migrating your operating system to a new solid-state drive
© 2012 by KV5R. Rev. August 5, 2012.
Check Your Mind-Set
Changing out your operating system drive is serious surgery (particularly your first time), and if it is to be completed successfully, you should make sure you are properly prepared to execute a detailed plan of action, with viable fall-backs. In practical terms, this means having a full and working back-up image, and plenty of time to complete the plan. Be sure to exercise utmost care at each step, and it should all go fine. Do not attempt if you are prone to frequent interruptions or lapses in judgment.
The End Goal
- For a desktop, you goal is to end up with your OS and the stuff you use every day on the SSD (as your C: drive), and everything else on a hard drive, either internal or permanently-attached external eSATA or USB-3. (USB-2 is fine for backups but too slow for day-to-day use as a data drive.) Stuff to put on the hard drive includes: big files like video and music, your Windows pagefile and hiberfile (if used), temp files and caches, and backup images of your SSD.
- For a laptop, you’re limited to one drive, so your main goal is to use the SSD for everything while consuming less battery power and making the laptop much more rugged. Not to mention enjoying the speed of the SSD!
What to Buy
- There are many brands of SSDs, and the best way to choose one is to read recent reviews (both professional and end-user) and look for a make and model that uses the latest generation controller and memory.
- How big? We’ve all become accustomed to giant hard drives with 500 or more gigabytes of storage capacity. But really, you can run Windows and a lot of software on a 60 gig drive, and if you store really large files like videos, just put them on a large hard drive. The best price-to-size ratio right now (mid-2012) is the 120 gig SSD.
- If installing the SSD in a desktop, make sure it comes with an adapter bracket, since the SSD will be a 2.5-inch (laptop-size) drive, and your desktop drive bays will be 3.5-inch—although it’s entirely reasonable to simply stick the SSD somewhere in the case with 2-inch-wide sticky-back Velcro.
- For a laptop, look for an SSD package that comes with a USB-to-SATA adapter, or plan to also buy an external 2.5-inch USB-to-SATA case, which you can use to clone the new drive, then swap them and make an external USB drive (good for backups) using your old laptop hard drive in the new external case. I got, and highly recommend, the Inateck 2.5 Inch USB 3.0 External Enclosure Case.
What Else You Will Need
- An external back-up drive, as large or larger than your current C: drive, either a USB hard drive (slow), or an eSATA drive (fast). You can get such external hard drives for $50-$100, and you should have one anyway, and be using it regularly to protect your data. Sure, you can use the hard drive you are taking out, as long as you set the bootable partition to not Active just before removing it, but it’s still better to have a dedicated back-up drive, so you can back up your hard drive (file-by-file) before cloning it to the SSD. Also, if installing the HDD internally, it depends on how many SATA and power connectors your system has—one for the optical drive, one for the SSD, and one for the back-up hard drive.
- Alternately, if you have a another computer on a network, you can back up to that instead, providing the other machine has adequate space on its drive.
- #1 and #2 Phillips screwdrivers.
- If cloning, you’ll need SSD-aware partitioning/cloning software. I can recommend AOMEI Partition Assistant Home Edition for both, since it was easy, free, and worked perfectly.
- If installing fresh, you’ll need your OEM system recovery disks, or an OS install disk. If your system did not come with an install disk, you can make one.
- The installation disks and/or installation files for all your software. You can’t just copy your programs to the new install—you must install them with their installers so that the registry is updated and all the program’s files go the right places.
- A broadband Internet connection for downloading updates for Windows and your software.
- Maybe some other stuff you’ll see embedded below.
To Clone, or to Start Fresh?
It all depends on how much time and work you want to put into it.
- Cloning is fast and easy, and you’ll retain all your software and settings, as well as all your accumulated junk and clutter. This is a great option if your current system is relatively clean and stable.
- A fresh install is time-consuming and tedious, but you end up with a nice, clean system.
- You can always clone first, then do a fresh install later, if desired. Indeed, it’s a good idea to give your SSD a while to prove its reliability before investing too much time in it. If it runs for more than three months, it’ll likely last for many years. All electronics have a certain percentage of infant death syndrome.