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A Solid State Drive upgrade really improves performance. An SSD boosts snappiness, load times, and reduces power consumption (how an SSD works How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few decades, there has been a considerable amount of work in the field of computer hardware. While computer technology is constantly improving and evolving, rarely do we experience moments where we simply... Read More ). The downside: smaller storage capacity. Even so, the trade-off more than compensates for the reduced capacity. But how can you squeeze a large Windows installation onto a tiny SSD?

It’s easy. Windows users can migrate from an HDD to an SSD with just a few pieces of software and hardware. The entire process should take around 15 minutes of labor — and a few hours of waiting around.

Stuff You Need

The migration process requires the following components:

  • An SSD of at least 32 GB in storage capacity. 64 GB or larger recommended.
  • A backup drive, preferably a USB external enclosure, larger in capacity than the host HDD.
  • Macrium Reflect Free Edition — download Macrium Reflect.
  • A freshly formated flash USB drive or a blank CD/DVD.

What Solid State Drive Should You Buy?

As of 2016, there are three common kinds of SSD drives: SATA, M.2, and Mini-PCIe. That might sound confusing at first, but almost all laptops use the SATA standard. Most Ultrabooks (what’s an Ultrabook? What Is An Ultrabook & Can It Succeed? [Technology Explained] What Is An Ultrabook & Can It Succeed? [Technology Explained] Remember when the word laptop described virtually every mobile computer on the market? The choices were certainly easier back then (because there was simply less choice available), but today there’s a far wider variety including... Read More ) use the M.2 standard. A small number of older netbooks (what’s a netbook? What Is the Difference Between a Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, and Palmtop? What Is the Difference Between a Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, and Palmtop? The term "laptop" encompasses so many different types of laptops these days. Here are the important differences between them all. Read More ) use the mini-PCIe form factor. For the most part, your laptop probably uses a SATA connector. Here’s what it looks like:

samsung-ssd

SATA drives for laptops all come in a 2.5″ form factor, meaning their width is 2.5 inches. Their thickness varies between 7mm and 9mm. What you need to know: All 7mm SSDs will fit in any SATA-compatible laptop, with a spacer. But a 9mm SSD will only fit a device with enough clearance to support 9mm.

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There are two kinds of SSDs that I recommend buying right now: Samsung’s 850 EVO series — which provides performance and value — or Silicon Power’s S55 series, which runs around 20 cents per gigabyte.

Samsung 850 EVO 250GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-75E250B/AM) Samsung 850 EVO 250GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-75E250B/AM) Powered by Samsung V-NAND Technology; Optimized Performance for Everyday Computing. Buy Now At Amazon $89.99 Silicon Power S55 480GB 2.5" 7mm SATA III Internal Solid State Drive SP480GBSS3S55S25 Silicon Power S55 480GB 2.5" 7mm SATA III Internal Solid State Drive SP480GBSS3S55S25 Read up to 540 MB/s, Write up to 480 MB/s by CDM Buy Now At Amazon $118.28

Step One: Install Macrium Reflect

The SSD migration process once required three different pieces of software: One program made a backup, the other reduced partition sizes, and a third copied the data onto the SSD. The complexity of using three programs caused a high rate of error. Now, it takes one program: Macrium Reflect. Macrium’s Reflect backup utility does it all. It creates a backup image of the host system and then shrinks it down, while copying it onto the target SSD. First, you need to install it.

The install process is straightforward. After downloading the installer, double-click on ReflectDL.exe. The executable then downloads and installs Macrium Reflect. Click through the next few menus and accept Macrium’s licensing terms.

Use the default installation options and download the Windows PE files, which allow for the creation of bootable media. The download process should take around 10 minutes and requires around 530 MB of data. Reflect then creates a bootable Windows PE Image.

2016-05-21_18h11_17

At this point, you must connect two devices to your computer: A USB flash drive, or CD/DVD, and an external drive. Then start Macrium Reflect.

On the first run, you’ll see a prompt to create a bootable rescue medium, either on a USB flash drive or a CD/DVD. Just make sure to select the USB flash drive or CD/DVD as the target. Keep in mind that the recovery disc or USB will work only on the computer it was created on.

macrium reflect create rescue media

After you’ve created the bootable medium, take some precautions before copying your data to the SSD. Because SSDs often come in smaller sizes than HDDs, you’ll need to remove unnecessary files. Windows 10 itself takes up 16 GBs for 32-bit systems and 20 GB for 64 GB systems (the difference between 32 and 64 bit What Is the Difference Between 32-bit & 64-bit Windows? What Is the Difference Between 32-bit & 64-bit Windows? Do you know whether your computer is 32-bit or 64-bit and does it even matter? Yes it does! Let's take a look at where these terms come from and what they mean for you. Read More ,) so you might need to remove some files.

