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How To Migrate Windows 7 to a Solid State Drive

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If the thought of reinstalling Windows and all your favorite apps has kept you from upgrading to a Solid State Drive (SSD), we’re here to help. Read on as we show you how to migrate Windows 7 to a speedy new SSD without reinstalling everything.

Why Migrate and What Do I Need?

A casual Google search will reveal that geeks across the web are deeply divided about whether or not you should copy an existing installation or start with a fresh installation of Windows. There’s very little conclusive evidence that cloning your existing HDD onto an SSD causes any issues and certainly not enough evidence for you to kill an entire day (or even a weekend or longer) installing everything from scratch and tweaking all your applications and settings.

Your time is valuable, far too valuable to waste redoing all your work chasing a phantom increase in performance. At the How-To Geek office we’ve been using the a cloned SSD for some time with no ill effect (and none of the headaches that come with wiping your system and starting from scratch). Migrating is an enormous time saver.

So what do you need to get started with our guide? You’ll need a few things, all of which are free (save for SSD which, alas, you still won’t find for less than a dollar a GB). Here are the things you’ll need:

A backup of your data. We can’t stress this one enough. It’s completely foolish to start messing around with your HDD without a backup of all your important data. Before proceeding you need to backup your data, preferably to a location that will not be connected to the computer you’re working on (a network drive, a USB drive you can unplug, etc.). Back your files up to a virtual hard drivebackup to Windows Home Server, or even get backup tips from fellow readers.  While you’re at it make sure you’re backing up the right files from your Windows installation. Whatever you do, though, make sure your files are backed up!

A copy of Defraggler and CCleaner. We’re going to do a little tidying before we clone.

A copy of Clonezilla or EaseUS Parition Manager. Read through the guide to determine which is the best fit for you.

An SSD installed in your computer case. We’re not going to cover physically installing your drive; however, we have a great guide to installing a new HDD that you can use to get up to speed before continuing.

A Windows 7 system repair disk. This is a just-in-case tool. On the off chance that you’re Master Boot Record gets corrupted, you’ll be able to pop in the Windows 7 repair disk and fix it in a matter of minutes. Read how to create one here. Don’t forget to print off a copy of our guide to repairing the bootloader so you’re ready to fix it if you need to. No really. Do it. Burn that CD and print that article—having it on hand will save you the hassle of finding another computer to create the boot CD on if you need it.

Cleaning House Before the Clone

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Before we start the cloning process there are several key cleaning steps we need to go through to prepare our hard drive for the migration. We’ve already said it, but we’ll say it again. Backup your data before proceeding.

Par back your files. If you have a packed 200GB HDD and a new 120GB SSD, there’s no physical way to fit all that data onto the new drive. You need to do some trimming. Copy big media files to a secondary drive, archive large projects just sitting around in your My Documents folder, look to see if there are any large applications you’re no longer using (games are notorious space hogs, uninstall games you’re no longer interested in). If you’re feeling ambitious, now would be a good time to set up symbolic links to move your My Documents folder to a secondary drive.

SSDs operate better with extra space (their wear-leveling algorithms can operate at peak efficiency with space to spare) so aim to trim your HDD contents back to about 80% of your future SDD’s capacity—if you have a 120GB SSD, try to trim your HDD contents back to 90GBs or so).

Run CCleaner. After you’ve removed files, uninstalled apps you no longer use, and otherwise swept out data that was wasting precious disk space, it’s time to run CCleaner. For the unfamiliar CCleaner is a system cleaning tool that deletes all manner of unneeded files (recycling bin files, old temp files, cache files, etc.) that clutter up your system. It’s not unusual, on a heavily used system, for CCleaner to find 5GB+ to clean out.

Run Defraggler. Once you’ve deleted as much as possible (both manually and with CCleaner) it’s time to finish tidying the disk. Defraggler, another free app from the same company that produces CCleaner, is a powerful disk defragmentation tool. We’re going to give Windows one last defragmentation for the road. Once you switch to using an SSD defragmenting will be a thing of the past. None the less, we want to clone a drive with as little fragmentation as possible. Fire up Defraggler and defragment your primary disk.

