Can I use a clone of an old hard drive on a new (Win XP) computer?
March 3, 2016 11:08 AM   Subscribe

It is possible to clone a hard drive from a failing computer, put that disk image on a drive in a NEW computer, and expect the installed software to just work?

My workplace has a frustrating combination of 3 things: (1) mission-critical hardware which can only be operated with an outdated program which runs only on Windows XP, (2) a spectacularly failing Windows XP computer, and (3) an "IT person" who only barely knows what he's doing (me).

It is reasonable to clone a hard drive from a failing computer, put that image on a drive in a NEW computer, and expect the software to just work? The software in question is a suite of programs that interface via serial-to-fiber-optic converter with a Daktronics marquee message display. The boards we have are no longer supported and it's difficult to get a copy of the control software that I could install on a new PC (well, a refurb -- it has to be XP), so ideally I would just clone the installation of the software we currently have. I don't want any pieces of the old computer in the new computer, as everything seems to be failing in cascade, so I'll have to copy the whole drive. I can't find reliable information on whether that's possible/feasible.

If I can't just image the old drive onto a new one and put it in a new computer, I'll resign myself to having to track down the no-longer-available control software. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!
posted by penduluum to Technology (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It looks like VMware has products that can migrate physical installations onto virtual machines. If a virtual machine can be set up to run your message display (I have no idea) it would make things a lot easier the next time your computer gets old.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 11:18 AM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you tried running the software on a more recent windows machine? Under the covers less changed in some ways. I have not run into it but there's a limit to how much can change in a system before the the OS pirate flags get triggered and it shuts down (or refuses to boot). Making an image of the disk, cloning to a new disk on a new computer may be the safest first thing to try.
posted by sammyo at 11:21 AM on March 3, 2016

It's fairly likely your XP install does not have any drivers around for a whole bunch of important parts of the new computer (video card, disk controller, USB controller, and a lot of lower level stuff). So I wouldn't expect it to just boot and work.
posted by aubilenon at 11:21 AM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hmm. On further thought, as long as you don't erase the original, there's absolutely zero risk in trying to boot up the cloned image, so you might as well try it. If it doesn't work, which is fairly likely, then you can start looking into other migration paths.
posted by aubilenon at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might be able to set up a virtual machine on the new computer (on Windows or Linux, whichever you prefer), install XP in that, and then hunt down and copy all settings and relevant files for your software and copy them over to the new XP installation. Worth a try.
XP software can sometimes be copied over from one machine to the other and still run. Been there, done that. It's dirty, but if it works, that's a solution.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:31 AM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sometimes. I had a Toshiba XP laptop which the image of would not boot in a Dell desktop, no matter what safe mode type options I used. But I've transplanted hard drives between similar but different desktops and had them work.

Putting VMware Workstation or Virtual Box between the image and the native hardware may help, as you can change the virtual hardware around at will to try to solve problems.
posted by Candleman at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2016

As of April 8, 2014, support and updates for Windows XP are no longer available.

"Mission-critical hardware" and "Windows XP" really shouldn't be in the same sentence.

I would do everything in my power to figure out how to get onto a modern operating system.

This said, sometimes that's not possible (I know someone with a quarter million dollar lab machine hooked to an XP box and the equipment maker has been out of business for a decade, so getting updated software isn't going to happen). To answer your question, it's probably not going to work. Especially if you don't have your original license keys.

In the event you stay on XP this box absolutely needs to be behind a robust firewall with no incoming connections allowed. Better would be to have it air gapped. I'd remove the network card it it were mine.

But like others point out, there's no real downside to trying. There are tons of cloning apps out there and many are even free with the purchase of a new drive.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:33 AM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Windows has mechanisms to deliberately prevent doing what you want. There are a bunch of pieces of hardware in a PC which have unique serial numbers which the CPU can read. (For instance, the ethernet address. Some hard disks have that, too. A lot of mobos have that.) The OS stores all those things, plus a detailed description of all the other hardware even if it doesn't have serial numbers, and each time it boots it compares the current hardware to what it was last time.

Some change is permitted, because the owner may have installed something new or replaced an existing piece (i.e. replacing the display card) but if the changes are too great, Windows will refuse to boot because it decides someone is trying to do exactly what you're describing and that's a violation of the license.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:43 AM on March 3, 2016

Thanks, all. I guess I'm going to give it a try and see what happens -- assuming I can't track down a copy of the software I need, trying to run the installation in a virtual machine is probably my plan B. The marquee vendor can't give me a straight answer on whether the software version I need will run in a VM, but the current version won't, so I don't have high hopes. I've also thought about trying a Windows 7 machine in "Windows XP mode"; yes, it's just moving to another outdated OS, but at least it's only 7ish years old instead of 15.

And yes, I've definitely been advising the decision makers on staff (for years) that we need to stop relying on XP, even if that means budgeting for a $100k-$200k marquee replacement.
posted by penduluum at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2016

VMWare Tools has an option called "Virtualize physical machine". That would be my initial option given your circumstances. I have certainly used this to deal with lumbering old machines in the past.
posted by rongorongo at 12:56 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Whether or not you go to a new box, client VM software or baremetal hypervisor you may run into problems getting it to boot due to the disk driver the old machine used inside XP. If it was set for ide or ahci you're in better luck than if it's raid.

If its a standard serial port plus converter a client VM, virtual box / vmware would be easiest to try.

If it's custom hardware (PCI card, etc) a baremetal hypervisor might be able to pass through to VM, or you could try imaging the disk directly.
posted by TheAdamist at 1:13 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've also thought about trying a Windows 7 machine in "Windows XP mode"
Windows 10 will let you do this too, and since that would put you in this decade, worth a shot.
posted by sageleaf at 1:22 PM on March 3, 2016

I've had relatively good luck getting old software to run on newer systems, using the "run in compatibility mode" flag where needed. The biggest issue is drivers. If you need specific drivers and they don't exist for Windows 7, you can occasionally use 7 in 32-bit install to get around this... but no go for 64 bit.

Worst case I hit was a Roche PCR cycler that used an incredibly outdated Borland Interbase database as a critical part of the PC connection. Manufacturer stated it would only run under Windows 2000. I did some sleuthing, discovered that the database had been end-of-lifed around 2000 or so (WELL BEFORE the software that depended on it had been made, mind you) and had been released to open source some years after that. I did the install, then installed the current version of the Firebird open source database engine, and tweaked the program config files to reference the new database engine rather than the old one. We're still using it, regularly. Have never had a problem. Contacted the vendor and told them it worked. Their tech guy was shocked but excited, because people called him regularly asking him for a fix, and they had never found one. Guess what? They still officially "haven't found one" because my fix doesn't require purchase of a new $50-100k piece of equipment.

The way I see it, you have two options: Leave it alone and admit it's broken, or try to fix it... worst case is, it's still broken, but best case, you're a hero.
posted by caution live frogs at 3:00 PM on March 3, 2016

Windows XP mode

Windows XP mode is just 7 hosting a Windows XP virtual machine- it's worth trying, but YMMV.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:08 PM on March 3, 2016

Windows has mechanisms to deliberately prevent doing what you want.

in XP? afaict tying to hardware signature was added in vista.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:54 PM on March 3, 2016

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