Cloning a Hard Drive the Easy Way

Cloning a hard drive is merely putting all the contents of one hard drive to another — like copy and paste, except on a much larger scale than that. It is a useful process if you would like to buy a new hard drive for your computer and you would like to copy your Operating System and all files across.

Why clone a drive?

Why do you want to clone a drive? The most common reason is moving from a traditional hard drive to a solid state drive, because SSDs are much faster and more reliable.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is put the second drive in your computer. A USB External Hard Drive (not a flash drive) or a normal SATA hard drive installed by opening your machine and installing it. Putting in a second drive can be somewhat complicated. Take a look at this article for more on this subject.

What do I use to clone a drive?

Next, you’re going to want to use a program that will allow you to do this — for the sake of simplicity, we’ll be using DriveImage XML for this tutorial.

Clone a Hard Drive
This is what the program looks like once you boot it up. Click the drive-to-drive icon.

Hard drive terms

First off, you’re going to be seeing a lot of terms you’re unfamiliar with. Try not to worry.

Aspects of hard drives you need to learn about include partition tables, partitions, sectors, tracks, and file systems.

Partition tables — also called Master Boot Records — reside at the beginning of each drive and point towards each partition on the drive, where the the files reside.

Partitions themselves are what the OS views as a drive — multiple partitions on a single hard drive can allow different operating systems and file systems to be installed on different partitions.

Tracks are circles going around the disk, storing data, and sectors are smaller parts of tracks, storing smaller portions of data.

File systems are what your OS uses to sort through the files you have, with popular file systems including FAT32 (used by most SD cards) and NTFS, which is used by Windows for its partitions.

The Easy Steps to Cloning a Drive

To clone a drive, you’re going to need to have the new drive where all this data is going inside of your computer. The drive you’re currently using will be labeled C: — whatever letter your computer names your new drive is where you’re going to be cloning the old drive to. Be sure that you don’t have a flash drive or SD card plugged in at this time — your computer can’t boot Windows from those, and you don’t want to accidentally pick them from the menu when you’re selecting the new drive for your data to migrate to.

Clone a Hard Drive
After that, clone your C: drive to your new hard drive.
Once you’ve selected the new drive in the program and the cloning process starts, rejoice — you can rest easy while the program does the rest of the needed work for you. However, caution is advised: do not make dramatic changes to your computer when booting from the new drive, and take the old drive out when booting for the first time from the new one. If, for some reason, my instructions are followed and Windows still doesn’t trust your identification, just call up Microsoft and explain what happened. They should get you a new key for no fee — or a small one — and you should be good to go.

Also, remember that you won’t be able to use the same Windows on the old drive and the new drive simultaneously. Microsoft only allows for one license per PC.

One final note: If your new drive is smaller than the old, you’re going to need to back up and delete files from the first drive to bring it down in size first, before you clone.

Enjoy your cloned drive!

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