Update Your Firmware

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SSDs are, technologically, the new kid on the block. Several of the earliest generation SSDs had various bugs and issues which were only banished with significant firmware updates. Each drive company has their own technique for updating firmware—some require you to reboot with a special CD to flash the firmware and some allow you to flash the firmware from within Windows if the drive is not the primary OS drive. OCZ, the manufacturer of the drive we used for this tutorial, has one of the aforementioned in-Windows tools (seen in the screenshot above). Visit the the website of your drive manufacturer to read more about your drive and how to update the firmware. Now is the absolute best time to update the firmware as there is zero risk of data loss (the drive is completely bare).

Aligning The Sectors on Your SSD

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At this point you should have your data backed up and you should have your files backed up, the crud cleaned out by CCleaner, and the disk defragmented by Defraggler. Now it’s time to perform the most arcane part of the whole process. Traditional hard disk drives have platters inside (physical disks that spin). These hard disk platters are divided into sectors. There are no platters (or even moving parts) inside a Solid State Drive but Windows continues to use the sector-based organization, regardless.

If you install Windows 7 directly onto an SSD (instead of cloning, as we’re doing) the installation program makes sure that everything is aligned properly and that the outmoded sector-based system works fine on the SSD. If you clone onto an SSD from a HDD, however, there is a very high probability that the alignment will be off. What this means, in practical terms, is that you will radically increase your SSD read/writes and decrease performance because of the poor alignment. You’ll be wearing out and slowing down the drive, all over something as tiny as data misalignment.

Many early adopters cloned their disks and then, post cloning, found out that the alignment of their drives were off. Once you’ve gone to all the trouble of copying your data, the only good way to fix the alignment is to use the GParted Live CD to do so. We’re going to make life way easier and cut down on the hassle and number of reboots necessary by setting up the partitions and alignment before we clone.

Before you continue, you need to be sure you have your SSD properly installed in your computer. If so, it’s time to fire up DISKPART. To properly use DISKPART, we need to open up a command prompt in Windows 7 with elevated privileges. To do so navigate to All Programs –> Accessories and right click on Command Prompt; select Run as administrator (alternately you can type cmd in the run box and press CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER).

Once the prompt is open type in the following commands, in the following order. Read the commands and the accompanying notation very carefully or you will erase the wrong disk.

Diskpart
List disk
Select disk n (where n is your SSD’s number as provided by the previous command)
Create partition primary align=1024
Active

Exit

Now your SSD is ready to rock; it’s properly set up and aligned.

Cloning Your SSD

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There are two easy and free techniques you can use to clone your SSD drive. When it doubt, use the second technique.

My primary partition is smaller than my SSD. If your SSD drive is bigger than the operating system partition you’re cloning (i.e. you’ve got a 120GB SDD and you’re going to clone a smaller partition onto from your current OS disk) then Clonezilla is a great open-source choice. Rather than rehash how to use Clonezilla, we’d recommend you check out our very detailed guide to using it here. Read the whole guide but pay special attention to the Local Device to Local Device cloning; that’s the technique you want to use to clone your HDD partition to your SSD partition. It’s as easy as rebooting with the Live CD, clicking a few items, and then waiting for a couple minutes while everything copies. No fuss.

My primary partition is bigger than my SSD. If your SSD drive is smaller than the operating system partition you’re cloning, Clonezilla won’t play nice (it, very strictly, will only go from bigger to smaller and has no tools for shaving down a too-large partition). In this case, since we’re already working in Windows, we can use EaseUS Partition Master, a free and simple to use cloning tool—you can use this application whether you fit into either the former or latter partition situation we just outlined, by the way. Partition Master will resize partitions as necessary, the only requirement is that you have a small enough volume of data to fit onto the new SSD. So, for example, you can clone a 200GB partition with 80GB of data onto a 120GB SSD with no problem; Partition Magic will dynamically resize the partition during the cloning process.

