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How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive by alexey ,  Nov 24, 2012

How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling Windows

How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling Windows

Installing a solid-state drive is one of the best upgrades you can make to your computer, but migrating your Windows installation to a small drive can be tricky, because your data won't necessarily all fit on the drive. Here's how to install an SSD without reinstalling Windows from scratch.

We've shown you how to migrate from an old drive to a spacious new drive, but when migrating to an SSD, things get a little more complicated. Instead of upgrading to a bigger drive, you're usually migrating to a smaller drive, which means a lot of files—like music, movies, and games—might not all fit on the SSD. Luckily, it's still pretty easy to do, and you should be able to go through the whole process in an afternoon.

How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling WindowsHere's what we're going to do: We're going to back up everything, and then delete your personal files—like your documents, movies and music—from your current hard drive. This will make your Windows installation small enough to fit on the SSD. We'll then clone your current drive onto the SSD, and completely erase your current drive. From there, we'll move all your user folders—like My Documents, My Music, and so on—to the original hard drive, and restore all your personal files from the backup. You'll then be able to reap the benefits of an SSDs speed while keeping all your documents and files readily accessible on a second drive.

What You'll Need

There are a number of different ways to go about this, but we've found this to be the easiest and most reliable method. Here's what you'll need:

  • Your current hard drive, with Windows installed. For simplicity's sake we'll call this drive—that is, the drive you're migrating from—your "current hard drive" throughout the tutorial.
  • A solid-state drive. This is the drive you'll be migrating to. To get a rough idea of how big it should be, head to your current drive, navigate to C:\Users\ and right-click on your user folder. Hit Properties, and mark down how much space that folder takes up. Head to My Computer and note how much space Drive C: has filled up, and subtract your user folder's size from C:'s total. That's how big your SSD needs to be, though I'd give yourself a good deal of wiggle room for future updates and new programs. We'll assume, for the purposes of this guide, that you've already installed your new hard drive and are ready to migrate your data.
  • A backup of all your data. Since you can't clone only part of a drive, you'll need to remove your music, movies, and other personal files from your current drive before migrating Windows to the SSD. That means you'll want to back up your data somewhere else—whether that be an external drive, a spare internal drive, or the cloud. Just make sure that data is safe and recoverable, since we'll be restoring it later on.
  • EaseUS Partition Master. This is the program we'll be using to migrate your installation. It's easy to use, can perform multiple operations at once, and it's free.
  • The Gparted live CD. We'll need this for a quick partition fix after we migrate our installation. If you have an Ubuntu live CD lying around, that'll work too, since it comes with Gparted installed under System > Administration.

A Note for Dual Booters

This guide assumes your main hard drive only has one partition on it, holding Windows and your documents. If you dual boot with Linux, OS X, or another version of Windows and it resides on the same drive, this whole process becomes a bit more complicated. Make extra sure you have a backup before continuing, and tweak the following two steps to the process:

  1. In step three, you'll want to click on your Windows partition and clone only that to the SSD instead of cloning the entire disk. Cloning the entire disk would bring all your partitions over, which you won't likely have room for.
  2. After step three, you probably won't be able to boot into Windows on your SSD. This is because the Windows bootloader resides on the MBR, not the partition itself. After you've migrated to the SSD, you'll need to insert your Windows installation CD and choose "Repair Your Computer" from the main screen. Choose Startup Repair from the menu, and your computer should reboot a few times and repair the bootloader.

Step One: Defrag Back Up Your Data

Before you start, you probably want to defragment your disk. Click the Start menu and type in "defrag", hitting Disk Defragmenter when it comes up. Run one last defrag before you continue.

How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling WindowsNext, you'll want to make sure everything is backed up in case something goes wrong. You should already be backing up your data regularly, whether to an external drive or with something like Crashplan, but if you aren't, now's the time to start. Run one last backup before you start the migration process to make sure it's as up to date as possible.

If you don't have a regular backup, grab a spare hard drive—either internal or external—and start up EaseUS partition Master. Click on your current Windows hard disk in the right-hand pane—where it says "Disk # (MBR)", not where it says "C:")—and then click "Copy Disk" in the left sidebar. It'll analyze the drive; and when it's done, hit Next.

