Last Update: 1/9/2022
This guide covers some common activities which may be applicable to multiple device types. For example, you may want to make a backup copy of a microSD card, thumb drive, SSD, etc. for use with another similar device. You may want to move the contents of data from a lower-capacity drive to a higher-capacity drive and expand the available space. The sections below will assist with that.
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Backup / Clone a Drive
This section will describe how to make an image backup of an existing microSD, SD, Solid State Drive (SSD), M.2 Drive, etc. Basically, any type of drive media you may wish to make a copy of or clone. I will assume you’re running Windows below (I don’t own a Mac, sorry maybe someday). This is helpful if you have an existing drive that contains games, operating systems or other data you wish to archive off for safe keeping or restoration to another drive/media. For example, for a Retro Handheld you may want to backup the microSD card and re-image (restore) it to a new microSD card or recover from a corrupted image. You may want to move data from an existing USB stick to a new (larger capacity) USB stick. The information below will assist with this process.
Create the Backup
Below is one way of how to backup your existing media drive (i.e. microSD, SSD, M.2, etc.) to an image file. Doing this will allow you to restore it (restore instructions also below) to another drive.
*NOTE: I recommend disconnecting any externally connected devices (USB, microSD, etc.) that you will not be backing up before proceeding. This is to minimize the possibility of backing up and/or restoring to the wrong drive. Use caution, data loss may occur during the restore process if you select the wrong device.
- Make sure the drive you will be writing to has enough free space before proceeding. For example, if you’re making a backup image of a microSD that is 256GB in size, you’ll need that much free space available on the destination drive for the image file.
- Insert the original media (microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc.) into an appropriate microSD sleeve, SATA Adapter, etc. and into your computer. This is your source media.
- Download and install Win32 Disk Imager.
- Create a folder structure to store the image file on your computer, NAS Drive, etc. (i.e. c:\mybackups).
- Launch Win32 Disk Imager by double-clicking the icon.
- Click the folder icon (upper-right) and select the location for the backup image file (file name which will contain your current image, example: c:\backups\mybackup.img – but use a more meaningful name including the type of device you’re backing up). Give the file a name and an extension of .img. Then click the Open button.
- Make sure the correct source Device is selected (drive letter drop-down) for the microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc. you just inserted above.
- Click the Read button to read the contents of the microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc. and save it to the c:\backups\mybackup.img file.
- Once the read is complete and successful, you’ll have an exact image copy of your original microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc. which can be restored should your existing image become corrupted or simply want a backup for restoring to separate or new media. You might even want to copy this image file to another location as a 2nd backup (NAS, Server, external hard drive, etc.) for safe keeping.
- At this point, you can safely remove the source media from your computer by right-clicking the Safely Remove Hardware icon at the lower-right of the taskbar.
Restore the Backup
If you have already made a backup image as described above and wish to restore it to a new drive, if the two drives are the same size (or destination is larger) you can use the following to restore the image. If you will be restoring to a drive that has a higher-capacity than the source media, you’ll want to resize the partition after restoring. To restore the source media to a new microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc., proceed with the following:
- Insert the microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc. card into an appropriate adapter (i.e. SATA, sleeve, USB port, etc.) and into your computer.
- Open Win32 Disk Imager.
- Select the image file by clicking the browse icon and select the location of your original backup image (example: c:\backups\mybackup.img )
- Make sure that the correct destination Device is selected in the drop-down (drive letter where the image will be written to) Keep in mind, any data on the selected Device will be REPLACED with the contents of the .img file from your selected backup.
- Click the Write button.
- The microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc. card will be re-imaged with the contents from your original backup.
- At this point, you can safely eject the microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc. (destination media) from your computer by right-clicking the Safely Remove Hardware icon at the lower-right of the taskbar.
- If the destination media is larger than the source media, see the next section on how to Expand a Partition.
Expand a Partition
If you are restoring an image that had a lesser-capacity than the destination drive, you will want to expand the partition to make use of the new space available on the higher-capacity media. Below are some basic instructions on how to do that.
*NOTE: The folks at DiskGenius were kind enough to provide us with a 30% OFF Coupon code: DG30-YUTE-STPR for DiskGenius Professional Edition – if you choose to register. Registration is not necessary, but if you like the tool and want to use some of it’s more advanced features, the code will save you some money. It is a bit pricy, ~$99 USD without the coupon.