To get started run the application and highlight your current OS disk. Select Copy partition from the left-hand navigation panel. This will launch the Partition wizard which will in turn prompt you to select which disk you want to copy your OS disk to. Select your SSD. Double check your selection before pressing Next. Click through until the end of the wizard until you reach the Finish button. Back in the main window click the Apply button in the upper left corner. Your computer will reboot and the cloning process will take place.

Once the cloning process has completed, boot down your machine and unplug your original HDD (the source of the clone). Reboot your computer (this is the point where you may need to use the Windows recovery CD if the Master Boot Record has been corrupted). On some motherboards you may need to plug the new primary drive into the exact same SATA port the old primary drive was on—we didn’t, but you may.

Booting Back Into Windows and Tweaking Your SSD

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Once you are back into Windows, running off your brand new SSD of course, it’s time to go through and toggle a variety of settings. When you do a fresh Windows 7 to SSD installation Windows toggles these settings for you. Ideally Windows 7 should detect the SSD and make the proper changes but we’re not going to take any chances when it only takes a few minutes to check. You can re-run the “Windows Experience” program to toggle some of the settings but doing so takes just about as many clicks as checking those settings yourself.

Make sure TRIM is turned on. TRIM is a special set of commands that help SSDs effectively manage empty space on the disk (if you’re curious you can read more here). Open up the command prompt and type in the following command:

fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify

This lengthy command has a very simple output, either a 0 or a 1. If you get a 1, TRIM is not enabled. If you get a 0, TRIM is enabled. If you need to enable it type the following command:

fsutil behavior set DisableNotify 0

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Turn off defragmentation. There is no need to defragment an SSD and doing so on a regular basis will radically shorten the life of your drive. Open the start menu and, in the run box, type dfrgui to open the Disk Defragmenter. Click on the Schedule button and then uncheck Run on a schedule (recommended). Your days of running a defragmenter are over.

 

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Turn off indexing. Driving indexing is a relic of the HDD age. SDD drives are so lightening fast you don’t need a file index to help offset drive lag. You’re wasting time and disk read/writes by leaving it on. Go to My Computer, right click on your new SSD drive, and uncheck Allow files on this drive to have contexts indexed… to turn off the indexing. This will, annoyingly, probably take a little while. Windows is going to scan the entire drive and toggle the file permissions on all the files. We got a cup of coffee while we waited.

A word on other SSD tweaks and tricks. Be cautious about tweaking beyond these simple fixes. Many SSD guides suggest increasing performance by turning off the Superfetch (dubious evidence that this tweak improves performance at all) or disabling the page file (decreases writes to the SSD but at a steep cost; if you run out of RAM the applications that need that RAM will crash). The tweaks we’ve suggested here will definitely increase performance and with no negative side effects. Proceed with caution deploying tweaks you find in other guides and in discussion forum posts. That said…

Congratulations! You’ve cloned your disk, saved yourself hours of reinstalling Windows and customizing your apps, and you’re ready to enjoy a faster and quieter system disk.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/8/11

Comments (27)

  1. rez

    What..? No mention of changing to AHCI mode, one of the most important things about using an SSD?

    You lose so much performance being in IDE, it’s absurd.. Depending on the SSD and type of data being transferred, it can be as much as half the possible speed if running in IDE.

    Also, where’s the mention of turning off superfetch?

  2. Kodess

    AHCI should be on… why would you still use IDE in this day and age?

    I had my HDD’s on AHCI… as you should.

    BTW, its smarter and easier to just do a fresh install. It feels great xD

  3. Christopher Heuer

    After reading this, I decided that if I can ever upgrade to an SSD I’m just gonna do a fresh install. But thanks…

  4. jdag

    This assumes you have a computer with an empty hard drive bay. What if you have a laptop with only one harddrive slot?

  5. jim

    wow…perfect timing for this. i just got my SSD in the mail today :D

  6. Xsever

    I had problems switching to AHCI with my HDs.

    Running Gigabyte 880GA.

    I could never get Windows 7 to finish loading.

    Any ideas?

  7. Jeff C

    I personally feel that a fresh install is better. I keep my data separate from the OS and I keep all my program installation files in one place. Some people however,don’t even have their windows install disk, so I can see why they would want to simply clone.