Step Two: Remove Unnecessary Files

At this point, you’ll need to shrink down the amount of data inhabiting your HDD to match the size of your SSD. For example, if you purchase a 120 GB SSD and your HDD contains 200 GB of data, you’ll need to remove at least 80 GB — although I recommend removing as much data as possible.

We’ve written extensively on shrinking down Windows installations How to Easily Remove Bloatware From Windows 10 How to Easily Remove Bloatware From Windows 10 Windows 10 comes with several pre-installed apps that take up space on your device and aren't easy to remove. Sounds like bloatware, doesn't it? We show you how to remove these apps. Read More . The best Windows cleaning methods Need A Disk Cleanup? Visualize What Takes Up Space On Your Windows PC Need A Disk Cleanup? Visualize What Takes Up Space On Your Windows PC Oh the pressure when you run out of disk space. What to delete? The fastest way to locate junk files is to use a tool that helps you visualize your system's file structure. Read More usually revolve around WinDirStat, CCleaner, and a few other tools. I suggest just using WinDirStat and Window’s utility Disk Cleanup. WinDirStat helps determine where junk files exist on your hard drive. Disk Cleanup helps eliminate system files that WinDirStat might not help remove.

WinDirStat

WinDirStat visually displays the data stored on a drive. For example, on my own hard drive, it displays the following:

windirstats results my hard drive

The colored squares and rectangles represent blocks of data. The colors reflect the kind of file type. The larger the block, the larger the storage space it consumes.  Users should exercise extreme caution when deleting files. To delete a file, right-click on it and select Delete from the context menu.

Windows Disk Cleanup

Windows Disk Cleanup offers the most useful tool for cleaning up your hard drive. Aside from cleaning various caches 7 Hidden Windows Caches & How to Clear Them 7 Hidden Windows Caches & How to Clear Them Cached files can take up a lot of bytes. While dedicated tools can help you free up disk space, they might not clear it all. We show you how to manually release storage space. Read More , Disk Cleanup also eliminates remnants from previous installations of Windows (how to clean up Windows.old Free Up Disk Space by Removing Windows.old Folder Free Up Disk Space by Removing Windows.old Folder Windows prepares an automatic backup before you re-install. The Windows.old folder includes user profiles and personal files. Here's how to restore the data and remove the folder to free up space. Read More ). Exercise caution: removing Windows.old eliminates the option of rolling back to an older installation.

disk cleanup windows 10

Remove Restore Points

Windows creates frequent backups of the operating system. These can sometimes take up a great deal of space. If you have no other option, try removing some restore points. Here’s how to use Windows 10’s System Restore How System Restore & Factory Reset Work in Windows 10 How System Restore & Factory Reset Work in Windows 10 Space wasted to a recovery partition is a thing of the past. System Restore and Factory Reset have improved in Windows 10. We show you how it works. Read More .

Enable Compact OS

This step is entirely optional. In Windows 10, Microsoft introduced a space-saving scheme called Compact OS How to Save More Disk Space with Compact OS on Windows 10 How to Save More Disk Space with Compact OS on Windows 10 What if you could easily and permanently save up to 6.6 GB of disk space on any Windows 10 device? You can with Compact OS and we show you how. Read More  . On average, Compact OS reduces the footprint of the operating system by between 1.6 and 2.6 GB (or more.) It also allows users to eliminate the Recovery partition entirely, which takes up at least 4 GB of disk space. To enable Compact OS, open an elevated command prompt by typing “cmd” into Windows Search. Then right-click on Command Prompt.

elevated command prompt windows 10

Using the command line, type in the following:

Compact /CompactOS:always

This activates Compact OS.

Step Three: Create the Backup Using Macrium Reflect

Now you can create a backup of Windows. Since you’ve already connected the external hard drive, you just need to start Macrium Reflect and select Create a backup from the center pane. Then choose Image this disk at the bottom.

2016-05-24_17h34_22

First, make sure that you’ve selected (by checking a box) the necessary “partitions.” A partition is a segment of data, which contains data. Each box represents a partition of your hard drive. All of the partitions should be selected by default, but if you spot a partition that shouldn’t be there (anything to the right of C: might not be something you need,) you can choose to eliminate it by not checking its box.

Second, choose Folder. This option should be selected by default.

Third, click on the three dots to the right of Folder. Choose your external drive as the target destination for the backup.

Fourth, and finally, choose Finish to begin the backup process.

2016-05-25_17h02_46

Step Four: Remove Your Hard Drive and Insert the SSD

For most users, this step should be the easiest. Simply remove your HDD and insert the SSD. Matt Smith wrote a great article on physically removing a hard drive The Complete Guide On Installing A Solid State Hard Drive In Your PC The Complete Guide On Installing A Solid State Hard Drive In Your PC A solid state hard drive is one of the best upgrades available for a modern computer. It increases the load times of programs dramatically, which in turn makes a PC feel snappier. Results can be... Read More and replacing it with an SSD.

SSD-errors-signs-symptoms-drive

Step Five: Restore the Backup

Now restart your computer. Choose to boot from the flash drive or CD/DVD. This loads Macrium Reflect recovery image — instead of Windows. Select the Restore tab from the top and choose Browse for an image file to restore… Then select the external drive and choose the backed up image of your operating system.

macrium reflect restore image

Choose to copy all data to the target SSD by dragging-and-dropping each partition onto the SSD. After less than an hour, you should have a fully functioning version of Windows installed. If you’re concerned about the hibernate file or the page file, don’t worry. Macrium Reflect automatically deletes both files, and resizes all partitions so that they’ll fit on the SSD. It’s really well-designed software.

Anyone else love upgrading to SSDs? Let us know in the comments.

  1. Gavin Phillips
    December 2, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks, Kannon. Guided me through my first HDD to SSD switch seamlessly.

  2. Peter Sward
    November 28, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    It doesn't matter how many files you delete. The partition size remains the same and if the target disk is smaller than the partition size, the restore fails.

    • Peter Sward
      November 28, 2016 at 11:39 pm

      Nevermind, I think. Different result when dragging the partition instead of selecting it

      • Kannon Yamada
        November 29, 2016 at 1:31 am

        I should have also mentioned that if you upgraded from Windows 8 to Windows 10, Windows creates a new recovery partition, which it places to the right of the primary data partition. That means it prevents you from expanding your drive unless you move that recovery partition to the left (and you can safely erase the old recovery, which shows up at the beginning of the disk).

  3. Chris Collins
    June 14, 2016 at 5:38 am

    Personally, when installing an SSD and reinstalling Windows, I find it a time to start fresh and clean.

    -Back up all wanted files onto Google Drive or backup hard drive, depending on space, need of files, etc.

    -Remove old hard drive, install new SSD

    -USB Copy of Windows 10 (or whichever version of Windows you prefer) - I find Windows 10 the easiest and fastest. Also, I've noticed that I don't have to go through the activation phase if I've already had the laptop activated with Win 10, it does that during the install if connected to wifi.

    -Goto Ninite.com and download Chrome and the few other programs I "can't live without"

    -Goto whichever brand PC site and download whichever drivers are missing or acting funny

    -Reload any files from backup storage onto laptop that are deemed a "must need" for local storage

    The most common theme I've found is, while we might keep a lot of pictures, videos, etc., we don't access them that often. Keeping them locally rather than cloud storage or external hard drive is more a condition of comfort than practicality. The average user doesn't need 20 GB of photos stored on their computer when there are other, more practical means for storing photos, documents, and other files. They hardly ever go back to access those picture. Downloaded PDF receipts can be pushed to Google Drive, OneDrive, Evernote, Dropbox, or a dozen other online storage places or simply loaded on a USB drive, SD card, external hard drive. . Of course, those that use big files and big programs, this logic doesn't exactly apply, but it does to the majority of users who fill their storage with Aunt Bessy's 50th birthday pics and videos of the grandkids splashing in the inflatable pool. Files they may access once or twice a year.

    The laptop I am currently typing this with came with a 1TB HDD, which I switched for a 240 SSD. I'm not even close to filling up the 240, so 1TB was overkill, not to mention, I've currently that drive as my external hard drive. Pick up HHD/SSD enclosure off Amazon, Best Buy or wherever, and take the removed hard drive and use it as an external drive.

    Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

    As always...YMMV

    • cmcollins001
      June 14, 2016 at 5:39 am

      Interestingly enough, that is not even close to my profile picture.

      • Kannon Yamada
        June 14, 2016 at 3:29 pm

        It seems that the plugin we're using for thread tracking might load profile pictures from a default cache when the primary isn't available. I'm seeing a pic of spongebob squarepants. Is this correct?

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 14, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Thanks for sharing Chris! This is one of the features that makes Windows 10 a more user-friendly OS than previous versions -- the ability to reinstall or refresh the OS, without a great deal of complication.

  4. Howard Blair
    June 5, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    "SATA drives for laptops all come in a 2.5? form factor, meaning their length is 2.5 inches. Their widths vary between 7mm and 9mm."

    Um, no. They're 2.5" **wide** and between 7mm and 9mm **thick.** They're also about 3.5" long. I think you've got your dimensions mixed up, Kannon.

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 6, 2016 at 1:57 am

      Thanks Howard! What the heck was I thinking?

