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I wish to mirror the data on my Crucial M4 128GB to a Samsung 840 Evo 512GB because I don't want to reinstall Windows 7 and reconfigure & reinstall everything from scratch.

  1. What do I need?
  2. How do I do it once I have that program? Should I connect both to SATA or can I also use USB (I have a USB-SATA adapter).
  3. How error-prone is it? How big is the risk of vendor- or model-specific information being copied over and causing operational problems?

I'm not very good with computers so a layman explanation is appreciated.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted
  1. You would need software that is tailored to "hard drive cloning". If you search this on the web, you'll find an array of shareware and freeware. I personally use Macrium Reflect Free. While this isn't the place for shopping suggestions, it is very user friendly. It also has options for making backups, but you are interested in cloning.

  2. For hardware, this will depend on if you are using a desktop or a notebook. If a desktop, directly connect the hard drives to the motherboard. If a notebook, your only option is a SATA adapter of some type. USB is much slower than a direct SATA connection.

  3. Errors can happen, but usually this is only when one or both of the drives has significant sector problems, or if you accidentally disconnect one of the drives during the imaging process. A more likely warning would be that this process typically takes a while (ie. hours). It is not like copying files to a flash drive.

In terms of the actual process of cloning the drive, this will depend on the software. However the steps are relatively the same.

  • If you are cloning the drive that you are running Windows on, you will have to use a bootable CD of the software you have chosen. Shut down, connect the drives and boot from the CD.

  • You will be asked to select the source drive. This is the drive that you are making a copy of.

  • You will be asked to select the destination drive. This is the drive that you are erasing and copying to.

  • If you have trouble identifying which is your source drive and which is your destination, most hard drives will be named in the BIOS and in the cloning software by their abbreviated manufacturer name followed by the model name.

  • Waiting. Personally, I do hard drive clones overnight. I've had large drives take 6 hours to clone. With an SSD, transfer rates might be faster, depending on a variety of factors.

A note about differing drive sizes:

If your source drive is smaller than the destination drive, you can must extend the partition that is created on the destination drive. Some cloning software will do this for you, you may get a dialogue asking if this is what you want to do. Essentially it fills the remaining space with properly formatted NTFS space. If the software doesn't do this for you, you can do it yourself. Read about that here:

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/shrink-extend-volumes-partitions-windows-7/

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Nice writeup, pretty much covers it all. I like to use Clonezilla. It's simple, flexible, and you can boot it from a USB flash drive. –  Roberto Gomez Aug 2 '13 at 0:22
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If the source disk is smaller than the target, there would be need to extend the partitions on the target. –  pbies Aug 13 '13 at 21:53
    
@pmbiesiada Good point, added to answer. –  Moses Aug 13 '13 at 22:22
    
Both suggestions are good (Macrium Free and Clonezilla). However, I noticed that Samsung offers their own data migration software ("Magician"). –  Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn Nov 24 '13 at 9:57
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