On the next window, choose your backup disk as the destination. Hit Next. If you currently have data on that drive, it's about to be erased, so make sure you don't need any of it. Hit Next until you reach the last window, then h it Finish. Click the "Apply" button in the upper-left hand corner of the EaseUS window, and your computer will reboot and clone your drive. When it's done, it may reboot one more time, then boot you back into Windows.

Step Two: Slim Down Your Current Drive

The next thing you need to do is delete files from your main drive until it becomes small enough to fit on your SSD. That means if your SSD is 120GB and your current drive has 260GB of data on it, you'll need to delete 140GB worth of files before you can migrate. Usually, this can be accomplished by deleting all the music, movies, documents, and other files out of your "My Music", "My Videos", "My Documents", and other user folders. Don't delete the folders themselves, just delete everything inside them. We want to keep the folders intact for later. And remember, we'll be restoring your files later on, so don't worry about deleting stuff you still need. Don't uninstall any programs, unless you want them gone for good—we want to keep these on the SSD so they can benefit from the drive's speed.

Step Three: Migrate to the SSD

How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling WindowsOpen up EaseUS Partition Master and click on your current disk in the right pane (that is, the line that says "Disk # (MBR)"). Hit the "Copy Disk" button in the left sidebar. In the next window, choose your SSD as the destination, and hit Next. On the last window, hit Finish, and then hit Apply in the upper left corner of the EaseUS window. It will reboot your machine and copy your Windows installation to the SSD. When it's done, it may reboot one more time, then boot you back into Windows.

If it tells you the source drive is too big, then you haven't deleted enough data. Remember that the size of the SSD—say, 120GB—is not the same as how much space will be available on the SSD after formatting. Once you've hooked up your SSD, check how much space is actually available and make sure your current drive is using less than that amount of space. Even if your source drive is bigger, EaseUS Partition Master should automatically resize the partitions so they fit on the SSD, as long as your source drive isn't filled with too much data.

Remember, if you have more than one partition on your original drive, you wan to clone the partition, not the drive (that is, the part that says C:, not the part that says "Disk # (MBR)") and stick in the repair disc at this point.

Step Four: Realign Your SSD

SSDs align their partitions differently than regular hard drives. A regular hard drive usually starts the first partition after 63 blocks, while SSDs require 64 blocks of data for optimal performance. This means when you copy your disk block-for-block from a regular drive, you can lose a lot of performance on your SSD. To fix it, we just need to boot into the Gparted live CD (or into an Ubuntu live CD, if you have one).

How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling WindowsStart up Gparted and find your SSD in the dropdown list in the upper right-hand corner. Select it, and click on the main partition in the main window (it should be the only partition on the disk). Hit the Resize/Move button in the toolbar. Change the "Free Space Preceding" box to 2MB, uncheck "Round to Cylinders", and hit "Resize/Move". Hit Apply once and let it do its thing.

Now hit Resize/Move again, and change the "Free Space Preceding" box to 1MB. Uncheck "Round to Cylinders" again, hit Resize/Move, then click Apply. Now your drive will be aligned to exactly 2048 blocks after the beginning of the disk, which allows for optimal SSD performance.

Yes, moving it 2MB away then moving it back 1MB seems roundabout, but Gparted measures space in a weird way. When you first start up Gparted, your partition will have less than 1MB of space preceding it, but Gparted will only measure it as 0—meaning if you align it to 1MB right off the bat, it'll keep the drive annoyingly misaligned at 1.03MB. If you set it to 2MB, hit Apply, and then move it back to 1MB, it works fine.

Reboot your machine and enter your BIOS setup. Usually, this involves pressing the Delete or F2 keys as your computer boots (it'll say something like "Press DEL to enter setup"). In your BIOS, head to the section labeled "Boot Order" (or something similar) and set your SSD as the first boot device. Save your settings and exit your BIOS, and it should reboot you into Windows. It should look almost exactly like your old setup, though you'll probably notice it boots up much faster than you're used to. If it doesn't find your wallpaper or desktop icons, don't worry—they'll come back when we restore your personal files.

If Windows gives you an error upon booting into your SSD, insert your Windows installation DVD and hit "Repair Your Computer" from the main menu. It might ask you to choose your Windows installation, in which case choose the one on your SSD. It should automatically detect the issue and repair it. Sometimes the realignment process can confuse Windows and you need to repair your bootloader.

