USB flash drives make it very easy to access your important files and information wherever you are and save operating system backups. But what are your options if you lose the USB drive or it gets corrupted?
Of course, you can get rid of the old USB stick and find a new one, but your data may be lost forever. To avoid such a scenario, we recommend cloning your entire USB drive and all of its contents to a USB image using the instructions below.
A USB image is indestructible, unlike the removable media hardware used for data backup. You can store the image anywhere online and export it to another external drive to retrieve the lost data anytime.
What Is a USB Image?
There are two different meanings for “USB image,” and the term requires a bit of clarification. It is most commonly used to denote any software that creates a bootable image of an operating system. Popular examples include tools such as Rufus and BalenaEtcher. They convert USB devices to a Live USB system that can boot an entire operating system.
When you use a bootable USB drive to install a Windows or Linux operating system on your desktop, you would use a USB image. However, we are not dealing with this type of USB image here. Live USB systems only manage to save a backup on the USB hardware itself, so they cannot help with data or operating system recovery if the USB device is lost or stolen or the files become corrupted.
Many people use data recovery tools such as Disk Drill or Recoverit to rescue inaccessible files when dealing with such data loss. While these tools have their merits, a smarter way to recover data is with a portable image of your USB disk created to handle such scenarios. This is where the second definition of a USB image comes in.
USB image also refers to a single image of the entire USB drive with its partitions and contents created using backup software, also known as a USB image tool. The image can be in various formats, such as .bin, .iso, or as a proprietary extension of the backup software. Its file properties have to be transferable online to recover the stored information at your convenience.
Why You Can’t Just Copy Files for Backup
If you have just a few personal files and information, it should not be difficult to upload them to Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, or any other cloud account. You can also copy-paste them to an external drive or removable media.
But as the number of files and overall file size increases, it becomes tedious to upload them one by one regularly. Even with fast Internet speeds, creating cloud storage consumes a lot of time. In addition, when you edit files frequently, it is difficult to keep track of different file versions.
Besides, if your USB drive has extra partitions and file archive properties, you won’t be able to recreate an exact clone. If you are trying to move installer software from your hard drive, its Properties cannot be copied to a new system. Also, some programs and software may forbid the user from moving them to a new external drive.
USB imaging software can provide a one-stop solution to deal with all these problems. It creates a single permanent image that makes the saved data agnostic to all future devices’ hardware. You are effectively cloning your removable media, making your data accessible at all times. Also, the process is much faster than uploading images online, especially when many files are involved.
How to Clone a USB Drive With a USB Image Tool
Some popular examples of a true USB image tool are ImageUSB, AOMEI Backupper, and EaseUS Todo Backup. We show how each program can be used to clone an entire USB disk along with all of its partitions and files. While only the first tool is true freeware, the other two also support free USB imaging.
While an online search reveals several other “USB image tools,” most of them are ridden with malware, such as Trojans and rootkits, or have device compatibility issues. Therefore, only download and install USB imaging software from reputable software providers. Our recommendations below are a safe bet, as they have all tested malware free and will not harm your system.
ImageUSB by PassMark Software is lightweight, portable freeware that does not require installation. It currently supports Windows 10 and 11 and a Mac version is available as well. The best part is that you can save created images concurrently to multiple USB devices.
- Download ImageUSB to your device’s operating system.
- Launch ImageUSB to view its main dashboard. Initially, it won’t display a USB device unless you inserted one into your computer already.
- Insert the removable media to display it. If the USB disk doesn’t show, close the ImageUSB application and recheck.
- After selecting the USB drive, select “Create image from USB drive.”
- Choose a location on your PC where the created image can be saved. The location can be the desktop or any hard drive.
- After you click the “Create” button, you will see a pop-up window asking you to confirm that you want to create an image of the chosen USB drive. Click “Yes” to proceed.
- The image creation process starts instantly. You can see its progress as a moving percentage and data transfer speed.
- After the image is created, its progress will be verified, which also takes a little while.
- In the end, you should see an “Imaging Completed” status, which indicates that the entire USB device and its contents have been copied and saved as an image file to your chosen PC location.
- The file is saved in .bin format, and you can view its properties in Notepad or a similar tool.
- You can easily export the .bin file to the cloud or save it on another external drive.
