Going Mobile v.Clone Style
Here’s where one of v.Clone’s major caveats comes into play. Once you’ve made your clone, it would be nice if you could simply plug your external hard drive into the nearest available PC and fire it up, but alas, that’s not the case.
Rather, before you can use your clone on another computer, you must first install the v.Clone software, which requires administrator access on said computer. This limitation won’t always be a showstopper, but it can seriously curtail the number of venues in which you can use your clone (no public PCs, for example).
We had decidedly mixed results when it came to using our two PC clones. One clone, of an HP system, worked relatively smoothly; about the only wrinkle was an error message from a sound card utility panel that could no longer detect the sound hardware it was expecting (virtual machines replace system-specific hardware drivers with generic versions).
Otherwise, the cloned PC functioned normally, if a bit sluggishly -- reduced performance compared to the original PC is to be expected considering that USB 2.0 is a considerably slower than the SATA connection used by internal hard drives.
On our other clone, an Asus system, things didn’t go nearly as well. Upon running it and logging into Windows, we were met with a cavalcade of error messages about missing drivers, while in the background Windows simultaneously detected “new hardware” and seemed to be installing the appropriate software for it.
After being prompted to reboot the clone a number of times, the dodgy system configuration eventually caused Windows to report itself as “not genuine,” making the clone unusable. (Windows can interpret significant changes to a system’s hardware configuration as an attempt to pirate the operating system.) Suffice it to say it appears not all systems are equally amenable to cloning.
On the clone that worked properly, v.Clone did a decent job of syncing data files, though there’s definitely some room for improvement. After using the clone and reconnecting the hard drive to the primary PC, v.Clone successfully identified new and changed files and copied them over or synced them to the originals as appropriate.
When you plug your drive back into your primary PC, v.Clone syncs any new or changed files. (Click for larger image).
A limitation of v.Clone’s syncing feature is that it only monitors files on the Desktop and in the standard Windows account folders (My Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc.); that won’t be a problem for most people, but it will if you save data in custom folders, as there is no way for v.Clone to sync it.
Another caveat concerns how v.Clone deals with file conflicts, for example if both the original and the clone’s version of a file have changed since the last sync. In this scenario, v.Clone changes its default sync option from "replace"-- overwriting the original file with the clone’s version, to "rename"-- copying over the clone’s version with an appended name in order to retain the original. If you want to compare the two file versions or reconcile any differences between them, you must do that separately.
Finally, it’s important to note that v.Clone syncs only data files, not operating system or application settings. Therefore, if you do something like switch your background wallpaper or adjust your browser settings while working on a clone, those changes won’t be reflected back on your original PC. If you make such changes on your primary PC, on the other hand, you can always create a new clone.
Given v.Clone’s limitations and the problems we experienced, we’d have a hard time recommending the software if it were a stand-alone product with a $40-$50 price tag. But given its freebie status to new and existing Iomega hard drive owners, it’s definitely worth a look if you want an alternative to lugging a laptop around when you travel, and it may even be reason to consider an Iomega hard drive over another brand.
Price: Free (with purchase of Iomega external hard drive)
Pros: Puts your complete PC environment on a compact external hard drive; syncs changed data files with originals on primary PC
Cons: Must install v.Clone software on other systems before using clone; cloning may not work properly on all systems
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.
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