I recently wrote about my experience using Backblaze for backing up my computer files in the cloud. But Backblaze doesn’t backup certain parts of your system such as operating systems and applications. Here is what you need to do to be better protected in case of a data loss on your computer.

What is a clone drive?

Unlike a backup hard drive which is a copy only of your files, a clone drive is able to boot your computer and get you going in the event of a boot drive failure. And it can do it in pretty short order. If you lack a clone drive you will need to recreate your working environment. This includes downloading your operating system, applications and recreating all of your preference files that tell your applications how to behave. This includes things such as Actions, Extensions, Tool Presets, Color Palettes and more in Photoshop. This could take weeks and possibly even months to get back to where you were before the crash.

A clone drive negates all of that work.

What hard drive to use?

You can use any hard drive that is the size of your target drive or larger. This can be a USB drive or whatever connection is available. For economy I use a docking station. A docking station enables the use of bare hard drives. This is the least expensive solution of which I know. Now just because economy has been mentioned that doesn’t mean you want to use no name hard drives.

You will need a blank hard drive of the same size as the drive that contains your operating system. Connect the drive to your computer. I use a two-bay station so I can have drives devoted specifically to a client and be able to make a clone of that. Single docks are available as well.

How to create a clone drive

You will need software to create the clone drive. I’m on a Mac and use Bombich software called Carbon Copy Cloner. It is clean and updated regularly to stay current with constantly changing operating systems.

If you have a PC, check out this article by TechRadar with some options.

Two bay docking station with bare hard drives inserted.

Activate the cloning software to clone onto the new drive. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours, dependent upon the amount of data on your drive. A bonus is the software can update automatically in the future and only needs to record the changes that have been made since the last clone. Usually my clone drive updates take about 10 minutes.

Make sure you get the proper ports for connecting to your computer when you order your dock station. This is set for USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt 2 connections.

Important! Make it bootable

Once you have created a clone drive of your system make sure you can boot from it. Restart your computer using the new drive. Once you have that confirmation switch back to your computer’s hard drive. Then I recommend repeating the process with another hard drive.

Now you have three copies of your operating system. One is on your computer. One should be in a safe place away from your computer. Another should be off-site. Rotate the on-site and off-site clone drives. Re-clone the drives anytime you have made a change in applications or saved new presets for your software. A good rule of thumb is to clone whenever you add applications or upgrade to a new operating system. At a minimum you’ll want to clone once a month. Once a week is even more ideal.

Extra backup

Since I have the docking station I purchase additional hard drives and clone the drives that are connected to my computer. I make these clones once a month or ANY TIME I do more work than I want to repeat. I usually end up cloning the drive upon which I do the most work once every day or two.

Bare hard drive. It’s not a matter of if, but when, a drive will fail.


It’s been said many times, in many ways, “It’s not if a hard drive will fail, but when it will fail.” Don’t get caught with your pants down! Have a good back up system in place.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob