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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?

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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.

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It should be noted that CloneZilla cannot copy an image to a destination partition that is smaller than the source partition. From their stie: "The destination partition must be equal or larger than the source one." – tnorthcutt Sep 20 '10 at 14:52
ah, never needed to do that, I've always coped same-same. Thanks for the info though, I'll bear that in mind when reccomending CloneZilla again. – tombull89 Sep 20 '10 at 15:07

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 drive -- even 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.

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Windows 7 backup tools are indeed pretty good for what they are designed for, backup and restore to the original drive (or one just like it), beyond that they are not much help. Oh and by the way congrats on the hybrid drive I totally agree with you on them being the way to go for a notebook. – BearGriz72 Sep 20 '10 at 9:24
@bear you can restore to a larger drive then resize the partition afterwards to make it "fit" the larger space. Smaller drive though.. not so much – Jeff Atwood Sep 20 '10 at 9:30
True, again I apologize I was thinking along the lines of a direct transfer to the new drive as opposed to a backup/restore cycle with an external drive. – BearGriz72 Sep 20 '10 at 11:02

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.

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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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Thanks man. let me check this. Can you comment on its ease of use and effectiveness ? – Steam Oct 5 '13 at 21:07

The backup image tool that is included with Windows 7 is useful, but it creates an image file NOT a bootable drive so that is not going to work for what you are doing.

Easiest that I have used is Runtime's Shadow Copy. Shadow copy is free for all users but you might need DriveImage XML to go with it to finish it off (The documentation for Shadow Copy explains it pretty well). DriveImage is free for private, home use only. However I have not used it on a 64-bit system and I don't know if it is 64-bit capable.

The only alternate choice i know for sure works with Win7 is Macrium Reflect, I don't have any experience with that one, but I have heard good things, it is also free and apparently has native 64-bit support. If your copy of Windows 7 is indeed 64-bit (as most of them seem to be today) this might be a better choice.

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Should have refreshed before I posted ... but my recommendations remain the same – BearGriz72 Sep 20 '10 at 9:21
this is a tad wrong, because the windows 7 backup tool is perfectly capable of restoring the bootable system image to a new drive.. just not a smaller drive as I unfortunately found out.. – Jeff Atwood Sep 20 '10 at 9:29
I apologize, I was referring to a direct transfer to the new drive as opposed to a backup/restore type situation, I should have been clearer. – BearGriz72 Sep 20 '10 at 10:58

Do the backup and restore using Paragon's Backup & Recovery 2010 Free Advanced.

It is one of the few backup tools that can restore with shrink.

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Acronis True Image can as well (that's what I ended up using, I'll answer with that later) though the cloning part is no longer available as part of any free trials.. – Jeff Atwood Sep 20 '10 at 9:32

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