  8. sado

    Some cloning tools will not respect the alignment of your SSD so aligning it before cloning may be futile. Can you confirm that the two mentioned here will not require you to realign the SSD after cloning?

  9. JT

    Consider a tool designed for this purpose. Use Paragon Migrate OS to SSD to perform a sector level copy of a HDD to an SSD. It’s alignment aware, and also allows for excluding any files or folders you wish to exclude from the migration, great when migrating to a smaller SSD. If alignment is the only need look at PAT, there’s also a PAT free scan version available for download at paragon-downloads.

  10. yethz

    If I can upgrade to an SSD, I will definitely do an fresh install of Windows and applications..
    In that way, I am sure my system is really clean and fast.

  11. Ramez

    I did not like my original HDD of 1 Tera @5400RPM. I decided to go to an SSD (256 Go). I purchased an external USB 3.0 enclosure for 2.5″ drives with my SSD hard drive. Using Acronis, I cloned my OS from laptop HDD to the SSD. The next step was just switching HDDs following ASUS instructions. Suddenly I was back in business. Total time 30 minutes plus Cloning time which was done when I was doing something else. I liked it so much I did the same on my older laptop to improve significantly speed and performance. But what is AHCI mode?? any pointers to check if it is selectable or available on my laptop?

  12. RZuch

    My computer has 2 hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration. If I replace these drives with 2 SSD’s will this procedure work?

  13. Tero

    Yes, you can make a RAID with SSD’s, but some features will be then disabled. Google for more info.

    Personally I would recommend using only one SSD.

  14. RJGoodhouse

    I’ve done this more than a few times, but I used Acronis True Image Home 2011 and 2012 with the Power Pack Accessory. The Power Pack allows you to restore to Unlike Equipment and the Migration from a Bigger Drive to a Smaller Drive goes very smoothly. I did set AHCI mode in my BIOS in advance.

  15. JT

    Paragon Hard Disk Manager 11 includes the Migrate OS to SSD functionality, and includes Paragon’s Adaptive Restore support for cases where dissimilar hardware is present, or when changing IDE/AHCI modes. Adaptive restore is included with Hard Disk Manager by default, at no additional cost.

  16. rws8258

    +1 for Paragon’s “Migrate OS to SSD”… works beautifully!

  17. Roi

    @Xsever
    You have to edit some keys in the registry when going from IDE to AHCI. Google it :)

  18. Pablo

    Rez – The article mentioned Superfetch, but actually recommended not turning it off.

    Thaks for the article, as I was thinking of replacing my HDD with an SDD.

  19. afuhnk

    @Xsever: If you mean you were running in IDE mode and switched to ACHI after you had installed Windows, you need to change the registry aswell.
    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/922976
    Set to IDE, boot normally, backup registry, modify (follow instructions on MS link above), reboot, BIOS – AHCI, Windows, enjoy

  20. Joe

    Does this work if I am running a custom bootloader (TrueCrypt)?

  21. Roman Berry

    Wow. This article makes things way harder than they need be. I’m not sure if the folks at The Geek are aware of this, but Windows 7 is fully SSD aware. Fully. That means that awareness extends to the Windows 7 backup and restore utility and its built in disk image function. You can try and verify for yourself, but I promise that this is a true thing. What this means is that if you are migrating an existing Windows 7 installation from a standard hard disk to an SSD, you do NOT need Clonezilla or EaseUS Partition Manager, and you do NOT need to use diskpart to align the partitions. Really.

    After reading this article I was filled with doubt about what I thought I knew, so I set about verifying that what I thought I knew was right. And here’s what I thought I knew (and have verified to be so.)

