cloning or copying a hard drive
July 12, 2012 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Copying a windows partition to bigger disk. How should I do it?

I'm giving my netbook a new hard drive, and (because it has no optical drive) I've decided I can't be bothered to install WindowsXP on it again. So I want to clone it.

What's the best choice of software to do this? As always, preferably free.

To make life easier (potentially) I have enough free SATA slots that I could plug the new and old hard drives into my desktop Vista machine and do it that was instead of trying to clone across USB. If it's in a different machine (and therefore not an active boot drive) can I just copy the files instead of cloning them?

posted by sodium lights the horizon to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If it's in a different machine (and therefore not an active boot drive) can I just copy the files instead of cloning them?

No. The cloning process doesn't just copy the files in question, but the partitions too. This is important, because there's a boot partition that the BIOS looks for to tell whether a drive is bootable or not, and your OS has files in there to get things started. Simply copying the data partition isn't going to do it.

But you can get clone software that will let you do this, even with a drive you're not booting from. Check it out.

If you wind up with partitions on the new disk that don't take up the whole space, you're probably okay. Windows is now pretty good about letting you expand existing partitions to take up previously unformatted space without formatting everything from scratch.
posted by valkyryn at 11:34 AM on July 12, 2012

I'm comfortable with Linux command line tools, so I use GNU ddrescue to clone disks, cfdisk to modify their partition tables and ntfsresize to expand the cloned NTFS filesystem to fill the new, larger partitions. The Trinity Rescue Kit is a free live CD that contains all these tools.

Pointy clicky people would probably be happier using GParted off an Ubuntu live CD.

The main things to be aware of when cloning a Windows installation is that the partition you're moving stuff
posted by flabdablet at 11:50 AM on July 12, 2012

Acronis has trial software (True Image Home) that will clone a drive - I did this just last week to move from a HD to an SSD, and it worked like a champ.
posted by DandyRandy at 11:56 AM on July 12, 2012 should start at the same disk sector as the one you copied it from; if not, you need to patch the partition boot sector (not the master boot record) to make the clone bootable again. The most reliable tool I know of for doing that is Microsoft's fixboot, included in the XP Setup disc's Recovery Console.

If your new disk is an Advanced Format (4K physical sectored) type, you will probably want to do this anyway - it's highly likely that the original Windows partition starts at sector 63, but for efficient operation on an Advanced Format drive you will want the clone to start at sector 64 or some other multiple of 8 (there are 8 logical 512-byte sectors per 4K physical sector).
posted by flabdablet at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2012

WinXP's Windows Explorer built-in file copy (the ordinary ctrl-c/ctrl-v or drag & drop you use in Windows Explorer) had a nasty habit of running into some kind of problem mid-copy and just stopping dead.

So you'd be 45 minutes into a 3 hour copy operation and it would stop because some file name was too long or had an illegal character or who knows just what. That would leave you with 14,252 of 42,340 files copied and no real way to figure out how to pick up where you left off.

I think Vista/Win7's Explorer has improved some in this area but I still wouldn't trust it for a major thousands of files type copy/paste job for that kind of reason. It's just not designed for that use. Use a dedicated disk clone utility or (if you're going to go for the file copy route for some particular reason--though as others have mentioned, that is not the best approach) a robust file copy utility, not just regular old copy/paste like you might use for 10-20 files.
posted by flug at 12:45 PM on July 12, 2012


And from my experience, copying small partition onto a larger disk just means the larger disk will have a partition the size of the cloned disk, plus extra space for [an] additional partition[s].

Then you can use this wonderful program, EaseUs Partition Master, to resize the initial partition to the full size of the drive, if you want. (Free.)
posted by Sunburnt at 1:17 PM on July 12, 2012

If either drive is a Western Digital, you can use Acronis True Image WD Edition, which is free.

If either drive is a Seagate, you can use Seagate Disc Wizard, which is free.

Both are customized versions of Acronis True Image. The customization is basically only checking for one of those branded drives in the system when you use it, and the name of the program, but unlimited in use otherwise. It doesn't matter which drive is the one it checks for. If you have three drives attached, even through USB, as long as one is the brand of the program, it will work even if you are cloning between the other two disks, which aren't of the brand.

They keep these programs updated, but these might be one version behind what Acronis itself offers as a trial or full version. No problem for disk cloning. The Seagate page has a link to download a nice PDF instruction book which should apply to all three.
posted by caclwmr4 at 5:26 PM on July 12, 2012

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