Give my great new hard drive a better body.
August 28, 2006 12:23 AM   Subscribe

COMBINING Hard Drives. Roommate has fast, great computer. I have slow, antiquated one with (among other upgraded parts I've procured) a fast new hard drive (personally installed). Want to install my current drive in her current machine so that all roommates can use one system and still keep my files/ preferences.

Two PCs, the better one a factory Dell. I can do the hardware install, but need to know the finer points of combining two computers. When I access mine, will my Firefox preferences and bookmarks prevail? How will I access mine, and what will the UI be? I think I can set the hardware to slave, but after that, what do I need to do? Will it slow her computer down dramatically? I'm relatively tech-savvy but my skills are under-utilized and rarely required so I only know what I've thus far personally encountered. Thanks in advance!
posted by mireille to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
I don't believe there's any way to boot two machines simultaneously from one hard drive. If you're asking how to move your hard drive to your computer, you can simply replace her hard drive with yours and create user accounts for your roommates. If you simply want to share the data on your hard drive (which wouldn't increase the speed of her system), you can turn on windows file sharing on your machine.
posted by null terminated at 12:40 AM on August 28, 2006

I want to take my (new, fast, recently installed) hard drive out of my (slow) machine and install it in her machine as a second drive, unless I'm wrong in thinking that this is a decent solution. Ideally, I'd want to access it as a separate drive from her drive's "My Computer" window, which would then run everything on my drive as I've configured it, without affecting her computer (IE, if I upgrade Adobe Acrobat, it does so on my drive but not on hers). I'm not so much concerned about sharing as I am keeping my files and preferences, even when I move away from here, but still being able to use them on the one machine we have room for while we live together. Does that help? I appreciate the response!
posted by mireille at 1:13 AM on August 28, 2006

What!? The question as posed makes little sense. I really don't think there's any way to keep things separate like that, short of dual-booting from the two hard drives (ie. installing an entirely separate copy of Windows on each).
posted by reklaw at 5:46 AM on August 28, 2006

So would your computer be out of the picture? It's possible to attach two drives to her computer and boot from one drive or the other, but you wouldn't be able to access the drive from her "My Computer" window and then run everything "as you configured it". Configuration of programs is closely tied to the OS and with two drives and two XP installations, you would need to separately boot into a different installation to retain your settings. If rebooting doesn't bother you, you should be able to hook up your drive as a slave and edit the boot.ini settings, but I'm not an expert on that. Also, if your hard drive has XP on it you may run into licensing problems (XP doesn't like new hardware).
posted by null terminated at 5:59 AM on August 28, 2006

What's the purpose of this? Using her computer with your disk, I am assuming. You should probably just buy some usb memory device if this is the case. I doubt your drive is big enough to really offer her any advantage..
posted by shownomercy at 5:59 AM on August 28, 2006

Would I be right in thinking:
a) You want to boot from her drive
b) You want the storage space on your drive available
c) You want your user account available, with all your settings
d) You don't want to use your only computer at all anymore

I don't know Windows well enough to give you details on how to do this, but basically you just need to plug the hard disk in and copy your user account across.

(I'm concerned about two people sharing one computer when they don't have to, btw)
posted by cillit bang at 6:12 AM on August 28, 2006

You might want to look at the User State Migration Tool in Windows XP to see if it will do what you want. It's not a perfect solution, and is targeted more at people moving to brand new computers, but it might help out in this case.
posted by idlemind at 6:23 AM on August 28, 2006

As others have said, you can't do what you're wanting to do. You can only run one copy of windows per PC, with rare, exotic exceptions that still won't do what you want.

The Windows registry, which contains all kinds of information about installed programs, hardware, and system settings is loaded upon boot. So if you want to put your fast HD in her fast PC, you can't even switch her for yours without some set-up first. The easiest way to do this, is to back-up all your files, write down your important windows settings, save your firefox profile, etc, and install your drive in her machine, as master, but don't boot off of it. Instead installl the drive and boot off a Windows install CD and reinstall windows to the drive. Then copy your files back, re-install your programs so they're set-up for her hardware, and re-do your settings. You'd then create an account for her and copy her files over, re-install her programs, etc. You can copy your user account across, but there are some things that can't be copied across, and there are some things that you'll confuse the OS by copying across, so it's best to re-create as much as you can unless you're sure it's OK to copy it over. Be careful about overwriting anything in C:\windows\, c:\program files\. You should be able to copy over most things in c:\documents and settings\[your username]\, but leave the .\application data\microsoft\ directory out when you copy things over. Better to just back-up your outlook .pst file and re-import it.

Then you'd get to fight over who uses the PC. You're probably better off just upgrading your ram to a gig or so and letting that tide you over until you can replace the processor, mobo, etc. Then you'll have two good machines.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:32 AM on August 28, 2006

A few of these responses seem to ignore the fact that mireille wants to be able to separate the two drives in the future. I don't think there's a clean way of doing what you want and would recommend against it.
posted by null terminated at 6:50 AM on August 28, 2006

A few of these responses seem to ignore the fact that mireille wants to be able to separate the two drives in the future

Ooh. Dual-booting then.
posted by cillit bang at 7:07 AM on August 28, 2006

The problem is not *just* that the drives need to be split later, it's that he (she?) wants to install apps on "his" hard drive, and run apps off "his" hard drive, and not affect the other hard drive. This ought to be easy to do, but it's NOT, at least not under windows. I'd say it's not really even in the realm of possibility.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:40 AM on August 28, 2006

I really think that dual booting is the only clean solution here, though annoying to have to reboot to change users.

You could also just share the hard drive over your LAN and keep both machines running. If you moved to PortableFireFox instead of the vanilla edition, you could run it from the shared drive and maintain all of your settings, extensions, bookmarks, etc. and it would not affect anything on your room mate's computer.

