How To Upgrade Your Tiny Hard Drive To A Spacious New One And Keep Your Data Intact

How To Upgrade Your Tiny Hard Drive To A Spacious New One And Keep Your Data Intact
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You’re planning on upgrading your hard drive, but there’s one small problem: How do you get your data from the old hard drive to the new one, without reinstalling everything? Here’s a step-by-step guide to seamlessly transition to a new drive.

Photo by Jeff Kubina.

If you’ve bumped up against the limits of your small, old hard drive over and over, it may be time to upgrade. In some instances, all the desktop user may need to do is install a second (or third) hard drive for a little more space. But that’s not always an option, especially for laptop users. The solution: Clone your old drive — complete with your operating system and all your data — to a new, bigger drive.

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to start after the point at which you’ve physically installed the hard drive. Below, we’ll highlight a few tools that can help you clone your old hard drive to a new one (and choose a favourite we’ll use), detail a few of the finer points for getting started on a laptop or desktop computer, then guide you through the cloning and upgrading process.

Options for Cloning Your Drive

To upgrade your hard drive without reinstalling everything, you’ll need to use a utility to make an exact copy, or clone, from the old hard drive to the new one. A number of commercial tools will do this for you, and even some free Windows utilities can make a copy of your drive while your PC is running. For example, see our guide to using DriveImageXML to hot image your PC’s hard drive, which is an excellent tool for making a backup. The problem, however, is that it doesn’t create a true clone of the drive, since you’d still have to reinstall the Windows bootloader using a repair CD if you wanted to boot into your cloned drive.

The bigger problem, particularly if you’re upgrading a laptop, is that you need to have a copy of Windows already running for most of the free utilities to work; most laptops can only have one drive hooked up at a time. In this case, your best free option is the Linux-based Clonezilla Live CD, which streamlines the process of imaging your drive to an external drive or even a shared folder on another PC.

Upgrading a Desktop Hard Drive

When it comes to upgrades, desktops are always going to be easier to deal with since you can easily get in there and move cables around, and in this case, because you can hook both drives up at the same time, greatly simplifying the whole process.

What you’ll want to do is hook the new drive up — since we’ll be using a boot CD, you can save a step by plugging the new hard drive into the primary slot, and move the old one to the secondary — so once the cloning is done you won’t have to do anything else.

Upgrading a Laptop Hard Drive

Method One: While some laptops have the capability to swap out the optical drive and add another hard drive, it’s not common, so you’ll need to use an external USB hard drive, or potentially another PC with a shared folder, to save an image of the current drive. Once you’ve created the image, you can install the new drive, and then restore the image onto the new hard drive.

Method Two: Your other option is to install the new hard drive, use an external USB to SATA adaptor to hook the old drive to the laptop, and then clone the drives that way. This eliminates the extra step of copying to a secondary device, but requires spending a little extra money for something you might not use very often — so you might want to borrow one from a geek friend that does PC repair (or just use the first method above).

How to Clone Your Drive with Clonezilla

Now we’re ready to clone our old drive to our new one. The first thing you’ll need to do is download a copy of the Clonezilla ISO image, and then use a software like ImgBurn to burn it to a CD. For best results, you should grab the Alternative Ubuntu-based version, which has better compatibility with modern hardware.

Once you’ve got the live CD burnt to a disc, restart your computer, boot off the CD, and accept all the default settings until you get to the screen where you can choose to create an image of the drive, or sync one drive directly to another drive. If you have both drives connected, you can simply use the device to device option, otherwise choose to create an image.

Assuming you chose to create an image, you will need to choose where the image will be stored, whether on an external drive, SSH server, or you can use the SAMBA option, which will allow you to connect to a Windows shared folder to store the image. Either of the latter two options will step you through a set of wizard screens to help you get hooked up to the server.

If you chose the local device option, you’ll be prompted to select the drive that you want to save the image on. Make sure that this drive is formatted with NTFS or a Linux filesystem — you should not use a drive with FAT32 since the 4GB maximum file size will probably cause the cloning to fail.

