an entire computer’s worth of uncompressed data would. This makes them particularly useful for storage and backup.

Disk cloning is a useful technology for quickly creating a new hard drive that can then be stored or installed.

Disk Imaging Software

Disk imaging platforms often include other features for hard drives, such as backup and recovery. We list four software options for disk imaging for both personal users and businesses.

Acronis True Image

Acronis True Image doubles as disk cloning and backup solution. True Image allows users to schedule full and incremental backups. Acronis also offers antivirus and anti-malware checking; the software makes scans that especially search for malware in files that would ordinarily be targeted. True Image is available for both Windows and Mac.


Clonezilla offers both imaging and cloning. It’s a free and open source disk solution that supports multiple file system formats. The server versions of the software can be used for massive deployment, cloning many computers at one time. Clonezilla also offers the option to encrypt disk images to protect the files stored within the image.

Macrium Reflect

Macrium Reflect triples as a backup, imaging, and cloning solution for Windows. It offers a 30-day trial period and versions for personal users and businesses. It’s commercially licensed and allows both incremental and scheduled backups. Reflect offers ransomware protection as well.

Symantec Ghost Solution Suite

Symantec, owned by Broadcom, includes disk imaging in its Ghost Solution Suite, which also focuses on deployment across different computing systems. The Ghost Solution Suite is also a migration tool, allowing users to migrate to different operating systems. It supports Windows operating systems and servers and Microsoft SQL Server databases.

Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps is a staff writer for Enterprise Storage Forum and eSecurity Planet, where she covers data storage, cybersecurity and the top software and hardware solutions in the storage industry. She’s also written about containerization and data management. Previously, she wrote for Webopedia. Jenna has a bachelor's degree in writing and lives in middle Tennessee.
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