How to Migrate Your Windows Installation to a Solid-State Drive

By Matt Klein on December 19th, 2016

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Many older (or cheaper) Windows laptops come with traditional mechanical hard drives—which these days, are pretty outdated and slow. Upgrading to a new, super fast solid state drive (or SSD) is the surest way to speed up an old computer. There’s one problem: moving your Windows installation can be tricky, especially since SSDs are often smaller than their traditional hard drive counterparts.

However, there is a way to migrate your Windows 7, 8, or 10 installation to an SSD without reinstalling Windows. It takes a few extra steps, but a lot less time.

What You Need

Apart from your SSD, you’ll need a few other things for this process to work. Here’s what we recommend:

  • A way to connect your SSD to your computer. If you have a desktop computer, then you can usually just install your new SSD 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 2.5″ hard drive or SDD to your laptop via USB. You can also install your SSD 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. WARNING: Make sure you click the “Customize” links on the “Install Additional Software” page and uncheck all the boxes—otherwise EaseUS will try to install some bundled crapware along with its disk cloning tool.
  • A backup of your data. We can’t stress this enough. It’s completely foolish to start messing around with your hard drive without a backup. 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.

Step One: Tidy Up Your Current Hard Drive

If you’re migrating to a drive that’s smaller than you’re current one—which is often the case if you’re moving to an SSD—you’ll run into a problem right off the bat. There isn’t enough room on your destination drive for all your files!

To check the capacity of each drive, plug your SSD into your computer and wait for it to show up in Windows Explorer. right-click on each drive and select “Properties”. In the two screenshots below, you see our old drive’s (left) used space (141 GB) is larger than what our new drive (right) can hold (118 GB).

 

You’ll probably encounter something similar. So, before you migrate your data, you’ll need to clean up your current hard drive.

Start by deleting any files you don’t need. That means old movies, TV shows, music, old backups, and anything else that takes up a lot of space. Uninstall any programs you don’t use anymore, then run Disk Cleanup to get rid of any other junk on your system. You may even want to run a program like CCleaner to make sure everything is squeaky clean.

That’ll help a little, but in some cases, it may not be enough. If you run out of things to delete, it means you’ll have to find a new place to store personal files such as your pictures, documents, movies, music, and more, because they won’t fit on  your new drive.

You have a couple of options:

  • An external hard drive: If you have an external hard drive lying around (that you aren’t using for important backups!), now’s the time to use it. You will need to move all your precious files over to it in order to slim down your Windows partition.
  • A second internal drive: This usually isn’t an option available to a lot of laptop users, but if you’re a desktop user, you could buy a large, cheap extra hard drive and move your files to that. You can even move the location of your Documents, Music, and other folders after you migrate, so Windows never skips a beat. 
  • Cloud storage: If you don’t have any extra hard drives, you could move those extra files to a cloud-based solution like Dropbox or OneDrive. Just keep in mind that if you don’t have your personal files stored to the cloud yet, it might take a while (like days or even weeks) to upload them, so just be prepared. Once you’ve moved all your stuff over to your cloud folders, you can unsync them to free up that drive space.

Remember, since your new hard drive is smaller than your old one, you’ll need to find a new permanent place to store them, so pick the solution that works best for you long-term.

Step Two: Update Your SSD’s 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, for example, 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, since you haven’t copied anything to it yet.

Step Three: Clone Your Drive With EaseUS Todo Backup

Now it’s finally time for the main event. Fire up the EaseUS application and click “Clone” on the main screen.

sshot-1

First, select your source disk. This will be  your current Windows system drive. Our system drive consists of three partitions: an active boot partition, the actual Windows partition, and a recovery partition. We want to clone all three, so we’re just going to place a check next to the hard disk to make sure they’re all selected. Click “Next” to proceed.

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Now you need to select your SSD as the destination. In our case, that’s “Hard Disk 4”, containing 119 GB of unallocated space. Make absolutely sure you choose the correct drive, or you could lose data!

Place a check by it, and then check the “Optimize for SSD” box, which will ensure you get the best performance possible out of your resulting Windows installation.

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Now, before you click “Next”, take a minute to click the “Edit” button next to your SSD.

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EaseUS will show you what your resulting drive will look like. In some cases, you may need to do some tweaking here. For example, on my SSD, EaseUS wanted to make the boot and recovery partitions much larger, even though they contain less than a gigabyte of data. I’d rather have that space on my main Windows partition, so I needed to resize these before continuing.

To resize these partitions, first select one, then drag the handles that appear between the partitions, much as if you were resizing a File Explorer window.

I then resized my main Windows partition to fill the rest of the empty space.

Depending on your drive’s layout, you may have to alter things in a different way. When you’re done, click “OK” to continue. Double-check that everything looks right, and click “Proceed” to start the clone operation.

If you get the following warning, click “OK” to continue.

The actual length of the operation will depend on how big your source drive is, as well as the speed of the storage mediums and your computer. For us, it took about 10 minutes.

If you run into any errors during this process, you may need to use a third-party defragmenting tool on your current system drive—in some cases, system files sitting on the end of a drive can make it difficult to resize.

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When the operation is completed, click “Finish”.

As you can see in the following screenshot, our new system drive is already showing up in File Explorer. All that’s left now is to begin using it.

To do this, the next steps are fairly simple. Shut down your computer, remove the old drive and install the new in the same place. Restart your computer and it should boot from your new drive automatically.

If you’re using a desktop computer and want to leave the old drive in place—perhaps as a backup or storage device—then you will need to boot into your system BIOS (usually by holding the Delete button before the Windows boot logo appears). From there you will need to point your BIOS at the new drive as the first one to boot. You can follow our instructions on booting from USB to do this—just select your new hard drive instead of a disc or USB drive in the instructions.

In either case, when you reboot, you should find that your SSD is now listed as the C: drive. (If it isn’t, double-check you performed the above steps correctly.)

Step Four: Put the Finishing Touches On Your SSD

Once your new system drive is up and running, you’ll need to do a few last things to make sure everything is running in tip-top shape. Here’s what we recommend.

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

Make sure defragmentation is turned off. There is no need to defragment an SSD, and in fact, it’s advisable not to. Windows should handle this automatically, but it doesn’t hurt to check. Open the Start menu and, in the run box, type dfrgui to open the Disk Defragmenter. Click on the Schedule button, then click “Select Disks” Uncheck your SSD (which should be your C: drive) and Click OK.

Restore your personal files. Here you have some decisions to make. While it’s possible that your documents and maybe even your pictures will fit onto your new SSD, it’s unlikely your video and music files will, which means you’re going to need to keep them located elsewhere, such as on a second internal drive (you can use your old drive for this by the way) or an external hard drive.

If you want, you can even point your special user folders to that new location, so Windows will always look there first for the files in question. Just right-click on your Documents, Music, or other user folders and head to Properties > Location > Move… to move them.

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 (there is dubious evidence that this tweak improves performance at all) or disabling the page file (which decreases writes to the SSD but can cause programs to crash if they run out of RAM). These days, you shouldn’t have to do much to keep your SSD running optimally.

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. And remember: Modern SSDs may have limited writes, but they’re far less limited than the SSDs of old—so old advice about avoiding things that write to your drive are pretty outdated. You’ll probably replace your computer before you come even close to wearing out your SSD!

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.

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and died-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.


Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/19/16

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