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How to Transfer Windows to Another Hard Disk

  adfm's Photo
Posted Jun 02 2010 12:24 PM

Upgrading to a new computer and need to move your copy of Windows to a new disk? This excerpt from David A Karp's Windows 7 Annoyances will show you how to transfer your copy of Windows to another hard disk.

Each new version of Windows consumes something like four times that of its predecessor. (OK, to be fair, Windows 7 doesn’t take up that much more room than Vista, but Vista’s footprint was many times that of XP.) That kind of bloat would cause an uproar if the sizes of commercially available hard disks weren’t growing at an even faster rate.

Luckily, a new drive is an inexpensive way to improve performance as well as get more space for your stuff. And there are basically two approaches:

Add a second drive.

Hard drive manufacturers sell a lot of external USB drives for this purpose. It’s the easiest approach, taking only a few minutes to hook up, but it does very little to improve performance. Why run Windows on an aging 60 GB drive, while basically static data like photos and music sit happily on a much faster 750 GB drive?

Replace the primary drive.

Use this approach if you want to throw away that old 60 GB drive, and use only the 750 GB drive for Windows and all your data. Not only will this give you better performance, you’ll have a lot less to worry about if you’re running Windows on a new drive rather than one that’s seen thousands of hours of use. The downside is that it’s more work to completely replace your old drive, and that’s what this section is about.

Thanks to improvements in technology, rapidly dropping prices of new hard disks, and a nifty tool in Windows 7, it’s easier than ever to replace your old hard disk.

The procedure goes like this: first, connect your new drive to your PC alongside your old drive. Then, create an image of your old hard disk—a snapshot of every byte of data on the entire drive—and write the image to your new hard disk. Finally, disconnect the old drive and put the new one in its place.

Start by purchasing an SATA/IDE to USB 2.0 Adapter, like the $20 unit shown in Figure 75. Alternatively, you can use an external hard drive enclosure, although a unit like this may be a better investment, as it supports SATA, 3.5 desktop IDE, and 2.5 notebook IDE drives all from the same cable.

Figure 75. Use a handy external USB adapter like this one to hook up your new drive to your PC

Attached Image

Next, plug the drive into the adapter, plug the power supply into the drive, and then plug the adapter into a free USB port on your PC.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: why don’t I just plug the drive directly into my SATA or IDE controller? While it’s true that you can connect your new drive to your motherboard’s controller, there are several reasons to use a USB adapter like this one instead. First, it’s quick and easy; you don’t need to take your PC apart (yet) and you don’t have to leave the new drive dangling from the side of your box while you transfer your data. Second, it’s great for laptops that may not have a way to connect two drives at once. Third, it avoids the nasty problems you’d encounter if your PC tried to boot to the wrong drive in the middle of the procedure. And last but not least, when you’re done, you can use the adapter to clear off the old drive. A device like this makes things so much easier.

When Windows detects and installs the new drive, it’ll show up in Disk Drives branch in Device Manager (devmgmt.msc). (If it doesn’t, see Chapter 6, Troubleshooting.) As soon as Windows finishes installing the necessary drivers, open Disk Management (diskmgmt.msc), right-click the new drive in the lower pane, and select New Simple Volume, as shown in Figure 76.

Figure 76. Use the Disk Management tool to prepare the new drive

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On the first page of the New Simple Volume Wizard, click Next, and then specify the size of the new partition.

You’ll need to make two partitions on the new drive: the primary partition to become your new boot drive, and a secondary partition to temporarily hold the backup of your existing data. The second partition needs to be no larger than the capacity of your old hard disk, so set the primary partition to the total size of the new drive minus the total size of the old drive.


