A Windows-centric Migration Path to a new Solid State Drive

As a fan of Windows 7, and of new hardware technology in general, I took the train to SSD-land some two months ago.  Presented here is some of what I learned whilst accomplishing the migration. The specifics apply to Windows 7 based PCs, but the concepts could be adapted for other OSs.

Do you need to read all this?  You may need to completely reinstall Windows to take full advantage of the SSD. For instance, if you installed Windows 7 using any SATA mode (as set in your PC’s BIOS) other than AHCI, you will probably need to reinstall, though this workaround may work for you.

Not migrating to an Intel SSD? Rumor has it this SATA mode (AHCI) is not necessarily required. OCZ drives may function normally under IDE mode.

Regardless, I recommend that you read on, SSD adopting reader, for tips and insight in the great migration to a speedier computing experience.

First off, the major shortfall of migrating from a standard HDD to an SSD drive is the (near certain) sacrifice of storage capacity. Conventionally, migrating from a disk to the same or up in capacity is by far the smoothest and most straightforward. Going from a big to small hard disk can be a little tricky but certainly doable.

With a bit of patience and effort, we can accomplish for this not-so-simple migration, big to small, without reinstalling your OS and accompanying programs files. I went from 160GB to 80GB with just a few hours of work; fewer than it would have taken to tediously reinstall and reconfigure everything.

First thing to do is to prepare the existing disk to be “compatible” with the new smaller destination drive. This can mean a little or a lot of file juggling, depending on how full your disk is. Likely, all that needs to happen is to move all media (images, music, videos) to an external storage drive or computer. Once the used space is at least 10GB below the new capacity of the new drive – for example, new drive is 80GB, get your used space to 70GB or less – then we can start utilizing some tricks to shrink the partition down.

Partition Shrinking

For the actual shrinking, I used Windows “Disk Management” console as shown above. But, it isn’t very smart, so it’s probably not going to allow us to shrink to 70GB. If it does, congrats, you can skip the next few paragraphs! Otherwise, the drive is likely heavily fragmented – data bits of files are scattered throughout the disk – so we to do some more work.

We need to defrag, which is the process of consolidating all those strewn bits and bytes into sequence. But before that, go ahead and disable the pagefile. Now let’s try the built-in Windows Defrag. Then run “Disk Management” again to check if we can shrink our partition down appropriately.

Probably, we still can’t. So we need a better defrag. I tried a couple, but the one that worked best for me is called Perfect Disk – the free trial version works just fine for our purposes. After this process is complete, the Disk Management shrinking process ought to be good to go.  If not, howtogeek has a few more tips to try.

Shrinking down the disk was necessary because the imaging process is much different than simply copying files, which wouldn’t help us in our quest to not reinstall our OS, etc. Say the old HDD is a 160GB disk with one partition, the subsequent image would be 160GB uncompressed. Hence it will require a 160GB or greater destination disk. Obviously this doesn’t equate. By shrinking, we reduced the size of the image to the appropriate level.

Now we’re ready to create the disk image file (source). There are many applications that provide “ghosting”, a process that goes by many names. Ghosting means copying each and every bit from a source disk to an image file on an external destination such as a USB HDD or networked location. Once created, this image file is relatively easy to redeploy onto a new disk.

Windows built-in Backup

Since we’re using Windows here, specifically Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate (I have the latter), lets use what’s built-in for us. I must admit delight when I discovered this handy and easy to use utility, Backup & Restore. I’m not going to walk through explicitly how to use it, as it’s basically a click “Create a system image” and then a “Next…Next…Next” process.

One thing to be careful of is to be aware of what USB devices are currently plugged in and what drive letter they are mapped to. Windows is extremely particular about preserving this information and will not allow recovery of the image if the environment doesn’t exactly match the one that created it.  Failure to do so will undoubtedly result in the dreaded and inexplicable “The parameter is incorrect. (0x80070057)” error.  This thread helped me break through – I even left a comment there – yay Internets.

Now that we’ve got an image, we need a Windows Recovery boot CD or USB flash disk. Since I consider CDs wasteful and the fact that my X200 has no CD/DVD drive, I chose the latter. Creating a Windows Recovery on a USB bootable flash drive is just a bit more work. A 1GB USB flash drive is recommended:

– Procure the same version of Windows 7 Recovery Disks that is currently installed, e.g. 64 or 32 bit, from your retail kit or torrents here

– Create an ISO of the media, if downloaded, it’s already ISO format

– Extract the ISO

– Create USB boot disk, either using diskpart and these instructions or by using HP’s USBKEY application and these instructions

– Replace d:\ with the [source] location of the contents of the extracted ISO and e:\ [destination] with your flash drive

– xcopy d:\*.* /s/e/f e:\

– Shutdown, swap out your old HDD for the SSD

– Boot off the USB drive and start the recovery process!

Using these loose instructions, we are able to easily, though not necessarily quickly, migrate to a brand spankin new SSD.

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