If you’re in the process of upgrading to a new hard drive, be that an SSD or traditional hard disk, copying the data off your old one is best done using cloning software.

That’s especially true if the existing drive contains your Windows installation, as it’s impossible to copy that across manually. Plus, all your apps and data will also be cloned to the new drive and - for the vast majority of the time - everything will work perfectly, and you shouldn't have to re-activate Windows.

There are free and paid-for options, and some are better than others. One of the main features you should look out for is the ability to clone a larger-capacity drive to a smaller one as it’s common for an SSD to have less storage than your old hard disk.

Big-to-small cloning isn’t magic, though: you’ll still have to delete or copy off enough files so the remaining data will physically fit on the new drive. It’s simply that some cloning software won’t shrink partitions to fit, even if there’s a lot of free space.

Bear in mind that cloning software is often included when you buy an SSD, so that’s something to look for if you’ll need to clone an old drive.

Another alternative is a physical hard disk duplicator. These work independently of a PC and don’t cost the earth. Inateck’s 2-bay cloner costs £32.99 from Amazon, and it’s US$38.99 from Amazon.com.

But if you’re specifically after drive cloning software, here’s a selection of the best.

Paragon Drive Copy 12 Professional

Paragon Drive Copy 12 Professional

Paragon is a well-known name for all hard drive-related software and offers a few different programs which can clone hard drives.

The one you’ll be most interested in is Drive Copy 15 Professional. It costs £26.99 (US$39.95) and supports Windows 10.

For this you get the full set of cloning features, including the ability to copy to a smaller-capacity drive. One way it does this is by excluding certain files if there's not enough space, which saves you the job of slimming down the contents of your old disk manually.

Drive Copy 15 also supports cloning to virtual machines so you can work with older apps which aren’t supported in Windows 10.

Acronis Disk Director 12

Acronis Disk Director 12

Acronis is another established name in cloning and backup. We’ve used its True Image software for years, but for cloning disks, you need Disk Director 12.

It costs £34.95/$49.99 from Acronis’ website, or £19.95/$29.99 if you’re upgrading from a previous version.

Disk Director offers three main features: partition management, volume recovery (undelete lost partitions) and – the one we’re concerned with – disk cloning.

Naturally, it supports Windows 10, and UEFI – the new name for the BIOS on modern PCs and laptops.

Disk Director is almost overkill if you only need to clone a disk, but it’s a very useful tool to have around for when you need to partition, resize and format drives in the future, and there are lots of advanced features such as splitting volumes and spanning them across multiple disks.

You can download a demo first to try it out before you buy.

Paragon Migrate OS

Paragon Migrate OS

A cheaper option is Paragon’s Migrate OS. This is actually a component of Paragon Hard Disk Manager but costs £19.95/US$29.95.

It’s is specifically designed to migrate Windows installations to a new disk, even if it has a smaller capacity than your original disk. It’s also aimed at those new to cloning, so automates as much as it can and makes it easy even if you don’t know what a partition is.

If partition alignment is needed, the software will prompt you and automatically do the alignment. It will clone disks already set up as a RAID, too.

And unlike a lot of cloning software, it’s able to copy your existing disk while you carry on using Windows, and it supports Windows 7 to Windows 10, and motherboards which have UEFI.

Macrium Reflect Free v7

Macrium Reflect Free v7

Like EaseUS below, Macrium isn’t specifically a cloning utility, but it does offer good cloning features even in the free version.

The interface is clean and modern and the wizard takes you through each step in Windows so you can choose exactly which partitions from the old disk you want to copy to the new one. If your new drive is smaller than the old one, it’s still possible to clone it with Macrium as long as there’s enough space on the new one to store the amount of data on the old one.

By default, Reflect will use ‘Intelligent Sector Copy’ which essentially means it won’t copy blank space to the new drive. It also supports SSD TRIM and offers the option for a ‘forensic sector copy’ which forces it to copy every single sector to the new drive.

For a free product, Macrium is one of the best around.

EaseUS Todo Backup Free

EaseUS Todo Backup Free

Although it’s primarily backup software, Todo Backup Free also includes a drive cloning feature. Given that it’s free, you’d expect it to be compromised, but that’s not really the case.

EaseUS supports Windows from XP up to Windows 10, UEFI boot, hardware RAID and all types of hard disks and SSDs.

There is one limitation: it won’t automatically clone a larger disk to a smaller one. That’s a feature that you’ll find in Partition Master Pro – EaseUS’ own tutorial suggests it’s possible in the free version of Partition Master, but it isn’t.

Clonezilla has been around for a very long time, and differs from other cloning software here in that you must create a bootable USB drive in order to use it: it doesn’t run in Windows, so requires you to jump through a few extra hoops.

It does support BIOS and UEFI, and both MBR and GPT types of partition formats.

As with EaseUS, you can’t clone to a smaller-capacity drive than the source, so if you’re trying to migrate a Windows drive to your new SSD which has a smaller capacity, Clonezilla isn’t going to work for you.