This is where your third-grade math comes in handy, but be prepared for things not to add up. If you’re replacing a 60 GB hard disk with a 750 GB hard disk, you’d expect to set the first partition to 690 GB and use the remaining 60 GB for the second partition. But since drive manufacturers exaggerate—read, lie—about the capacities of their products, you’ll have to determine the actual usable space first. For instance, a typical 750 GB hard disk has roughly 698 GB of actual storage capacity, which means you’d set 638 GB for the size of the first partition to leave 60 GB for the second. (Of course, if the old drive isn’t completely full, you can get away with a little less on the second partition.)

So, at the prompt, type a value, in megabytes, for the size of the primary partition (i.e., 690000 for 690 GB) and then click Next. Follow the prompts to complete the wizard; make sure to format the drive with the NTFS filesystem, but don’t assign a drive letter at this time.

Now, create the second partition in the remaining unused space, and have it consume the rest of the drive. Again, format it as NTFS, but this time, assign a drive letter (your choice).

It’s now time to copy your data to the new drive. Luckily, all commercial editions of Windows 7 come with the full version of the Backup and Restore tool. (This is an improvement over Vista, which stingily provided full hard disk backup in only the Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise editions.) Start the Backup and Restore tool either from Control Panel or by running sdclt.exe.

Figure 77. The Backup and Restore tool can create disk images on every edition of Windows 7

Attached Image

On the left side of the window, click the Create a system image link. On the first page of the wizard, shown in Figure 77, select On a hard disk, pick the second partition you just created, and click Next. Next, select the drives to image; notice your active Windows drive is already checked and grayed out. Click Next and then Start backup to begin.

When the backup is complete, power down your PC, remove your old drive, connect the new one to your primary controller, and then boot your PC. Restore your backup to the primary partition on the new drive.

When that’s done, and you’re able to boot Windows with the new drive, use the Disk Management tool to delete the secondary partition and extend the primary partition so that it consumes the whole drive.


Obviously, this solution requires that you boot off your original Windows disc to initiate the system recovery feature. To do away with this step, use third-party software to image your drive, such as DriveImage XML (free, http://www.runtime.org), HDClone Free Edition (free, http://www.miray.de), or Acronis True Image Home (commercial, http://www.acronis.com). All you do is create an image of your old hard disk and save it to the secondary partition of the new drive. Then use the same software to restore the image to the new drive’s primary partition. When that’s done, delete the secondary partition and extend the primary partition so that it consumes the whole drive. Then, right-click the sole remaining partition and select Mark Partition as Active. Shut down Windows and then unplug both drives. Set the old drive aside and connect the new drive in its place.

Turn on your PC, and Windows should boot to the new drive.

What to look for in a new hard disk

The speed of your hard disk is a major factor of your system’s overall performance, at least as much as its capacity. After all, the faster it’s able to find data and transfer it, the quicker Windows will load, the faster your virtual memory will be, and the less time it will take to start applications and copy files.

Money is usually the deciding factor when choosing a drive, but with more money, people usually just opt for more gigabytes. If you want the best performance, though, consider these factors to be at least as important:

RPM (revolutions per minute)

This is the speed at which the disk spins; higher numbers are faster. Cheap drives spin at 5,400 RPM, but you shouldn’t settle for anything less than 7,200 RPM. 10,000 RPM (10k) drives are faster, but more expensive and harder to find. It’s also worth noting that a larger-capacity drive can be faster than a smaller drive of the same RPM rating due to the higher data density.

Buffer (measured in megabytes)

The buffer is memory (RAM) installed in the drive’s circuitry that allows it to accept data from your computer faster than it is able to physically write to the disk surface, and to read data from the disk surface faster when your PC isn’t necessarily ready for it. A larger buffer is better; don’t settle for less than 16–32 megabytes.

MTBF (measured in hours)

It doesn’t matter how fast a drive is if it dies on you. The higher the MTBF—Mean Time Between Failures—the more reliable the drive is supposed to be. Of course, this isn’t a guarantee, but rather merely an indicator of the market for which the drive was designed. Hard disks designed for servers tend to have much higher MTBF ratings than the low-end disks available on most computer store shelves.


