How to Transfer an Operating System to a New Hard Drive

By Alan Bradford

When replacing an old hard drive, a process known as cloning is the easiest and most thorough method for transferring data between the old and new hard drives. A cloning utility takes a snapshot of your current hard drive and then re-creates that snapshot on your new hard drive. The process clones everything, including the operating system, installed applications, settings and personal files.

Things You'll Need

  • Computer with old hard drive
  • New hard drive
  • Bootable media (CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs or flash drives)
  • Cloning utility

Cloning a Desktop Hard Drive

Step 1

Create a system restore disk so that you can return your system to its previous condition if an error occurs. You can use a backup and restore utility provided with your operating system, or find one for free or for purchase on the Internet. Many cloning utilities can also create system restore disks.

Step 2

Shut down the computer and remove power.

Step 3

Physically install the new hard drive.

Step 4

Restore power and boot up the computer. Ensure that your operating system recognizes that the new hard drive has been installed.

Step 5

Pick the cloning utility that works best for you. (See Resources for some options.) Base your decision on your operating system and the cost and complexity of the utility.

Step 6

Install and launch the cloning utility on your old hard drive. Follow the instructions included with the cloning utility.

Step 7

Keep the old hard drive as a backup, or reformat it for additional storage space.

Cloning a Notebook Hard Drive

Step 1

Create a system restore disk so that you can return your system to its previous condition if an error occurs. You can use a backup and restore utility provided with your operating system, or find one for free or for purchase on the Internet. Many cloning utilities can also create system restore disks.

Step 2

Pick the cloning utility that best fits your needs. (See Resources for some options.) Base your decision on your operating system, the cost and complexity of the utility, and whether the utility can clone notebook hard drives using bootable media, such as CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs or flash drives.

Step 3

Install and launch the cloning utility on your old hard drive. Follow the instructions included with the cloning utility.

Step 4

Keep the old drive as a backup in case the new hard drive fails.

Tips & Warnings

  • Many hard drive makers include cloning utilities for moving your data. If your new hard drive comes with a cloning utility, that one might be your best option, since it is designed specifically for use with the new hard drive.
  • During the cloning process, ensure that you are selecting the old hard drive as the source hard disk and the new drive as the destination. Mixing these up can cause the new, empty hard drive to overwrite all the data in your old hard drive.