Of course, if any of the apps you want to use are not portable or don't have a portable variant, this might not work as well.
posted by utsutsu at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2006

It wont work. Even if you both have the same filesystem and the same os, your drive won't read properly in her system because of different hardware architectures. I'll assume your pc is a Pentium 2/3 or AMD 3D Now (you never said), while your roommates pc is a likely P4 class. Your data won't jibe with the new arch.

It may be readable if you drop your current drive in as a secondary drive, but it'll be unstable as all heck and the data will inevitably corrupt.
posted by rinkjustice at 8:40 AM on August 28, 2006


You may not be able to boot the old drive on the new computer in every case depending on the OS involved -- some Windows variants do a lot of configuration at install time such that a given boot disk sometimes won't boot on hardware substantially different from the machine it was installed on (I recall 2000 being pretty picky when I tried to move a drive from one machine to another, and ended up reformatting and reinstalling). This is much more likely with exotic hardware (such as RAID controllers) that probably isn't involved here, so it may well boot fine. Or it may not. If it doesn't, it has nothing to do with the data "jibing with a new arch."

In any case it most certainly will not corrupt your data to use the old disk is a second drive.
posted by kindall at 9:06 AM on August 28, 2006

This is doable:

You can simply install the new drive in the faster PC. You will have to remove the motherboard driver, video driver, sound driver, etc. There's a MS technet article on how to do this properly. Ideally this can be done without reinstalling windows. A non-techie will probably have problems doing this. This will leave you with two bootable disks in a single computer, which is a problem. You will need a boot manager of some sort (the built in windows one might work, might not).

The easy way is to simply create a user on the new computer with the same username you have on the old one. Then log out, log in as administrator, and copy your old profile from your old computer to your new one. Assuming theyre either both 2000, XP, or a mix. You can use a usb drive to move your profile from the old computer to the new one.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:24 AM on August 28, 2006

I think I may understand what you're getting at. You want to use her PC but keep you HDD and personal account settings (bookmarks, desktop, etc etc).

Two options:

1) Buy an external enclosure for your current drive, set the jumpers to 'slave' and connect your drive via firewire or usb.

2) Set the jumpers on your drive to 'slave' and install it in the other machine as a secondary drive.

Your HDD should show up simply as another drive on the machine with all your files intact (OS included). Then simply create a new user account on her machine and clone all your previous settings. Note that you won't actually be booting from your drive, you'll be booting from her drive but still have access to your files.

Another thing. Chances are, but I could be wrong, any installed Apps on your HDD won't work on her machine. It may work but I've never tried this. In fact, its worth a shot. It probably works especially if yours is a slightly older machine.

I currently have this setup. I bought a new laptop not long ago and have been lazy about transferring files from my old desktop to my new laptop. So I have my old HDD in an external enclosure and I have access to everything just fine.

This way if you store/edit all your files on YOUR HDD when you're ready to move on just simply reset the jumpers to 'master' and you have your HDD back for your old computer.

I'll try running an app from my secondary HDD when I get home to see if theres any issues and get back to you.
posted by ASM at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2006

Damn dirty ape:

In my experience there was no need to unistall drivers etc. I had no issues. Also, if he sets his drive as slave he shouldn't have to worry about 2 seperate bootable disks. The PC will automatically boot from the master.
posted by ASM at 9:31 AM on August 28, 2006

VMware could provide some kind of a solution.
You could install your new fast drive as a secondary (non-boot) drive in your RM's machine, install VMware and set up a virtual machine using your drive. When you move, you buy a decent computer, pop the drive in, install Vmware on it and fire up the virtual machine.
There is of course some overhead involved (=it's going to be slower) and some amount of hassle. Also, you'll be locked into VMware.
posted by Thug at 9:34 AM on August 28, 2006

As everyone else has said, dual boot is probably your best bet here, and even then you're going to run into problems because of the hardward configurations being different. It's enough of a pain that whenever I do a sufficiently massive upgrade to my own system (ex. whenever the motherboard gets replaced) I back everything up, wipe the hard drive, and start from scratch. If you really want to go down this road, I suggest you do the same.

The other option is to simply create a new user account on your roomie's PC, install the second hard drive, and reinstall all your applications from the new user account, using your second drive as the installation point. But then you won't be able to remove your hard drive and plug it back into another computer without major complications.

Think hard about why you feel you want/need to do this. It's not trivial, could screw things up on both systems, and still leaves you with the problem of two people (or more!) on one computer. In fact, if you can't see the many ways in which this could go wrong or just not work, then you're probably not knowledgable or experienced enough to pull this off. My advice? Use your slow, antiquated computer and save up for upgrades.

One last note: simply installing the second hard drive into your roomie's computer is unlikely to harm anything. You won't be able to boot using that hard drive unless you work some weird boot order mojo in the BIOS (and remember the caveats above about dual booting, aka it won't work without major trauma), but you will be able to see all your MP3s and documents and stuff.
posted by chrominance at 1:58 PM on August 28, 2006

Oh, also, to address some previous posts: simply copying the user profile to your roomie's current Windows install is unlikely to work. The Copy Profile procedure is generally used to clone a profile that already exists on the system; your profile would just be so many bits of data on a hard drive, and your roomie's Windows install won't pick it up without coercion. I'm not entirely sure what this coercion would involve, but I imagine some registry hacking would be necessary; at the very least, you'll have to be able to tell your profile where all your applications are stored, as they'd no longer be on the C: drive. There are probably tons of other things that will need to be manually repaired, as Windows wasn't really built for the sort of operation you're trying to perform.

Having access to your files is one thing; having access to all your user settings is quite another.
posted by chrominance at 2:04 PM on August 28, 2006

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