If you find that your old hard drive is bursting at the seams and you want to upgrade to a larger one, it’s really easy to do so without losing any of your data.
This is thanks to a process called disk cloning. Cloning a hard drive means that you take your old, existing drive and create an exact, bit-for-bit copy to a new one. When you plug the new one in, your computer will boot right up from it without skipping a beat, and without you having to reinstall Windows from scratch. This can be accomplished with free software and usually less than an hour of your time (maybe more if you’re moving a lot of data).
This guide assumes you’re upgrading to a larger drive than your current one. If you’re moving to a drive with less space, like an SSD, you’ll want to check out this guide instead, since there are a few more steps involved in that process.
What You Need
Before you begin, you’ll of course need your new hard drive, but there are a few other things as well:
- A way to connect both hard drives to your computer. If you have a desktop computer, then you can usually just install your new hard drive alongside your old hard drive in the same machine to clone it. If you’re using a laptop, however, this usually isn’t possible, so you’ll need to buy something like a SATA-to-USB cable (shown right), which will let you connect a hard drive to your laptop via USB. If you’re upgrading a mechanical 3.5″ hard drive with spinning platters, and you want to use a SATA-to-USB wire, it will need to have an external power source. Something like this model should be more than enough to accommodate any kind of drive you throw at it. (2.5″ drives will not need this.) You can also install your new drive in an external hard drive enclosure before you start the migration process, though that’s a bit more time consuming.
- A copy of EaseUS Todo Backup. Its free version has all the features we need to accomplish the task in front of us, so download the free version and install it like you would any other Windows program.
- A backup of your data. Even though you’re copying your drive, we recommend having a backup before you start big, data-writing processes such as this one. Check out our guide to backing up your computer, and make sure you have a full backup of your important data before continuing.
- A Windows system repair disc. This is a just-in-case tool. On the off chance that your Master Boot Record gets corrupted, you’ll be able to pop in the Windows repair disc and fix it in a matter of minutes. Follow these instructions for Windows 7, and these instructions for Windows 8 or 10. 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.
Since you’re doing some housekeeping anyway, this may also be a good time to delete any files you don’t need. A clean house is a happy house (or hard drive, as the case may be).
How to Clone Your Hard Drive with EaseUS Todo Backup
With your hard drives plugged in and ready to go, it’s time to move on to the big show. Once you have installed the EaseUS application, go ahead and run it, then choose “Clone” in the upper-right corner.
Our system drive has three partitions: a small boot partition in the front, our main system partition in the middle, and a small recovery partition at the end. We want to clone the entire disk, these partitions included, so check the box next to the disk’s name (in our case, “Hard Disk 2” and click Next. Make sure you’re selecting the correct drive! It should say “C:” somewhere on one of the partitions.
Choosing your target drive should be obvious. It will likely be the big, empty one (if the drive has never been used before). Just make sure you choose the right one, as this will erase anything currently on that drive!
Place a checkmark next to that drive and click the “Edit” button to the right of it. We’ll need to do a quick partition check before continuing.
In our case, our partitions are not set up ideally. The EaseUS application is trying to clone our old drive using the same size partitions on our new drive—even though we’re moving to a drive with more space! So, we need to fix that.
Remember, there’s a small recovery partition at the end of our system partition. Right now, it’s butted up against our Windows partition, leaving over 700 GB of unallocated space at the end of the drive. We have to select that partition and move it to the end of our hard drive. Just click on that tiny partition and drag it all the way to the right. (Make sure you’re moving the partition, not resizing it).
Now we can select our system drive and expand it to fill up the new unallocated space between the end of our system partition and beginning of our relocated recovery partition. Click and drag on the edge to expand (not move) the partition.
If you’re moving from a smaller drive to a larger one, it is likely you will encounter this problem, so make sure you resize your partitions before you proceed any further. When you’re done, you can click “OK” to continue.
Once everything checks out and you’re ready to continue, go ahead and click “Proceed” to start the cloning process.
How long it takes will depend upon the speed of your computer and drives, as well as how much data you’re moving. This can take anywhere from about 15 minutes to over an hour.
Our operation took just over 50 minutes. When finished, click “Finish” and it’s done.
Booting From Your New Drive
Now it’s time to point your computer to your new system drive. On most computers, this is pretty easy. You just need to power down your computer, remove the old drive, and insert the new one into the same socket. Power the computer back up and it should boot as if nothing happened.
If you’re using a desktop computer and keeping both drives, you have a few choices. You can either put the new drive in the old one’s socket and plug the old drive in elsewhere (so the computer boots from the new one automatically), or leave it where it is and adjust your BIOS settings so your computer boots from the new drive. either works.
If you want to check to make sure that everything worked as intended, right-click on your C: drive and again check the properties. Make sure it has the correct amount of space—if it doesn’t, your computer probably booted into the old drive.
That’s it! Now that your new system drive is installed and working, you can do with the old drive as you please. Just make sure that everything is copacetic before you erase the old drive or delete any of the data.