Restore Data From the Cloned Image
When you need the USB data again:
- Import the saved image by selecting the “Write image to USB drive” option in ImageUSB’s dashboard and opt for post-image verification.
- If you downloaded the image online and saved it to your PC, import the .bin file using the “Select the image” option.
- Once you click “Write,” the image created previously will be transferred to a new USB drive, and all the data and files from the old USB stick will move to the new one.
2. AOMEI Backupper
AOMEI Backupper Pro is premium backup software but has a standard edition that can be downloaded for free. Even the free version has a few advanced USB cloning features: it can also create and save backups of your entire hard disk drive or SSD with its Disk Clone feature.
- Download and install the Standard Edition of AOMEI Backupper. While installing the software, skip the automatic Pro upgrade if you don’t need it. It has faster backup and restore speed, which is very useful if you have many files.
- It takes just a little while for the backup software to install to your device.
- Insert your USB device, and on the AOMEI Backupper home screen, select “New Backup” to create a backup of your existing hardware.
- Choose “Disk Backup” from the various backup options. If your USB drive has many partitions, you can choose “Partition Backup.”
- Click the “+” button on the Add Disk menu to add a new hard disk to your computer or attached USB drive.
- After you have selected the USB disk, it will be highlighted for further steps.
- Select a destination for the USB drive clone. Your default hard drive is set as the default, but you can switch to a local path on your Desktop or another folder.
- As soon as you click “Start Backup,” it will start. Unlike ImageUSB, the data transfer is extremely fast, even within the free version. Migrating to a Pro version will ensure even higher data transfer speeds.
- After the backup is created, you should see a “success” status message.
- Visit the destination folder of your computer to view the Disk Backup image. It is saved in the “AOMEI Backupper Backup File” format. You can easily transfer this file online.
Restore Data From the Cloned Image
To restore inaccessible data from a lost or corrupted USB drive:
- Go to the home screen and right-click to select the “Restore” option.
- Under Image Information, ensure that “Restore the entire disk” is selected, which it should be by default. You can also use the “Sync” feature to import the image to another computer after signing in to your free account.
- You should see a message that the existing partitions on the destination disk will be overwritten or deleted. Make sure you haven’t selected your computer hard drive accidentally.
- Check the “Operation Summary” view to confirm your choice of Source and Destination disks.
- Click “Start Restore” to restore previously backed up data to another USB drive.
- You should see a “success” status when the data from the previous USB drive has been copied to the newer one.
3. EaseUS Todo Backup
EaseUS Todo Backup is another reliable USB imaging tool that is very easy to use. While the software is mostly trialware, its image backup capabilities can be accessed for free.
- Download and install EaseUS Todo Backup on your device. It currently supports Windows 11/10/8/7.
- Launch the software.
- On the home screen, select the “Select backup contents” option.
- You will see four options: File, Disk, OS, and Mail. Choose “Disk.”
- Choose the USB flash drive to back up to and click “OK.”
- Select your computer hard disk or a removable media as the backup destination.
- After you click “Backup Now,” the online backup will start automatically. It is swift and doesn’t take long to finish.
- Visit the EaseUS Todo Backup file directory to view your online backups. From here, you can email the backup and restore files to another USB drive.
Restore Data From the Cloned Image
When it is time to restore the backup image:
- Go to the home screen and click “Browse to Recover.”
- Choose the option for recovery. If you saved the data to EaseUS Cloud (on a logged in account), use that option. Otherwise, browse your local drive to point to the location of the saved USB image.
- Click “Recover.” It should take just a few seconds.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I copy a bootable USB to another USB?
Yes, but you will not be able to perform the operation directly. With a USB imaging tool like ImageUSB, AOMEI Backupper, or EaseUS Todo Backupper, you can easily clone the exact bootable USB image to another USB.
Why is my USB corrupting my files?
There are many reasons a USB device starts corrupting its files: from power failures to improper operations. Before removing the USB from your device hardware, don’t forget to “eject” it first to ensure clean operation on subsequent usage.
Does a system image back up everything?
There are many different kinds of system image tools. A USB image backup is a system image for a USB drive/external hard drive.
While these system images can back up most of your files, programs, and settings for data restoration later, in some cases, the backup may not work as intended. Some software programs include per-device restrictions that prevent their properties from being cloned on new hardware.
Image credit: Alexey Rotanov via Adobe Stock. All screenshots by Sayak Boral.
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