If you’re buying a drive for use in a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) or HTPC (Home Theater PC), it’s also wise to seek out the quietest drive you can find. Some drives offer AAM (Automatic Acoustic Management) features, which let you quiet a drive at the expense of some performance. Although manufacturers typically offer very little in the way of useful, reliable noise data, you can usually cull pretty good feedback from HTPC discussion groups on the Web.


If you want to set up RAID as explained in Chapter 6, Troubleshooting, you’ll need two or more identical drives. In theory, there are no special requirements, but in practice, it’s smart to stick with drives made for this purpose. For instance, Seagate makes two versions of most of their drives: the AS series (consumer grade) and the NS series (server grade). The latter of the two is more expensive, but is designed to cope better with the increased vibrations generated by a RAID array, and typically has a much higher MTBF than the lesser model. Plus, the firmware on these drives is more likely to play nicely with your RAID controller.


There’s rarely any reason to buy anything but a SATA drive these days; if you can, get a drive with SATA3 and NCQ (Native Command Queuing).

PATA (a.k.a. ATA or IDE) is now totally obsolete. Even if your desktop PC has only IDE controllers, it’s best to get a SATA drive and a cheap SATA PCI-E/PCI controller to go with it. The only time when you should consider an IDE is if you have an older laptop and you can’t upgrade the interface.

Some weirdos may still prefer SCSI or SAS drives, but there are very few cases when that’s preferable over SATA anymore. SCSI controllers are unreasonably expensive, as are SCSI drives; consider this option only if you absolutely need a 15k RPM drive.


If you’re buying an external drive—which is great for backups, as explained in Chapter 6, Troubleshooting—you may be tempted to get a USB drive or enclosure. While USB 2.0 is reasonably fast at 480 mbps, and Firewire 800 is slightly faster at 800 mbps, both of these standards will restrict the speed of your drive, and neither can be used to host a primary boot drive. For faster backups and less time spent transferring files, you’d be hard-pressed to beat eSATA (external SATA), which supports speeds up to 2,400 mbps. Most desktop PCs and some higher-end laptops include eSATA ports for this purpose, but if your PC doesn’t have one, you can get an internal-to-external (SATA-to-eSATA) adapter cable for just a few dollars, or a standalone eSATA controller for not much more.

Windows 7 Annoyances

Learn more about this topic from Windows 7 Annoyances.

Windows 7 may be faster and more stable than Windows Vista, but that's a far cry from problem-free. With Windows 7 Annoyances, you'll learn how to deal with a wide range of nagging problems before they deal with you. Annoyances.org founder David Karp offers you the tools to fix all sorts of Windows 7 issues, along with solutions, hacks, and timesaving tips to make the most of your PC.

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5 Replies

 : Jun 03 2010 06:42 AM
Can you please explain the reason for first copying to a second partition on the new drive and afterward copying to the first partition. Why not image to the new drive as one partition in the first place? Is it related to drive letter assignment?
  ssdfre's Photo
Posted Nov 16 2012 06:18 PM

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 : Nov 25 2012 03:12 PM
this descibes only how to create the system image, just leading us thru the menus which are easy enough to follow. the bit it fails to help with is restoreing the image to the first partition on the on the new hard drive. 1 out of 10 for this.
  squidyman's Photo
Posted Mar 30 2013 06:25 PM

Hi, I have a 1.5 tb hard drive that is nice but not super fast. I would like to make an image file of just windows 7 and a few of my high end games for the speed on a ssd. I am not sure how to make it so that first I get just what I want on the sdd and keep everything else on my hdd. And also, my standard picture/video/music/documents folder that you see on the start screen to be saved on my hdd instead of my sdd where windows is kept. Is that possible to separate the two? And also to make it anymore confusing, I would like my photos and video and other standard document to go automatically to my hdd. Thanks, Squidyman
  rdettwyler's Photo
Posted Aug 21 2013 06:24 PM

Fail. I followed the instructions perfectly and I get to the Windows will restore from image, and then it fails. What's up with this?