Buying a new laptop or a better hard drive is always fun, but the part we all dread is migrating all the data from one device to another. Luckily, there is no shortage of ways in which this can be done, or of software which can be used to ease this time-consuming process. Creating an exact copy of a hard drive is pretty straightforward, and it allows you to quickly pick up where you left off on your old device.
I’ve had lots of clients who bought new laptops and wanted to migrate their data on the new device, and since the process is very simple, you can do do it yourself without the need of paying an IT professional for this job. The same is true if you upgrade your laptop’s hard drive and you don’t want your data to be disturbed. The following guide will show you how to completely clone a laptop hard drive and mirror all the information onto another drive or device.
Before we begin
As mentioned before, there are lots of ways in which this can be done, and depending on your situation, they will help you move to a new laptop with minimum fuss. Before we move on to the actual cloning or imaging of your device, we must go over the stuff needed to make this happen:
- An External HDD / a new HDD / your new laptop
- A cloning / mirroring software (we will discuss these later on)
- An empty DVD and DVD burner / USB drive
- Optional: Philips head screwdriver
You might wonder why there are three devices listed at item number 1. This is why we mentioned that there are more than one way to migrate all your data from an old laptop /HDD to a new one. It all depends on the circumstances and how you want to go about the issue. Let me take you through the usual scenarios I’ve encountered:
Scenario 1: “I’ve bought a new laptop and I want all my files to be exactly the same”
If this is your case, then we’ll start from the assumption that you don’t want to take out the HDD from your new laptop and void the warranty (if that is not a problem for you, then Scenario 2 is the way to go), so that leaves you with the option of creating a system image and installing it on the new device. For this option to work, you would need an external storage device for your system image (an external HDD would do fine) and a recovery disc (either DVD or USB drive).
Scenario 2: “My laptop’s HDD is too small and I want a bigger one, but I also want to retain all my files”
More often than not, this is the situation you will be in. As the need for more and more storage space increases, every user will be looking towards faster and larger hard drives. This is the case for those of you who want to upgrade your laptop’s storage with an SSD (solid state drive) for better speed. Keep in mind that if you want to upgrade to an SSD, you will need to purchase a big one if you plan on completely cloning your old drive, and that can cost you a pretty penny.
If you find yourself in this position, then you can go about this problem in a number of ways. The simplest of all is to connect your new HDD to your old laptop via USB and make a complete clone. You will need some specialized software and a docking station / converter to complete this action, but in terms of difficulty, it is pretty basic. The hardware needed to do this is pretty cheap and widely available, so don’t panic, and for the software, there are lots of free programs which can accomplish this task.
Scenario 3: “I want to keep a complete backup of my files in case my hard drive crashes”
This scenario is the easiest to handle, as you have lots of flexibility. Making a system image is the preferred method if you wish to keep all your software and files intact. It would be my advice to keep your system image on a different drive than the one you are using for day-to-day work, or if you have access to a NAS or any external storage device which has the necessary capacity. The size of your image depends on how many files you have on the drive you wish to image, but regular backups will be necessary if you want to keep your system image up to date.
Cloning vs. System Image: What’s the difference?
We’ve kept talking about system images or hard drive cloning, but what exactly is the difference between the two. Well, there’s a simple explanation for these two terms. First off, you should know that they both do the same thing, but, granted, in a different fashion. As you’ve seen from our three scenarios, each of them is better suited for a specific occasion. Apart from your personal files, these solutions also mirror the master boot, file system and everything else on your selected partition, right down to the hidden folders and file location.
A system image is more or less like a photograph of your partition. It takes all the data from the partition you wish mirror and basically creates a huge .zip file of it which you can move or burn to another drive. The downside of this feature is that the system image is not readily accessible, as it needs to be expanded either with a Recovery Disc or with specialized software.
A hard drive clone is pretty much what it sounds like: an identical copy of your drive or partition. The difference here is that this option does not create an image or recovery file, but it copies everything from one hard drive to another. Think of when you copy a file from one place to another, but this time you copy an entire partition or hard drive with its master boot and everything else that makes the OS run. This option is a good way to go when you have access to both hard drives (the one you wish to copy and the one you want to copy to), and if the warranty is voided on your new laptop if you take out the hard drive, then this isn’t the way to go.
How to create a System Image of your HDD or Partition
Creating a system image of a partition or hard drive isn’t as complicated as it sounds. With the right software, it can be done in minutes, but you will need somewhere to store it. It is recommended that you store this image on a secondary drive, an external HDD or on an NAS (if you own one).
