Cloning vs Imaging:
You can use both approaches for your HDD backup plans. I use Cloning for my short-term HDD rollback option, every 2 weeks.
I Image occasionally to provide multiple HDD recovery paths in case I encounter an issue with a Cloned HDD.
When you're comparing a full-HDD Cloning process to a full-HDD Image process, they provide the same end results, providing a compete copy of your Source HDD.
The difference is, when you Clone, you need to have a spare HDD available as the "Target" HDD. After the Cloning process has completed, you'll have an identical HDD available as a spare bootable HDD that's identical, at the time of the Cloning process, as the Source HDD.
When you Image (assuming for this example that it's a full-HDD Image process), you're outputting the result into a file, usually compressed to save storage space, to an external HDD. You can store your Images in an internal HDD but it's usually recommended to keep an Image-storage HDD external and connected only during the Image processing times.
That helps isolate and protect the external HDD from malicious events should they occur on the parent PC.
I'm not sure about this, but from reading your post, it appears that you're wanting to store your Images on the same HDD as your Windows HDD.
If that's what you're referring to earlier, it's not recommended to store (full-HDD) Images on the same HDD as your OS HDD.
I'd purchase a spare external HDD to be used as your Image storage HDD. When you Image to that HDD, you can connect it during the process and disconnect it upon completion to protect it against malicious intrusions.
To try and answer your questions above:
2) Partitions on your HDD: If you can post a screencap of your Disk Management screen, we can help provide some info about your HDD partitions.
From your description, I'd guess that you're referring to a recovery partition as another member suggested.
For example, here's a screencap of my Toshiba Laptop Disk Management screen. The 2 orange arrows point to the 2 factory recovery partitions. The first partition (left to right on the screen) is a "boot" recovery partition in the event that I'd need to restore the Laptop to its initial out-of-the-box condition.
The 3rd partition contains the drivers that are unique to my Laptop's firmware that would be required to return the HDD back to it's original factory conditions.
Regarding your question about "Any data on the target disk prior to the cloning process will be erased.", this is referring to the Cloning process as it will erase any data that was previously present on your Target HDD during the Cloning process itself.
For example, if you have preexisting data/partitions on the spare HDD that you're going to be Cloning to, ie, your "Target" HDD, that data will be removed during the Cloning process since the Cloning process results in an exact copy of the Source HDD.
3) This question, the answer is "yes", select all partitions on the Macrium Imaging setup screen if you're wanting to produce a full-HDD Image of your Source HDD.
For example, here's some screencaps of my Desktop HDD environment with my Macrium setup screens. If I want to produce a full-HDD Image to my output Image file, I'd click on all partitions in the Image setup screen below: Note the blue circle. If you click on that box, Macrium will automatically select all partitions on the HDD that you want to Image.
It's similar to the Cloning setup screen. If I want to Clone my Source HDD to a spare HDD, I'd click where the blue arrow is pointing. Macium will automatically select all partitions on the Source HDD and will copy all selected partitions to the Target HDD.
To answer your question "(Which drive(s) contain the entire Clone of Windows, all settings, all apps?)"
That depends on how your Windows OS was installed and if you installed with custom partitions, ie, the OS in one partition, programs in another, your personal data in another, etc.
With my Desktop PC, I have a basic Win 7 install with the "System Reserved" partition and my "C" partition. I also have another HDD where I store video files and most of my picture files. I do that to reduce Cloning and Imaging duration times as Video files are large in size and require more time to copy.
When I Clone my Desktop "C" HDD, here's what I do:
- Install my Cloning tool CD/DVD into my Optical Drive. Wait until it's loaded/mounted in Windows.
- Disconnect my other external HDD's. It's not required, but I like to do this so when I'm booted into my Cloning software, it's easy to select the Target HDD as there will only be 2 HDD's connected to my PC.
- Shut down PC. Install my Target HDD into one of my Desktop SATA racks (these are "hot-swap" racks that allow one to install and remove HDD's the same way as any removable storage devices, Flash Sticks, DVD's, etc.)
This step isn't required but I always "prepare" my Target HDD for Cloning by deleting all data on it. This way, when I'm in my Acronis Cloning setup screen, it's easy to distinguish the Source HDD from the Target HDD, since my Target HDD will appear as unallocated, containing no data. Also, with Acronis, it automatically selects the Target HDD as the program recognizes that this is the HDD that contains no data.
With Macrium's Cloning setup screens, the idea is the same; the Target HDD is easily identifiable as it's the HDD that contains no data.
- Boot up the PC. My BIOS boot order is set up to boot from my Optical Drive first, if a bootable media is installed in the drive.
- Select my Source and Target HDD's in the Cloning software's setup screen.
- Start the Cloning process.
- When complete, the PC shuts down automatically (selectable from many Cloning software tools setup page before starting the Cloning step).
- Remove the Target HDD. This step is important, as Windows may not boot and cause problems if it detects identical OS HDD's that contain the same Disk Signature (this is a 4-byte identifier code uniquely assigned to Windows OS HDD's).
If you're Cloning to an external USB HDD, you're not apt to encounter the above potential issue as Windows doesn't allow its OS to boot from a USB device.
- Remove the Cloning software bootable media.
- Boot up the PC as normal in Windows from my "C" HDD.
Imaging is similar. Here's what I do:
- Connect my external HDD where I store my Images. I use a 4 Tb external USB HDD since I'm storing Images for 3 PC's on this HDD.
- While still in Windows, before shutting down my PC, I create a destination folder on my USB HDD. This step isn't required as Macrium will create a default folder name for the Image file but I like to use my own folder-names to help me identify folders using my selected names.
- Install my Imaging tool (Macrium) CD/DVD into my Optical Drive. Wait until it's loaded/mounted in Windows.
- Restart the PC. My BIOS boot order is set up to boot from my Optical Drive first, if a bootable media is installed in the drive.
- Nagivate the Macrium setup screens and begin the Imaging process.
- Upon completion of Macruim's Image process, disconnect my USB storage HDD and boot up into Windows as normal.
Regarding the usage of the word "backup", it's often interchangeably referenced when discussing HDD copying, copying files, etc.
A Cloned HDD is one example of a complete HDD backup but it's not going to be a "real-time" backup since it won't include any updates/edits/changes that have occurred since the last time the Cloning process was done.
This is why some users employ a multi-faceted backup PC plan. They'll use Cloning and/or (full-HDD) Imaging to provide a fast way to rollback the PC in the event of numerous issues: failed HDD, problematic Windows Update, user error, bad download, malicious intrusions, etc.
Additionally, users can employ an automated specific-item backup routine to back up items that are frequently edited, changed, etc.
I use both methods in addition to running a "backup" script that I can run to quickly backup specific items to a Flash Drive. I'll plug in a Flash Drive, then run a script with a hotkey on my keyboard. That avoids the drag/drop or copy/paste copying methods.
If you're wanting to Clone, obtain a spare HDD that's equal to or larger sized than your Source HDD. I'm using an exact size replacement HDD for my spare Cloned HDD.
Imaging: Obtain an external HDD to use as your Image storage HDD. You can use an existing spare HDD if you have ample storage space. I like to use a dedicated spare HDD for my Images since they can be rather large in size for full-HDD Images and I'm storing 3 PC's HDD Images on the HDD.
Once the Image process completes, I'd recommend disconnecting the Image storage HDD to isolate it from the parent PC. That provides additional protection from malicious issues that may be encountered on the parent PC.
It's not recommend to store HDD Images on the same HDD as your OS, ie, most user's "C" HDD. If a disaster occurs with your OS HDD and the Images are stored on that same HDD, you won't be able to restore your PC from those Images.