Want to Move Your Windows Install to a New Hard Drive? Here’s How

Now Reading
Want to Move Your Windows Install to a New Hard Drive? Here’s How

Whether you intend to move your Windows install to a new hard drive, SSD, or a an entirely new rig all together, migrating your your files can be a bit tricky. But, if you follow our guide, you should have no trouble preserving and moving your files and settings to new hardware.Related: Windows 10 is coming and here are five reasons you should upgrade

Preparing your system

Before copying and moving anything, it’s important to make sure you clean out your files to make the transition as quick and smooth as possible. Delete any unnecessary files such as junk folders and old downloads, and furthermore, empty your recycling bin and defrag your hard drive if you’re using an HDD. Afterwards, you should back up files and folders you deem important, just in case any errors occur during the migration process. That way, you’ll have a secure copy of your files should something go wrong.

1479935664-7492-ws-disk-defragmenter-715x513Although not completely necessary, it’s also a good idea to locate your Windows installation disk or USB key — if you have one — and keep it handy. While you probably won’t need it, there’s always a possibility the new drive won’t boot properly. If that’s the case, using your installation DVD or USB key to repair the boot partition on the drive may fix your problem. Plus, if all else fails, you can always opt for a clean install as a last resort.


The major step for migrating your files is to copy — or clone — the drive where your current Windows installation is located. There are multiple ways to do this, and there is no shortage of both free and premium programs that will allow you to accomplish this step. The first and best way is to back up the drive directly to the new hard drive you’re using, either by mounting it internally or attaching it externally via USB, the latter method of which may require some extra materials (i.e. hard drive housing and a USB cable). This is by far the quickest process, though, as the data from one drive is copied directly to the other. The only thing to be sure of here is that the space available on the new drive is equal to or larger than the size of the current one.

1479935664-4555-restore-in-windows-7-904x602Now, in case for whatever reason the cloning method doesn’t work for you, you can always create a disk image instead. A disk image is essentially a compressed file that houses all your settings and files, which can be read and used to restore your system. Moreover, Windows has the ability to create an image of your system without the need for third-party programs. The tools for doing so can be found in the Control Panel, within the Backup and Restore section. The utility will guide you through the entire process, allowing you to save the image to a blank DVD or connected drive or storage device. Now that you’ve got your image file, your next step is to apply your image to the new hardware.


1479935664-2147-drive-format-650x366Before beginning the migration process, there are a few things to keep in mind. The available space on your new drive must be greater than the total space taken up by the data on your current drive, and furthermore, the new drive must be formatted to Microsoft’s proprietary file system (aka NTFS). It most likely is, but follow the directions below just to make sure:

  • Open My Computer in the Windows Start menu, right-click the drive, and click Properties.
  • A pop-up window should appear detailing the hard drive’s information. The drive’s current format is displayed within the General tab, directly beside “File system.”
  • If the new drives format is anything other than NTFS, format the drive and select NTFS as your desired formatting type.
  • Double check the size of the two drives, comparing the total space used in the current drive and the available space in the new one. The available space needs to be the greater number.


Once your drive is ready to go, it’s time to move your files.

Disk clone option

If you’ve chosen to go with the direct copy method and you’re running Windows 7, then using the Windows Backup and Restore utility is likely your best bet for moving your Windows install. However, if you’re running another version of Windows — such as Windows Vista or Windows 8.1 — or would rather use a third-party application to clone your drive, that will work, too. Hard drive manufacturers sometimes include a migration utility in-box with their drives, which should work just fine. Whatever you do, do not just copy and paste your entire drive to the new location. Many files will not properly copy to the new drive if you use the latter method and you’ll end up with an incomplete transfer and unusable drive.

1479935664-2508-full-main-668x452Once started, carefully follow the on-screen instructions for your migration program. If the application touts the ability to allocate memory to the new partition you’re creating, and you don’t plan on needing another partition for dual booting, then allow the program to do so. Moving all your data is going to take some time, especially for larger amounts of data, but your system should be successfully moved to the new drive once the migration is complete.


Start up your system, making sure the device with the disk image — either a DVD or drive — is plugged in and set to boot from. Your system will enter System Repair Mode and a wizard will guide you through the proper steps to ensure the image is applied to the drive correctly. At this point, all you have to do is wait for the data to be written. This part can take a while depending on how much data is on the image, but your PC will automatically restart once the data is finished being written assuming there are no errors during this process.

Congratulations, your files have been successfully migrated! It’s time to make sure that your hardware is configured correctly. On the next pages, we’ll detail how to check your boot priority and partition sizes for the new hard drive. You’re likely good to go at this point if you migrated your data to an entirely different rig, however, it still may be worth checking the next pages just to be sure.



It’s time to use the new drive. If you’re planning on only using this new drive in your PC, then once your hard drive has been successfully copied to your new drive, shut down your PC and remove the old drive (you can skip to the next step as well). If you’re planning on using both drives in your system, you’ll need to change the boot order of your drives in your PC’s BIOS menu at startup. This is a simple process, but if you’re unfamiliar with editing BIOS, we’ve got you covered.

  • Upon booting up the system, you will be prompted with a message such as “press F2 on your keyboard to enter BIOS.” Keep in mind that the required key(s) will vary between computers, as will the BIOS interface itself.
  • Press the designated key and wait for the system to enter setup mode. You may have to be fast about this, as the system’s firmware can load quickly. It’s also important to note that some systems have a separate option for directly opening the boot menu. Be sure to read the on-screen prompts at startup.
  • From here, your PC will enter BIOS. Search for a tab or option labeled “boot” and, using the arrows keys to navigate, press the Enter key to select the “boot” tab or option.
  • Locate the boot priority screen. The bootable devices should be listed in numerical order from top priority to lowest. Following the on-screen key commands, move the new drive above the old drive on the priority list.
  • The last step is to save your changes, exit, and restart your computer.


Your BIOS boot sequence should resemble this.

Next, we’ll double check to ensure your drive is correctly partitioned.


Unless the cloning utility took care of allocating the full available space to the new partition, you’ll need to do so manually — otherwise you’ll have all this unusable space sitting on your hard drive.

  • Open up Control Panel and navigate to the System and Security tab.
  • Under Administrative Tools, click on “Create and format hard drive partitions,” which will bring up your Disk management.
  • Locate the drive and the partition you wish to extend. Right-click the partition and select “extend partition,” then in the following dialog box, indicate how much space you wish the partition to take up (likely the entirety of the unused space). Afterward, click “extend.”

From here, your partition should now have access to all available space on the new drive.


If you’ve removed the old hard drive, it’s always a good idea to keep it around even if you’re not using it. There’s a chance something could go wrong, or the new drive could fail to live up to your expectations. If that’s the case, you can swap out the hard drives and restore your previous data. If all goes well, you can put the drive in an external housing and attach it via USB to be used as an external storage device.

If you used an image file to restore your system on the new drive, hold on to it. You never know when you might need a solution for restoring your installation if something goes wrong.