Once you're in Windows, hit the Start menu and search for msinfo32. Start up Msinfo32.exe when it pops up, and head to Components > Storage > Disks. Look for your SSD and find the "Partition Starting Offset". If this number is divisible by 4096 (that is, if dividing it by 4096 reveals a whole number and not a decimal), your partition is correctly aligned. If not, head back into Gparted and try again—make sure there's exactly 1MB of space before your partition, or it won't work.

Step Five: Wipe Your Original Drive

How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling WindowsNow that our SSD is working, open up Windows Explorer and find your original Windows drive. Right-click on it and hit "Format". A Quick Format is fine here; we just need to clear off all that old data. Make sure you're wiping your original Windows drive and not your backup; if you're unsure, unplug your backup drive first. You don't want to lose any of your data.

Step Six: Move Your User Folders

Now that you've got Windows on your SSD, you need to get all your other files back on your system. You probably don't have enough room to fit it on your SSD, so we're going to store them on your old drive. And, since we can remap the locations of your My Documents, My Music, and other user folders, we can put them on a second drive without Windows even batting an eyelash.

How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling WindowsFirst, head into your old drive (which should now be empty) and create a new folder to house all your user folders. I just called mine "Whitson Gordon". Head into C:\Users\[Your User Name] and you should see all your user folders there. Right-click on each one, hit Properties, and go to the Location tab. Click on the Move button, and choose your newly created user folder as the destination. When you're done, you might have a few miscellaneous settings folders left over (like .gtkrc-2.0 or .VirtualBox), which you can leave there. Your Contacts, Desktop, Downloads, Favorites, Links, Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, Saved Games, and Searches folders should all be on your old drive.

Step Seven: Restore Your Personal Files

Lastly, we just need to restore all your personal files. Open up your backup—wherever it may be—and drag your documents, music, pictures, videos, and other files back into your "My Documents", "My Music", "My Picutres", and other user folders that you just moved.

Now, your files will be accessible just as they always were. Even though they're on a new drive, Windows still sees them as your main "My Documents" or "My Music" folders, so you shouldn't have to change much else. You may have a few programs—the text-based todo.txt is a great example—that still use absolute paths (like C:\Users\Documents instead of just searching your "My Documents" folder), so you may have to tweak a few settings to get everything working properly. For the most part, though, everything should work as it did before, and you should have a much faster computer thanks to the SSD.

Proper SSD Maintenance

We've covered proper SSD maintenance before, so I won't go too deeply into it here. In order to have Windows optimize itself for your new SSD, we'll need to re-run the Windows Experience Index. Hit the Start menu and type in "Windows Experience", and hit the "Check the Windows Experience Index" option. Click "Re-Run the Assessment" and it should turn off Defragmentation and turn on TRIM.

To double check that it all went as expected, head to your Start menu and type "defrag" in the search box. Click on "Disk Defragmenter". Click on "Configure Schedule" and hit "Select Disks". If all went well, Windows will realize it's on an SSD and your SSD won't even be an option in this menu. Now Windows will avoid defragmenting your SSD, which can be bad for it.

Lastly, we'll want to make sure TRIM is turned on, which keeps your drive from slowing down over time. Open up a Command Prompt and type in:

fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify

It will either give you a 0 or a 1 as a result. If you get a zero, that means TRIM is enabled. If you get a 1, make sure you have a TRIM-compatible SSD—you may have to Google your SSD's model number to find out.

The process seems very complicated, but if you follow the steps exactly, the whole migration should go off without a hitch. You'll have a super fast-booting machine, programs will launch almost instantaneously, and you'll still have all your personal files easily accessible on another drive. Got your own favorite method or tips for migrating your data? Share them with us in the comments.

How to Upgrade Your Laptop's Hard Drive to an SSD

Installing the SSD, Step by Step

For this article, we upgraded a fairly recent Windows 7 system, an Acer Ferrari One ultraportable laptop. Despite its name, the Ferrari One is just a slight cut above most netbooks in terms of performance. It has an 11-inch screen, and its small size and light weight make it easy to toss into a bag or tote to a coffee shop.

Since it is so portable, it may get banged up a little more than bulkier laptops, so we decided to swap out the existing 250GB Toshiba hard drive with an OCZ Apex 120GB SSD. This particular drive runs about $340 to $350 currently.

Swapping out a laptop hard drive means that you somehow need to get the data off the old drive and onto the new one. You have several methods to choose from.

