Iomega v.Clone: You Can Take It with You

Thursday Sep 16th 2010 by Joseph Moran
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Free virtualization software from Iomega lets you turn your small business computer into a mobile office without ever taking it on the road.

Iomega v.Clone;
v.Clone lets you run your entire PC on a different computer via an Iomega external hard drive.
(Click for larger image)
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A common way to keep your important files close at hand while away from home or office is to carry them with you on a portable hard drive. Of course, this approach doesn’t guarantee that the computers you encounter while traveling will have all the applications you need, nor does it provide a familiar computing environment in which to work. For those things you usually need to hit the road with a laptop in tow, but Iomega offers a different approach with its v.Clone software.

In a nutshell, v.Clone (the dot in the name is silent) lets you take your entire PC with you on the road without actually taking it with you. How? By recording a snapshot of your primary computer, converting it to a virtual machine (the "clone"), and storing it on an external hard drive that you can transport and use on-the-go from another computer.

Then v.Clone syncs any files you created or changed while using your doppelganger upon reconnecting to your primary PC (see more articles about operating system virtualization).

While v.Clone does what it purports to, it’s not without a few notable caveats and restrictions that can make using the software somewhat less liberating in practice than in principle.

Installing Iomega v.Clone

The first thing you should know about v.Clone is that you can’t buy it -- at least not as a stand-alone product. Rather, v.Clone is a new addition the Iomega Protection Suite, a group of utilities available, for free, to purchasers of Iomega external hard drives (or current owners of drives manufactured in 2007 or later). You won’t find v.Clone inside the product box, but you can download it from Iomega's Web site. Before doing so, you’ll need to provide your Iomega hard drive’s serial number (and in any event, v.Clone won’t work with non-Iomega storage devices -- we tried it).

v.Clone uses technology from Iomega’s sister company VMWare (both firms are owned by EMC) and is compatible with Windows 7, Vista, or XP (check out these exceptions and additional system requirements).

We paired v.Clone with a 500 GB eGo Compact USB 2.0 hard drive and put it through its paces on a couple of Windows 7 test systems. Installing v.Clone is quick and easy; the potentially time consuming part is setting up the clone of your PC afterward.  

How long this takes will depend on variables such as your system speed and how much data is on the hard drive, but on our two test systems, creating 25 and 35 GB clones took between 30 and 45 minutes. (It’s worth mentioning that there’s no limit on the number of systems you can clone, other than the capacity of the hard drive you’re using.)

Before taking your clone to another computer, you must run it for the first time on the primary PC in order to initialize it and allow it to install VMWare Tools -- software that provides integrated improved graphics support as well as keyboard, mouse and clipboard integration between the clone and the system it’s running on. 

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).

Also, if you’ve cloned a 64-bit version of Windows, the computer running the clone must have an Intel or AMD CPU that includes hardware support for virtualization -- most CPUs of the past three or four years have it, and v.Clone will check for this when you install.

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.

Syncing Files

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.

Iomega v.Clone;

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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