Hard drives and the ghosting of
October 1, 2006 11:55 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a new computer but don't want to reinstall everything from my old one: how far can ghosting hard drives take me?

I've never ghosted a hard drive before, and so apologies if this is a dumb question.

I've upgraded pretty much everything in my computer since I bought it oh so many years ago, but it's coming to the time where I'm thinking about doing the motherboard and processor. The number one stumbling block for me is the idea of having to reinstall all my stuff on a clean system.

Is it possible to ghost my 40 gig system hard drive (also have two other data ones) onto a new larger hard drive in a new computer and have it still work?

It's Windows XP.
posted by Silentgoldfish to Technology (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

I had much luck with "sysprep" from windows. It just re-probed everything on boot.

However, friend did not have any luck, just BSOD.
posted by lundman at 12:01 AM on October 2, 2006

Best answer: I had success with this method.
posted by alexei at 12:18 AM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

I find that reinstalling my applications is a good thing. It gets rid of all the programs that I tried out but found useless or weren't exactly what I was looking for. Remember that AIM client or Torrent Application that you tried like 2 year ago? Its still got files on your hard drive that it didn't completely delete when you uninstalled it. Do you really want to backup stuff you're not even using anymore?

Then again I have a directory of small programs that don't require installation that I carry with me everywhere. So usually only need to install a few programs to get on with some work. This is slightly a holdover from when I didn't have a computer of my own and all of my apps needed to be portable, but I still find it liberating to know even if my computer dies on me, I'll still have most of my applications I need.

You're probably going to have driver issues, ghosting will only take you so far, and its main use is normally computers that are pretty much identical. You have a lab of 100 computers that all have the same hardware or you install all your applications on your computer and then ghost it so that if you have a problem with windows, don't need to install everything new, just restore your backup.

The problem is that when you ghost, you effectively create a duplicate of the files on the system and putting it on a new one. You boot Windows, its still looking for that old network card or hard drive, and when it doesn't find it, things start to go wrong.

It can be a pain to have to sit through the 10-CD install of whatever applications you're looking have installed on your computer, but in the long run, it's probably going to be less of a pain in the ass to do it this way. There may be a way to do it easily but if there is, I haven't come across it yet.
posted by gregschoen at 12:47 AM on October 2, 2006

As far as your programs go, and ignoring driver issues, most of them will work more or less flawlessly, unless they are paid software that authenticates based on MAC address or CPU ID.
posted by fake at 1:05 AM on October 2, 2006

Best answer: The Repair Install method linked above by alexei is the right way to go, and it is simple to do, if you're familiar with your current Windows XP installation. The key thing you have to do when switching motherboards, is to reconstruct the Windows Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) so that the Windows kernel can properly communicate with your new chipset, processor, and remaining system devices, like your USB, on board sound or video, and infrared ports.

Doing a Repair Install basically jacks up Windows XP, performs a full hardware probe on the new motherboard, changes out hardware files and drivers to those compatible with the hardware descriptions it finds from the probe results, and sets your current applications and data files down on the newly built HAL like a mother putting a baby down for a nap. It's especially important to do this if you are changing from an older processor with a single logical processor (like an older Northwood Pentium 4) to a new Core 2 Duo, so that you can take advantage of your new second physical processor. You also need to do the Repair Install to accomodate new drivers for SATA disks, or other disk hardware, that your Windows XP Install CD might not contain, which you supply when prompted from floppy disk, or other location.

Doing a Repair Install is also much, much faster than nuking your system and starting over, and it preserves all your current application settings, data files, bookmarks and links, which represent many, many hours of your personal customizations over the years you've had your computer. For some people, walking away from all this is traumatic in the extreme, and trying to restore it all over a clean install is a process fraught with possibilities for error and failure. Finally, the Repair Install gives you the shortest path to seeing what "real world" improvement your hot new processor and motherboard combination really provides.