- Insert the media which contains the newly restored image.
- Download and install DiskGenius.
- When you launch DiskGenius, you’ll see on the left-hand side all the drives installed on your computer. Make sure that you only select your removable drive partition. It will typically state “RD” (removable drive) and some number plus the drive label and capacity (i.e. 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, etc.) Make sure you select the correct partition to expand.
- You may see one (or more) individual partitions listed under your removable drive. Select the one you wish to expand. It may look something like the following image:
- Right-click the partition to be expanded and select Resize Partition.
- You will now see the Resize Partition dialog, using your mouse select the middle area between the main partition and the unallocated partition. See below for an example:
- Use your mouse to click and drag the middle section to the far-right if you want to use the full amount of available space for this partition.
- Next, click the Start button to resize the partition. You will then be prompted with the following dialog, read what it has to say and click Yes if you agree.
- Depending on the size of the partition, this process may take some time.
- Once done, click the Complete button.
- Congratulations, the partition has been expanded. At this point, you can safely eject the microSD, USB drive, SSD, M.2, etc. (destination media) from your computer by right-clicking the Safely Remove Hardware icon at the lower-right of the taskbar.
Burn Image with balenaEtcher
If you’d like to take an existing image and burn it to a microSD card, balenaEtcher is one of several ways to do it. Below we’ll step through the process.
*NOTE: I recommend disconnecting any externally connected devices (USB, microSD, etc.) that you will not be backing up before proceeding. This is to minimize the possibility of restoring to the wrong drive. Use caution, data loss may occur during the restore process if you select the wrong device.
- First, you’ll need a new microSD card to burn the image to. There are a number of different cards available to choose from with varying capacities. Two brands that I use often and recommend are Samsung 128GB and Gigastone 128GB 5-Pack Micro SD Card. Lately, I’ve been purchasing the 5-pack of Gigastone microSD’s so I have plenty available. Pick the capacity and brand that you prefer.
- Download and install balenaEtcher from their website here.
- Double-click the balenaEtcher icon and insert your microSD card into your computer. If you don’t have a microSD slot on your PC/laptop, you can use an adapter like this one.
- Click the Select image button to select the .img/.xz image file that you wish to burn to the microSD card. Then, click the Open button on the dialog.
- Click the Select target button to select your microSD card. Verify that the correct drive letter is selected (should state SDXC and some capacity) by clicking the checkmark. Then click the Continue button.
- Make sure everything looks correct and click the Flash! button to flash the image to the new microSD card. You may be prompted with the following dialog:
- If everything is correct, click the Continue button. The image will then be written to the microSD card. This process may take some time depending on the size of the original image and the speed of the microSD card.
- Once done, click the Close (X) button in the upper right of the application.
- At this point, you can safely remove the media from your computer by right-clicking the Safely Remove Hardware icon at the lower-right of the taskbar.
- You can now install the microSD card in the intended device, you’re done!
Format as FAT32 (Pi Imager)
If you want to reformat a microSD, SSD, USB thumb drive or other device as FAT32, one easy way to do that is to use Raspberry Pi Imager. Raspberry Pi imager works on Windows, macOS, Raspberry Pi or Ubunu x86 and makes it a handy utility to have. Below is how to format the storage device as FAT32:
- Download and install Raspberry Pi Imager from here.
- Insert the storage media into your computer you wish to format. I recommend disconnecting any other external storage devices to make sure you don’t accidentally format the wrong device.
- After starting Raspberry Pi Imager, under Operating System, click the CHOOSE OS button.
- Scroll down towards the bottom of the list until you see Erase: Format card as FAT32.
- Under Storage, click CHOOSE STORAGE and select your storage device. Verify that the capacity of the drive matches the drive you expect.
- Next, click the WRITE button to format the drive as FAT32.
- You’ll be prompted with the following dialog, after double-checking, click the YES button.
- After the format has completed, you’ll see SDXC Card has been erased, you can now remove the SD card from the reader. Click the CONTINUE button.
- Close Raspberry Pi Imager.
- That’s it! Your storage device has been formatted as FAT32.