At this point you’ll be prompted to either save or restore a disk or partition — you should always use the disk image option here, and not single partitions, as you need the bootloader to stay intact on the new drive to make sure Windows is bootable. Since we’re making an image file here, choose the first option, and follow through the wizard to select the drive and give it a name.

Creating the cloned drive image will take a while, but at the end you should see the option to shutdown or restart your PC. Laptop users, it’s time to swap out the old hard drive with the new one, so we can restore the cloned image. If you did a direct disk to disk copy (which you probably did if you’re on a desktop), you can skip the next step (“Finishing Up”).

Restoring the Cloned Image

Now that you have the new hard drive installed in the PC, boot off Clonezilla again, follow through all of the same prompts until you get to the screen where you have to choose to save or restore the image. Choose the restoredisk option, choose the image to restore from (it’s the one we just created above), and then choose the new disk that you want to overwrite.

You’ll be prompted twice to make sure that you really want to overwrite the drive (make sure you’ve got the right drive installed — that is, the new, big, empty one), and the restore process will take a while. Once it’s all done, you can remove the CD and reboot the PC from your new drive, directly into Windows.

Bonus: The Expert Linux Method

If you’re a little more comfortable with Linux, there’s any number of command-line tools like partimage or dd that can get the job done easily from an Linux Live CD. For instance, to copy one drive to another using dd, simply use the following command, substituting sda and sdb for your source and destination device names.

dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb

To create an image file instead, you can use a command similar to the following one suggested by reader @zarekthenerd, substituting sda for your source drive name and modifying the path to your external hard drive:

dd if=/dev/sda of=/media/EXTERNAL/backup.img bs=4096

Once you’ve created the image, you can swap out your hard drive, boot from the live CD again, and then reverse the command:

dd if=/media/EXTERNAL/backup.img of=/dev/sda bs=4096

Finishing Up: Boot Up and Expand the Partition

Now that we’re all done cloning the drive, all you need to do is boot up your PC, wait for Windows to finish figuring out that you have a new drive and installing the device drivers, and then we’re ready to fix the one remaining problem — the current drive partition is the same size as the old drive.

If you’re using Windows 7 or Vista, open up Windows Disk Management through the Start menu search box, or by right-clicking on Computer and choosing the Manage option. Once there, right-click the partition and choose Extend Volume to make the partition fill the entire disk.

At this point you should be able to head into Computer and see that your new hard drive is now nice and spacious.

If you’re using Windows XP, you’re going to have to take another route (it doesn’t have a robust, built-in partition manager); you could choose to create another partition, or if you want to resize your primary partition, you can boot from the GParted Live CD and make the changes in there by clicking on the partition and using the Resize/Move button.

So have you ever upgraded from one hard drive to another one? Did you do the full reinstall or use a cloning software? Share your experience in the comments.


  • A Fresh install will help clean away all the software that was downloaded to try out but never used again.

    Since your keeping your OLD drive, you can always pop it back it in case you forgot something. e.g. software license, etc.

  • I would recommend, BartPE and DriveImage XML to do the trick, you can copy drive to drive, as long as you can borrow an enclosure or buy one, you are going to have a spare drive anyways. Im speaking in relation to notebook hard drive users.

  • “While some laptops have the capability to swap out the optical drive and add another hard drive, it’s not common”

    I’ve installed a second HDD on my laptop using a hard drive caddy. It ain’t hotswapable, but it’s only 1 single screw to make it like that. Also, I’d say it’s more common than not to be able to do it on laptops.

  • After I clone with HDClone from a 500G HD to a 128 GB SSD, the SSD boots (after fixing MBR/boot) but says my copy of Windows 7 is non-genuine and won’t let me log in.

    How do I fix this anyone know?

    • you can re install the windows through usb (wintoflash) software, by that u can eliminate the error of your login screen and choose to install in your ssd so that you can retain your data and most of the programs in the windows.old folder

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