cloning your existing hard drive to a new solid-state drive
© 2012 by KV5R. Rev. August 5, 2012.
This is the fastest and easiest way to migrate, and is best for the technically timid. If your SSD didn’t come with a cloning program (that is, a bootable CD with cloning software on it), you’ll need to download and install one. Look for things like Acronis True Image, Paragon Hard Disk Manager, Macrium Reflect (free edition), MiniTool DriveCopy (free), and AOMEI Partition Assistant (free). I haven’t tried them all, so do your own research on that, then decide. The ones that cost a little money will do much more than just partition and clone—they are full-blown computer back-up applications—while the free ones are are more limited in functionality, but will do clones just fine. I’m now using AOMEI Partition Assistant for both partitioning and cloning, Macrium Reflect Home Edition for weekly image backups, and FBackup for incremental file-by-file backups of my most active data folders, every three hours. All are free and work very well, but for under $50 I could do all three with one program.
One thing you need to check is that the cloning software is SSD-aware and will properly align the image, by adjusting the start of the first partition to exactly 1,048,576 bytes, the correct offset for partition 0 on an SSD. Partition starting addresses, in bytes (not MB or GB), must be evenly divisible by 4096. You can check the alignment of your hard drive before you clone the SSD: “You can launch MSinfo32.exe, components, hardware, disks. Check the offset of each partition on your disk. It must be evenly divisible by 4096 when expressed in bytes” —from an Acronis support forum post. As stated above, if the image on the SSD ends up being misaligned, the SSD will run at half-speed, and wear out faster. If partition 0 on your hard drive starts at 1,048,576, you’re good to go, as the alignment will be right for the SSD. If not, you might need to manually create partitions on the SSD then image your hard drive’s partitions one by one. But again, recent versions of most cloning software will take care of it for you.
Note that with XP and earlier you’ll have one OS partition, and it’ll be set Active and Boot, and will probably start at sector 63, which is not the correct alignment for an SSD. With Vista and later, you’ll have two partitions: the first is a small (100 MB) hidden partition containing boot files, the second is your C: partition. In both cases, you might also have a hidden OEM recovery partition, the name of which varies by manufacturer. The hidden system boot partition also stores a Windows recovery boot option, which will load the Windows PE Recovery system stored in C:\Recovery. The boot partition also may hold multi-boot configurations, as well as BitLocker stuff, if you use BitLocker. While it’s possible to install Vista and 7 without the hidden boot/system partition, it’s not a good idea to do so: Microsoft designed it that way to hide boot stuff from viruses and trojans, so it’s a good thing to keep. Mine contains about 25 megs of boot data, and I don’t use BitLocker, so I down-sized it to ~50 megs, and Windows installer used it without complaint, but if you just let Windows partition the drive the hidden partition will be 100 megs.
Making your big drive fit into a smaller one
One thing you’ll likely have to do is move big data files (like videos and music) off your hard drive until the total data size is less than the size of your SSD. To see how much space is used, open Windows Explorer, scroll down to C: drive, and right-click it. Click “Properties” and the “General” tab will show both used and free space (and a pie chart). You can also install CCleaner (free) and use it to blow away all your temp files and browser cache, etc. There’s no point in cloning crap.
My recent cloning operation went about like this (YMMV!):
- Reduced data size on C: drive down to about 56 gigs and removed all temp and cache files with CCleaner.
- Downloaded the trail version of Disktrix Ultimate Defrag and made all the data both contiguous and consolidated on the outermost rings of the drive (no other defragmenter will do that, AFAIK).
- Installed Macrium Reflect Home (free) and imaged the C: drive to H:, my external eSATA 1-terabyte backup drive.
- Connected the SSD to the CD-ROM cable (I only have 2 sata cables) and cloned the hard drive to it with Macrium Reflect. Something, I don’t know what or why, failed and the SSD would not boot (I’m not blaming Macrium, I likely just missed something).
- Cloned the hard drive to the SSD again, this time using AOMEI Partition Assistant, with the “Optimize for SSD” option checked. This was much faster, and it worked fine, except that I deliberately didn’t clone PQSERVICE (the Acer OEM recovery partition, which I already have on 3 DVDs), and AOMEI left a 14-gig hole there. If I had cloned each partition individually, that would not have happened, but I did a “disk clone” (on bad advice), not a partition-by-partition clone (live and learn).
- Removed the old hard drive and booted Windows from the SSD. TA-DAAAA! It works. Note that you must not try to boot your cloned drive while the old drive is still connected—it won’t work—the system BIOS sees two drives with “Active” partitions, and that’s a no-no. To later reconnect and use the hard drive, you’ll need to boot the system with a bootable partitioning CD and un-set the Active flag on the hard drive. Then it will just be a regular data drive and will co-exist with the boot drive.
- Used AOMEI again to slide the partitions down, putting the 14-gig hole at the end of the SSD, then re-sized the C: partition to the end of the drive. All this was very fast, taking only a few minutes. When you do such operations with AOMEI, you set it all up and then it reboots the system into a “Pre-OS” environment and does the moving (you can’t move OS files while the OS is in use) and resizing, then reboots back into Windows. It’s very nice—unlinke the others, it doesn’t force you to burn a bootable CD for those pre-OS operations.
- Powered down and physically installed the SSD. See photos, below.
- Powered up and started optimizing Windows for SSD operation. Verified alignment with MSinfo32.exe. Ran ATTO Benchmark to verify proper speeds. Etcetera.
- Spent a lot of time getting Chrome and other things to put cache and temp files on the hard drive instead of the SSD, to reduce memory cell wear.