  5. Richard
    June 5, 2016 at 6:51 am

    I have my C drive full almost all 1T, and I have a SSD 60gig drive already partitoned for windows. i wondered how I would install the OS from C to the SSD? I also have a external 4T drive

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 5, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      I have some simple instructions in the article (WinDirStat). How much of that data occupies your Windows user directory? You should be able to copy your data. The problem is when programs copy user data to directories other than the user directory.

  6. Richard
    June 4, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    I see you address this in 8.1 and win 10, what about win 7 64 and both ssd and hhd are already installed on the pc?

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 4, 2016 at 9:49 pm

      Macrium Reflect works with Windows 7 64-bit. However, if you have an SSD cache or boot drive, you'd need to copy those files as well. Reflect should be able to back those drives up just as it would any other partition.

      If the new drive is somehow not bootable after cloning or copying the image, you can always run the boot repair utility that's inside of the Reflect recovery USB.

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 4, 2016 at 11:59 pm

      Actually, you shouldn't need to copy a cache. With Intel's caching system, I'm not sure how you would migrate that. Maybe you would need to roll the caching system back before migrating?

      How many drives do you plan on migrating to?

  7. Kelsey Tidwell
    June 4, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Dang...the one hesitation I had for upgrading my 2010 Acer has been removed. Thanks, Kannon.

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 4, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      Hey Kelsey! What was the thing holding you back?

      • Kelsey Tidwell
        June 4, 2016 at 10:09 pm

        Oh...Ha!...it was the confusion over the licensing for new components. I've been wondering since the beginning how it was going to play out about swapping drives and everything still being okay with Microsoft.

        If it's a fact that the motherboard and the processor are the only components really looked at, then I have no reason at all not swap out the clunkster 250GB factory platter drive in my laptop.

        • Kannon Yamada
          June 4, 2016 at 11:34 pm

          Oh, you are definitely right about the ridiculousness of Microsoft's policy on changing PC components. Windows 10 is no different, although it is apparently more flexible than previous versions.

          So it works like this: When you install Windows it generates a unique ID based on your hardware. MS is not transparent at all about how this process works or what components you can safely change out. Everything I've mentioned in the article is based on my own experiences (Windows 7, 8 and 10). I did try switching over Windows 10 to another computer and while it worked perfectly, it was not activated.

          But only changing the hard drive allowed the activation to remain intact. I should post a screenshot to assuage fears.

          I believe that it's possible changing multiple components at the same time -- such as the hard drive + RAM + PCIe + M.2 + etc... might trigger MS's DRM. But the only guaranteed trigger is CPU + Mobo, according to what I've read online.

        • Kelsey Tidwell
          June 4, 2016 at 11:48 pm

          I see...

          I too have never had an issue with the ID up to Windows 10. Even to the point where I had no idea that Microsoft even cared about that until now lol. I've got one Windows 7 Home Premium copy that's moved through three different builds and not a hitch. :)

          As a side note, I've read (I think in a MUO article) that one only has to call Microsoft to get approval and a re-registering if a major rebuild has to be done, so at least it's possible to do it at any rate, even though it would be an inconvenience.

        • Kannon Yamada
          June 4, 2016 at 11:57 pm

          That's interesting! It sounds like at some point the unique ID gets regenerated. So after a certain period of time after changing the processor, maybe the motherboard can get changed?

          Even so, that prevents one from jumping CPU sockets.

        • Kelsey Tidwell
          June 5, 2016 at 12:03 am

          Yes, I imagine when looking at the big picture behind this, their intention is to prevent one copy of Windows from being used simultaneously on multiple computers. A slow progression of improvements could never be confused with multiple instances, so I believe a slow regeneration could be very possible.

          All they would really have to do is monitor for two or more distinct processors to be running the same copy at once, or within reasonable times between.

  8. fcd76218
    June 4, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    After replacing the hard drive with an SSD, don't you have to ask for Redmond's blessing? Or do they no longer care about users changing the device IDs?

    Could you write an article about moving Linux from an HDD to an SSD?

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 4, 2016 at 12:07 pm

      My understanding is that the unique ID attached to a Windows installation is only linked to the motherboard and processor. And you should be able to change one, but not both.

      I tested out the migration process on three systems: SSD to HDD. HDD to SSD. And SSD to SSD. It worked on Windows 10.

      I've migrated Linux installations before. Could you just use Clonezilla? The process was easier than with Windows.

      • fcd76218
        June 4, 2016 at 12:17 pm

        In your write-up you did not mention enabling TRIM or updating the SSD firmware. Is that no longer necessary?

        • Kannon Yamada
          June 4, 2016 at 12:24 pm

          I should have mentioned that in the article. Trim is automatically enabled, and users since Windows 8.1 can also run trim manually using Disk Optimizer (if by some chance it isn't enabled automatically).

          Regarding SSD firmware, you should always update it, regardless of whether or not one is performing a migration.

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