Imaging new hard drive in Windows 7 laptop?

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QUESTION :

I’m upgrading my Windows 7 laptop to a new hard drive.

How can I clone or image the old hard drive over to the new hard drive, so that it looks like nothing has changed (other than the new hard drive) to my operating system and applications?

Can I use what is built into Windows 7 Backup or should I use something else?

ANSWER :

I have used CloneZilla with great success many many times. Not newbie friendly but very powerful and very useful, either copies from one drive to another, or image one disk then restore to another.

First, I tried the System Image support in the built-in Windows 7 Backup.

There are two modes in Windows 7 Backup — regular and system image:

A system image is an exact copy of a drive. By default, a system image includes the drives required for Windows to run. It also includes Windows and your system settings, programs, and files. You can use a system image to restore the contents of your computer if your hard disk or computer ever stops working. When you restore your computer from a system image, it’s a complete restoration—you can’t choose individual items to restore, and all of your current programs, system settings, and files are replaced with the contents of the system image.

I took the system image backup to an external USB hard drive, and that worked great!

What didn’t work so great was restoring it, unfortunately …

  1. The Windows 7 system repair disk creation tool only supports creating a DVD/CD, and this laptop has no optical disc support. Would be nice if this tool supported USB keys! I found a workaround to generate a bootable USB system repair, though.
  2. The showstopper — the drive I installed is a smaller hybrid HDD (5,400 rpm 500 gb drive, replaced by 320 gb 7,200 rpm hybrid drive) and the Windows 7 system image restore process barfs when you try to restore a system image to a smaller driveeven if there was more than enough space for the actual data! Lame.

The Windows 7 backup tools were better than I expected, but they have some limitations I wish I had known about ahead of time!

I had to abandon using Windows 7 backup for my needs, it was close but no cigar. Documenting it here for others to find. It might work OK for you as long as you’re installing on a laptop with an optical drive, and you are installing a LARGER hard drive.

Use GNU Parted (or its GUI GParted) to shrink the original partition and copy it. The easiest way to run it is from a live CD (or live USB) such as SystemRescueCD (the standard tool to repair Linux and Windows installations) or Parted Magic (a Linux and Windows repair tool specialized in disk issues).

Windows activation may give you trouble. If doing the copy with Parted results in a Windows you can’t use, try shrinking the existing partition with Parted, then cloning with the Microsoft tools.

If either drive is a Western Digital model, you can download a version of Acronis True Image software through Western Digital. It has worked flawlessly for me, cloning XP, Vista, and Windows 7 32- and 64-bit versions. It will only install and/or launch when a Western Digital drive is connected to the system, either as an internal or external drive (USB, Firewire, eSATA).

Download Link:
Acronis True Image WD Edition

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