There are plenty of disk management programs which can create a system image pretty quickly. For some time now, I’ve been using EaseUS ToDo Backup, which is a specialized backup and recovery program. There is a free version of the software which you can use, but its features are somewhat limited, however, if you are just looking for a tool to create a system image, then it will suit you just fine.
Note: Keep in mind that the system image you will create will be pretty big, depending on how many files you have on your drive / partition, so factor in the empty space of the drive you want to save the file on.
If you want a few more options, or additional information on disk cloning and imaging, do check out our tutorial on how to clone a hard drive. If you are interested in another software which can help you create a system image, here are few suggestions to get you started:
- Acronis Backup / Acronis True Image Home
- Macrium Reflect
- Norton Ghost
- Paragon Backup & Recovery 2014
The process of creating the system images is fairly simple, and all of these programs offer a wizard which will guide you through the process.
How to Restore your files from a System Image
Now that you know how to create a system image, and you know what you will need to install it, it’s time to get down to business and actually migrate all your data from one laptop to another. For this you will need a restore disc, which can be created either on a DVD or USB drive. Windows offers users the possibility to create these recovery discs with ease, just by following a simple wizard.
Before you start the burning process of the image, you will need to create either a DVD or USB stick with the Windows Recovery, which you will use to access the system image. Microsoft offers some information on how to create the recovery disc, and here are the steps involved:
- Type in “Create a recovery drive” in your Search charm
- Click on the utility and this will open a window
- If you have a checkbox labeled “Copy the recovery partition from the PC to the recovery drive“, make sure it is checked, if not, continue by clicking Next
- Insert a USB stick in your laptop (Note: the USB stick must be 256MB or larger)
- Follow the wizard and wait for the recovery stick to be created
After you’ve created your recovery USB drive, plug it into your new laptop along with the external HDD containing the system image and boot from the USB drive. You should see the Windows Troubleshooter open. From here, click on “Troubleshoot” and then select “Advanced Options” -> “System Image Recovery“. A window will open asking you to select the latest system image (the wizard should automatically select the latest one if there are more than one images) and after selecting the latest one, go ahead and click Next. In the next window, you can customize the recovery by only selecting to recover certain partitions from the image. Now you’re almost done, click Next and in the last window select “Finish” and let the installer do its thing.
How to Make a Clone of your Hard Drive
You know by now that cloning a laptop hard drive basically mirrors your HDD onto another one, creating an exact copy down to the last byte, but in order for this solution to work, you will going to need a new HDD which is either the same size or larger than the one you want to image. Also, you will need to take out the new hard drive from your new laptop, which might void the warranty. But this method is still great if you plan on upgrading your laptop’s internal storage, or you want to mirror a partition onto an SSD.
The mirroring process is a walk in the park once you have all the necessary equipment, and what I mean by this is specialized software and an adapter which will allow you to connect the new HDD to your old laptop via USB. The connection can be made either via a SATA/IDE to USB adapter or a USB docking station, both of which are easily obtainable with a visit to your local computer store or a quick search on Amazon. Depending on what model of connector you have, follow the instructions and connect your new HDD to your laptop and then we’ll start the cloning process.
For the actual cloning, we’ll be using again EaseUS ToDo Backup, which is a very versatile tool that provides lots of features and is both lightweight and easy to use. Of course, if you have another software you wish to use, it’s totally fine, as long as it offers the possibility to clone a hard drive or a specific partition, depending on your needs. I’ve found that Macruim Reflect works just as fine for this job, as it also offers support for GPT, which is important when trying to clone Windows 8.
Other software which might help you clone or copy files from one hard drive to another might work just as well, like we’ve shown you in our tutorial on how to clone a hard drive, and to give you a starting point in your search, here are some of our picks:
The interface of each cloning software will be somewhat different, but once you’ve located the cloning option, there will be a wizard guiding you through the entire process. The baseline is simple: select the source drive (or partitions) and the destination drive and wait for the process to complete. Keep in mind that depending on how much data there is to move, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, so be patient.
Note: If you are cloning your hard drive to use it in a new laptop, keep in mind that there will be some compatibility issues with the drivers, so it’s better to uninstall all the unnecessary drivers before starting the cloning process. This is also true for creating a system image. But if you do encounter issues after you have mirrored your laptop hard drive, then a system refresh should take care of the problem. If you have a utility like Norton which can check your drivers, give it a try and your problems should be solved.