Are you looking to upgrade your hard drive to that long-awaited SSD or hybrid drive? Congratulations! But first, you’ll have to move your operating system, and all the data it holds, over to the new drive. Windows 10 doesn’t make this easy, but we’re here for you! Here’s the guide you need to clone and swap your Windows 10 install to a new hard drive.
Note: This guide is primarily designed for people who are only switching hard drives. This method may work if you’re building a new rig or switching computers, depending on your setup. It almost certainly won’t work with any sort of virtualization project, though you can find those services if you’re willing to pay for them.
Prepare 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 painless as possible. Thankfully, Windows comes with its own proprietary cleanup tool, which you should use before you move on.
Step 1: Head to Disk Cleanup. Launch the utility as you would normally, or enter “disk cleanup” in the Windows search bar.
Step 2: Once open, you should see a box with a list of file types, which lets you check the files that you want to get rid of. In this case, most file types should be checked, because these are all classifications of files that you don’t need, such as temp files and various Recycle Bin data. It’s always a good idea to double check the various options, just in case there is something you’d like to keep.
Step 3: Click Clean up system files near the bottom of the window. This adds a few extra file types you may want to delete, such as Previous Windows Installations — which can be quite sizable, especially if you’re part of Windows 10’s Windows Insider program. Note: When the Disk Cleanup tool switches to include system file types, it resets any changes you had made to the file type list in Step 2. Bad Windows. Bad!
Step 4: Hit OK to start the Disk Cleanup tool and sweep the gunk out of your system. Even with several GB of data, the process shouldn’t take too long.
Pick a migration tool
Windows 10 doesn’t offer an easy method for cloning and swapping your operating system over to a new hard drive. The good news is that there are plenty of apps that allow you to do exactly that! These are usually backup programs that also include significant cloning functions specifically designed for moving Windows 10 from an old hard drive to an SSD (or similar migrations). There are quite a few to choose from, but below are several free options that we recommend.
EaseUS Todo Backup Free 10.0: The long name hides a well-maintained backup tool, one that boasts an an interface that’s very friendly to both Windows power users and newcomers.
EaseUS Partition Master Professional 11.9: A more professional version with better data management tools, for those who know what they’re doing and want more control over the migration process. Make sure you opt for the free trial version, however, which should be enough to complete your move.
AOMEI Backupper Standard 4.0.2: A long-term backup solution with a lively interface, this app is a great pick if you like the idea of using backup and cloning tools for future projects but don’t have any current solution.
Back up your files
Hey, you just downloaded a backup tool! This is a great time to back up your data in case something goes wrong. Open up your tool and look at the main menu. All of the aforementioned tools have a clear sidebar and top menu with options that include “Backup” or “Backup Tool.” Choose the appropriate option — again, the wording may vary — and select where you’d like to back up your files. Then take the time to complete the process before moving on to the migration procedure.
We probably don’t have to say this, but you shouldn’t back up your data onto the hard drive you are using for migration. Use a separate external hard drive, or specify an online source if you have sufficient storage available there.
Choose your destination drive
Step 1: Connect your new hard drive — or your old hard drive, depending on how or why you are migrating — to your computer. You’ve got a variety of options for connecting a new hard drive, but the most common one is SATA. SATA cables are flat, often red in color, and the connectors have an L-shaped bend at one end. Find a free slot on your motherboard to plug the drive into and a spare power cable coming off your power supply and you should be up and running. If you’re stumped or confused, see our complete guide to installing a SATA hard drive.
Step 2: Open your chosen backup application. In the main menu, look for the option that says “Migrate OS to SSD/HDD,” “Clone,” or simply “Migrate.” That’s the one you want! Choose it.
Step 3: This should open a new window in which the program will detect the drives connected to your computer and ask for a destination drive. Make sure you choose your new SSD or other drive as the destination, and make sure the destination drive has enough room. This window should also provide useful information about the data in each drive — the example below is from EaseUS Partition Manager, the one above is from AOMEI’s Backupper.
Adjust partition sizing
These backup tools will typically give you options to adjust customize partitions. You will have the option to delete partitions on the destination drive, which you may need to do if the drive has been used before or has been set up to work with a different device out of the box. If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to delete the partitions, just to be on the safe side.
You’ll also have an option to choose how partitions are sized when they migrate over. You can choose to make a copy without resizing partitions, but this is usually a poor choice that doesn’t take advantage of the tool. Instead, choose the option to fit and optimize partitions to the new drive. “Optimize,” “Resize,” and similar commands are what you want to look out for.
Stand back and let the cloning begin
The program’s cloning wizard will now take over. Take a look at your drives, and start the migration process. Confirm that you want to proceed, and the software will let you know when it is finished. This can take some time, however, so it’s a good idea to ensure that your power cables are connected and that the older hard drives have plenty of room to “breathe,” so they don’t overheat. Once the migration is complete, reboot your computer and check to see if everything works. Your tool should prompt you to do so, or you can choose to automatically restart your PC after the migration process is complete. Then, you can either delete the backup tool, or keep it around for more data management.
Updated April 19, 2017 by Jeremy Kaplan: Expanded instructions for the Disk Cleanup section, and added a step to the “Choose your destination” section with info on how to connect a hard drive. This article was originally published on July 8, 2015, and updated on February 20, 2017, by Tyler Lacoma to include instructions for Windows 10.