Do Ghost your system before you begin the Repair Install, just to make sure you have a current full backup on hand, in case you need to revert your system to its old configuration quickly. And Ghost it again, after you've completed the Repair Install, and verified normal operation on the new hardware, as the best way of doing a full backup with the new HAL. And then Ghost your system regularly, thereafter, to give yourself good backups always.
posted by paulsc at 2:12 AM on October 2, 2006 [3 favorites]

It may seem like it's not worth your time to reinstall everything, but it will absolutely be 'worth' more time than you spend in future time savings, disk space, lowered frustration, etc. Think of it like moving from one apartment to another. Do you try to move everything from your closets exactly as it was, or do you take a little time and sort throught things to see what is just useless clutter at this point?
posted by lorimer at 2:17 AM on October 2, 2006

On re-read of your question, Silentgoldfish, if you are buying a complete new computer, you may want to examine how easy it would be to install your current hard drive in the new machine, while likely ditching the "probably mandatory" new Windows XP OEM installation you'll probably be paying to have. And you'll also want to give some thought to whether doing so will affect your warranty status, or if your new machine will need custom drivers from a hidden system restore partition on your new hard drive.

This may all be pretty straightforward if you are buying a "bare bones" system with no hard disk or operating system bundled with it, but such considerations can be important if you are buying a new Dell, and paying for factory service/extended warranty. You can have additional issues if you don't have suitable Windows XP installation media on hand (SP2 slipstreamed in, if your original install media was the basic Windows XP or XP SP1 media).

It can also be significant if you are not happy with your current bootable hard disk as your system disk going forward. If you've got an older PATA 160 GB drive, and want to buy a computer with a faster, bigger SATA drive, you may have some additional work to do, using Ghost, to "move" your Windows installation to a new machine, before doing a Repair Install to upgrade it for the new motherboard hardware.

All of these issues have straightforward solutions, that you can anticipate, if you plan your upgrade carefully, and organize your upgrade procedure and media in advance. I've Ghosted old slow Windows XP systems, moved them to new disks, and done a Repair Install upgrade to set up new hardware, all in a couple of hours, and it's not that big a deal, once you know what to expect, and are prepared with the install media and drivers you'll need. So, just think through exactly what you'll be doing. research your upgrade path steps exactly, prepare your media and upgrade documentation, and move ahead step by step, as millions of others have.
posted by paulsc at 2:38 AM on October 2, 2006

In my experience, you can't move Windows from one motherboard to another if the motherboards have differing chipsets. It will simply blue screen on boot. I only have circumstantial evidence, however.
posted by knave at 5:16 AM on October 2, 2006

(knave - that's covered in the link alexei posted)
posted by muddgirl at 5:19 AM on October 2, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, alexei and paulsc. Reinstalling everything would be a huger pain in the ass than it seems; some stuff I use I can't remember where I got, other stuff has install cd's buried somewhere in my house (having 4 people on 4 seperate computers means software goes walking!) and biggest of all, the windows 98 CD that I use to install my upgrade of WinXP Pro is currently in London with my ex-girlfriend!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 6:25 AM on October 2, 2006

FWIW, I reinstall my machine about every 3 months. I use Acronis TrueImage to backup and restore my drive using an external USB drive. I have a base default installation of about 2GB which I can restore to my computer in about 15 minutes. Once that's done it's just a matter of reinstalling any programs that I want to continue using. Also during the 3 months I have a running list of all changes that I make to the machine, tweaks, installs (with URLs), activation and registration keys, etc. Then I just work my way back through the list to see what I liked from the last 3 months and would like to have on my new machine.
posted by dgeiser13 at 11:32 AM on October 2, 2006

You dont even need to do a repair install. I've done this just by deleting the chipset, sound, cpu, and video drivers from the control panel. Windows boots up detecting the new hardware and installs it. No BSOD yet. If that doesnt work you can do the repair install.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:42 AM on October 2, 2006

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