Friday, August 12, 2011

Cloning a Hard Drive with Acronis True Image Home 2011

I bought a Windows 7 Professional 64-bit PC from Dell about a year and a half ago and made the mistake of choosing an OS drive with insufficient room. Needless to say, 18+ months later, it was filling up fast. Even storing all of my data and VMs on a separate (and much larger) drive didn't really help. Fortunately, the folks I work for in my day job had decommissioned a lot of hardware and computer parts and I was able to get my hands on a fairly good sized SATA HDD. Now all I had to do was figure out how to transfer Windows 7 from one SATA drive to another.

After doing a bit of research, including asking the fine folks at Certforums.co.uk for advice (one of the finest technical certification discussion forums on the planet), I chose Acronis True Image Home 2011 for the job. I had initially settled on Acronis' Migrate Easy product, since I didn't need all of the features offered by True Image, but True Image was $10 cheaper and I'm all about getting a bargain.

After stopping by my local computer parts and repair store to pick up a SATA data cable, I was ready to install the new drive and get to work. I reviewed both the online documentation and the User Guide. I felt I was ready to proceed. The process seemed quite simple and I anticipated the whole thing being done in an hour or two at most.

Boy was I wrong.

Setting Up the Hard Drive

After installing the drive, my PC didn't "realize" it was there (my bad), so I went into the BIOS and set the SATA channel the drive was using to Active. After booting into Windows, I used the native Windows Disk Management utility to set the drive to a simple NTFS volume. The computer could now "see" the new drive, so I was all set.

Downloading and Installing True Image

I downloaded and installed a fully licensed version of True Image to my computer. This part was flawless and went just as anticipated. Nothing more to see here. Move along. Move along.

My First Attempt

I opened True Image and, following the instructions, opened Tools and Utilities and then clicked on Clone Disk. The Clone Disk Wizard was easy enough to follow. I went with an Automatic clone mode, selected my source disk, my destination disk, and then started the cloning process. A notice balloon came up to confirm this, but a few seconds later, a second balloon said that I had to reboot or the cloning would abort in 10 minutes.

Like a good little drone, I rebooted my computer.

Nothing.

I logged back in and still nothing. Task Manager confirmed that the application and its processes were not running. I repeated my original steps after checking the directions again and got the same result. I chose the Manual process which let me choose the "move method" (Proportional was recommended since the original disk contents are distributed across the entire, larger space of the new disk). I then started the cloning process and unfortunately, got the same results.

Needless to say, I was getting frustrated at this point.

I went to the Support area of the Acronis website and searched their discussion forum (it was getting late and I doubted anyone would be around at their help desk for live chat). I found the thread Clone Disk Utility Doesn't Work which had only been started a few weeks ago so it seemed to be a good fit for my problem.

The general consensus in the thread was that I should boot the computer from the Acronis recovery disc rather than the OS, and then perform the disk cloning from there. Please note that this was not mentioned in the User Guide PDF but was mentioned in the online instructions. I went back into Tools and Utilities to perform this action but here, I realized that my computer's DVD drive wasn't a burner. In fact, of all the drives on my PC, including removable drives that have since been removed, my DVD drive was the only one the Acronis disc making software didn't see.

The advice I got from the Acronis discussion thread was to download the ISO file and make a disc from that. Fortunately, I had access to a PC at work where I could easily (I love Linux) burn the ISO to disc. I figured I was ready to do this right.

My Second Attempt

With recovery disc in hand, I got home after work. I changed the computer's BIOS boot settings to look at the DVD drive first, then booted from the disc I'd made that morning. The mouse becomes disabled when booting from the disc. There are some instructions that appear telling you how to use various key combinations in order to control the mouse using the numbers keypad. Unfortunately, they go by so fast that, by the time I could read them and attempt to follow the instructions, the computer booted into Windows.

I rebooted with the disc again. Using my arrow keys, I could choose three options: Boot into Windows (the default), boot into the True Image Main Page, or boot into Acronis True Image Report. I tried the Main Page and after receiving a message saying Acronis was loading, a stream of different paths scrolled across my otherwise black screen ending with a blinking cursor. After the line Using /lib/modules/nfs.ko , the computer simply hung with the cursor flashing at me, and leaving me hanging out to dry.