  • Get a small external hard-drive case with a USB interface. Install the new drive in the case, and then clone the old drive onto the new drive via USB. (I'll talk about software for doing this in a moment.) After installing the new drive into the laptop, you can take the old drive and pop it into the USB case, which allows you to use your old drive for backups or additional storage.
  • Using a third, external drive, make an exact copy of the disk image on the old drive and copy it as a file to the external drive. Install the new drive and then reverse the process, copying the disk-image file from the external drive to the new drive.
  • Use an external device, such as the Thermaltake BlackX hard-drive dock shown in the photo above, to make the drive clone; then, after the cloning process is complete, swap in the new drive.

The Clean Windows Install

In addition to hardware considerations, you need to think about what software will help make the swap process as easy as possible.

You can simply install Windows onto the new drive, and then restore to it all of the data you backed up previously. (You did back up your data, right?) This approach makes sense if you're thinking about upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7, for example.

Keep in mind that newer laptops rarely ship with driver or accessory CDs, and often have drivers hidden on a restore partition. Obviously, that restore partition isn't useful any longer if you've changed the operating system.

So you'll need not only your data but also new drivers. Though Windows 7 offers a substantial number of drivers of its own for older hardware, you'll likely have some piece of hardware on your laptop that still requires an updated driver. If you decide to do a clean Windows install on your drive, make sure you download all the drivers first--especially the networking drivers! After all, if your plan is to update the operating system and then download the rest of the drivers afterward, you should be certain that your network hardware--wired or wireless--is working.

If you do take this approach, use a migration tool to move your data and applications. You can use Windows' own Windows Easy Transfer, or consider a more streamlined, third-party tool such as Laplink PC Mover.

Drive-Cloning Software

If you don't want to change the operating system, the easiest way to upgrade your laptop drive is to use a drive-cloning tool. That's how we performed the drive swap on our test machine.

Software that can make an exact, bit-for-bit copy of drive partitions has been around for years. Utilities such as Norton Ghost, Acronis True Image, and even the free Drive Image XML are incredibly useful for making backups, as well as for migrating hard drives.

For our example here, we used Acronis True Image Home 2010, a $50 utility. We've long used the professional version of True Image for cloning system drives.

You can use a drive-cloning tool in one of two ways. The first method is to create a bootable CD and then boot from that CD and run the software to copy the drive. The second approach is to install the app in Windows and then clone the drive by running the software within Windows. We used the latter method since it didn't require us to attach an external optical drive to our netbook-class laptop.

Before we started the cloning, we popped the Apex SSD into the Thermaltake drive dock and then plugged the dock's power cord into the wall. Prior to booting the PC, we plugged a USB cable from the drive dock into one of the USB ports on the laptop. We then turned everything on, waited for the USB drive to be recognized, and ran True Image.

Looking at the drive layout (as in the screenshot above), we knew that we had to keep the recovery partition at 12GB and the System Reserved partition at 102MB. The main partition was listed as 220.78GB, so that had to shrink. Luckily, the test laptop was a fairly new system, so we had only about 22GB of actual data and applications on the hard drive, which meant that we didn't have to move any data off to make space.

We installed True Image Home 2010 on the test laptop, and then ran the application and chose 'Clone Disk'.

When presented with the choice of automatic or manual drive cloning, we chose manual, since we wanted to manage how the three partitions were cloned.

We then selected the source drive, which was the Toshiba drive, with a listed capacity of 232.9GB. You can see the layout charted at the bottom of the screenshot here. Since we had only two drives connected, the OCZ Apex became the target drive.

Important note: Make sure to pick the correct target and destination drives. This is the most dangerous part of the whole process. If you select them incorrectly, you run the risk of copying over your system installation, losing your OS and all of your data!

In the next step, we selected what Acronis calls the "move method." Since we wanted to keep the partition sizes the same, we picked 'As is'. With True Image Home 2010, this choice is fairly smart: It makes exact duplicates of the small partitions, including their size, but knows that the main partition will be smaller, and resizes that one appropriately. In past versions of True Image, you had to select 'Manual' and type in the partition sizes yourself.

We then clicked 'Next', and we were off and running--True Image performed a drive-integrity check, rebooted the system, and proceeded to perform the actual cloning process in DOS mode.

If you wish, when you do the cloning, you can watch the transfer process as it happens. Or you can watch paint dry. We elected to come back after it finished.