    A Windows 7 system image generated by the Windows 7 backup and restore utility from a Windows 7 installation on a standard hard disk is properly aligned automatically when that image is used to migrate/restore the Windows 7 OS to a solid state disc. How did I verify this? Well, I checked the Dell Latitude E6500 that sits on my desk which was set up in exactly this way. Partitions are aligned properly. Then I called a friend for whom I had just a few weeks ago migrated an existing Windows 7 installation from a Western Digital Scorpio Black 320 gig drive to a Samsung 470 SSD just a few weeks ago and had him check the partition offset. It was perfect. (1048576.) And then I checked half a dozen assorted other laptops and desktops I had migrated from spinning hard disks to SSDs using Win 7′s own backup and restore generated system image and in each and every case the SSD was aligned properly.

    If you have Win 7, you don’t need Clonezilla or EaseUS or Acronis or Ghost. All you need is Win 7. Boot with the Wi n 7 OS DVD or a recovery disc and restore the system image to the new drive. That’s it. Check for yourself.

    The advice on things like defrag? Good advice, but you don’t need Defraggler or any third party software for that either. Win 7′s defrag consolidates free space. You can verify this by running Win 7′s defrag from as an admin from the command prompt. (CMD–>run as administrator) Run defrag /c /u /v

    Yes, clear all the temp files. Disable hibernation. Reduce the swap file (but don’t turn it off completely.) Run Win 7′s defrag from the command prompt. Shrink the partition (if needed to make it fit on the new SSD.) Generate a system image on an external USB or eSATA (if your system supports booting with eSATA) drive. Install your SSD and restore the system image. That’s it.

  22. Roman Berry

    Sorry for the spelling and grammatical errors in the comment above. It’s late and I typed all that on the fly without proofreading before submitting the comment.

    One more thing…

    Anyone wanting to verify the partition offset for their disk can certainly fire up diskpart and go through the steps to get to the info they are looking for, or they can skip a step or two and use one of these methods:

    At the command line, type (or copy and paste) the following (and hit enter): wmic partition get BlockSize, StartingOffset, Name, Index

    Or just type MSINFO32 in the search box from the start menu, hit enter and when MSINFO32 runs, go to components–>storage–>disks and read down the list until you see “partition staring offset.” If that offset is 1048576 on your SSD, you’re golden.

  23. bbotzong

    Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, this upgrade is the most valuable I have ever done. For years, I was upgrading processors, motherboards, memory… still had a sucky, slow system. I built my Windows 7 on an SSD and all I can say is… WOW… I finally get the performance I have always dreamed of. From power on to login … about 20 seconds. From sleep to login… about five seconds. No more waiting for Microsoft to blink your disk drive lights while it troubles itself over bad sectors. If you’re looking for speedy response from your system, it is WELL worth the investment.

  24. Jason Fitzpatrick

    @Roman Berry: For what it’s worth, Roman, I actually set out to write the original version of this article using *only* the built-in Windows 7 cloning tools. They failed on two different drives/computers which led me to seek out alternatives. If they worked for you that’s awesome. I was *really* disappointed they didn’t work for me.

  25. Bud French

    I wanted to do a clean install on my new SSD drive 2 weekends ago. I only had an upgrade Win7 disk. I ended up installing Win XP on it , then immediately installing a clean (Custom) installation of Win7 over this.
    I ended up with an experience index of 6.3. Thats with sata 2 controllers and the OCZ Agility3 (same drive mentioned in this article.) . I have been installing most programs to the reformatted “old” drive and also use this “old” drive to store downloads , pix, etc. Speed sensitive proggies are of course on the SSD (games).
    My question : Is there anything further, short of a new hardware , I need to do , at this point.

  26. Brian Forgrave

    I have installed Windows 7 on my HDD over a year ago. I was having some troubles with my computer. I had a backup copy of the hdd. I installed the copy of being on 5 DVDs .Now i have a 200Gig of use of a 320Gigs of Hard drive. Is there a way without installing a clean OS copy, without using all of this backup space that is on that old HDD. I think i have a 80GB SDD here to install the Windows 7 onto.

  27. Roman Berry

    @Jason Fitzpatrick: You were using Win 7 SP1? I know it seems like a silly question as I have no doubt that you were, but in the interests of trying to understand why it (Win 7′s built in imaging and restore function) works for me in migrating and properly aligning an install from a standard hard drive to a solid state disc but not for you, I figured it was safer to ask than assume.

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