As I'm writing this blog, I found a separate Acronis forum thread that explains this error. The thread content also reminds me that the recovery disc should have had an option for True Image (Safe Mode) which was missing from the menu of options available to me when I used the recovery disc. This behavior was not reassuring.

I repeated the steps of booting with the disc using the True Image option and arrived at the same result. Just for giggles, I booted using the Acronis Report option, but nothing changed. At this point, I was nursing an increasingly dim view of Acronis, their software, and their dodgy documentation. Absolutely nothing is working out as Acronis has described.

I booted back into Windows to consider my options. Going back into the True Image menu in Windows, under Tools and Utilities, I saw an option to add a hard disk. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I "added" the new SATA disk to the computer. That part seemed to go fine and took just a few seconds. Then, just for the heck of it, I tried the cloning process again, duplicating the steps in the wizard that I took before, and using the manual option.

The notification appeared saying that the cloning process had started but then something different happened. A notice appeared telling me to reboot or the process would abort in 10 minutes, but it was a completely different balloon format, appearing in a different place on my screen. I thought this was oddly hopeful and I rebooted, removing the recovery disc before doing so.

Instead of the OS loading, a text-only screen appeared and information flashed by faster than I could read but stopping at "Operation 4 of 5: Copying Partition". Acronis was finally cloning the OS volume from the old to new disk and the information on the screen confirmed the disk types and sizes were correct. Two progress bars were slowly advancing (current progress and total progress). I sipped a glass of water and waited.

The User Guide for this product described the cloning process taking place entirely in the GUI, not in a text environment. The online help completely omits what happens after following the wizard instructions, so I had no idea if this was expected behavior or not. All I could tell was that the cloning seemed to be working.

Once the process was completed, I was prompted to shutdown the computer by pressing "any key".

Once the PC was powered down, I opened it up, removed the original OS hard drive and replaced it with the larger cloned drive. I booted the computer, got back into the BIOS, removed the option for the computer to recognize a third SATA drive on the channel I'd originally selected for the new drive, and then made sure the new hard drive would be the first boot order option.

Then I rebooted and Windows 7 came up beautifully.

After the OS and my desktop loaded, I checked in "Computer" and the OS drive was indeed the new one with plenty of room (the computer wouldn't have booted if it wasn't, but I wanted the satisfaction of seeing for myself).

Conclusion

I must say it worked, which is about the only positive I can write about Acronis at the moment.

While the discussion forum recommended performing the cloning process by booting from the recovery disc, this is absolutely not mentioned in their User Guide for the True Image product. There is also quite a bit of information that is assumed, including the fact that the user has to know to add the disk in the BIOS after installing it physically, and then how to format it in Windows.

After all of my failures, the "turning point" for me, was using True Image to add the SATA HDD. After I did that, the cloning finally worked. Neither the online nor hard copy documents mention adding the disk using the True Image tool at all. If, adding the disk using True Image is a required step, it should have been mentioned in the documentation. I ended up going through that step out of desperation.

My recommendation to Acronis would be to update their documentation to more accurately describe how their product works, including any caveats. It's either hopelessly out-of-date (sadly, documentation continues to be the left-handed, red-headed step-child of software companies), or it's just plain wrong. I write technical documentation for a living and the Disk Cloning section of the True Image User Guide could have been a lot better. If booting from the recovery disc is required, say so. If adding the new disk using True Image before trying to clone another disk to it is required, say so.

Please.

A process that should have taken an hour or two, took me two days. I don't have that kind of time to waste.

If Acronis wants some assistance writing help documentation, they can either hire me or they can find who wrote this tutorial for ComputerShopper.com, which does a fine job of explaining what really should happen, step-by-step (and alas, I found it after the fact), minus the apparent necessity of adding the disk using True Image.

Cheers.

3 comments:

  1. Dear god please change the colors! Light text on a dark background makes for horrible reading.

    ReplyDelete
  2. James,
    I couldn't agree more with you. The instructions are crap. I just bought this POS software and am totally frustrated. I just want to replace my netbook HDD with a SSD. Set up a external HDD enclosure with the SSD drive. Since the netbook doesn't have a CD/DVD drive, had to use external one to load the SW. Then tried all the options you did. Unfortunately, I haven't been successful yet. I get to the reboot and it comes up with the Acronis loader, then some box pops up and goes away in less than a second. Reboots on it's own and nothing. I'm going to give it one more shot then I'm going to return when it doesn't work. Thanks for your instructions.

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