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I'm running Windows 10 on my desktop's primary drive (128GB SSD). The desktop has an i5 Kaby Lake and a 1060 while the laptop has an older generation i3 or i5 and a GTX710m.

Can I take my SSD and use the laptop with it for few days without reinstalling and keep all of the applied software and settings?

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  • 1
    If the drive isn't encrypted by a TPM chip (encryption) it could work, but I highly suggest not doing that. It will create a driver mess on your SSD.
    – codepleb
    Jul 6, 2017 at 8:56
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    @ИвоНедев: Your computer has another graphics chip than your notebook. This will confuse the notebook and windows will look like cancer when u boot it up and then search for other drivers probably. Then you have still your old suite from you graphics cards installed and on top of that the notebook driver. This is similar with other components. On top of that, I'm not sure if windows even lets you pass after such a "hardware change" (legal copy issues). I didn't try that myself, but I think you will get annoying side effects on both systems afterwards. I would suggest you to dig into VMs.
    – codepleb
    Jul 6, 2017 at 11:50
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    I don't know if there are any changes in Windows 10 or not but in older versions of Windows generally you can't do that (without some tricks) because Windows sticks with a driver profile and if there are too many hardware changes it will just BSOD or refuse to boot, probably because MS's policy of one licence per one mainboard. In the old times softwares to strip hardware information before ghosting and flashing multiple PCs at once are very common
    – phuclv
    Jul 6, 2017 at 14:20
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    I use the same Windows 10 installation (on a partition in the SSD) both natively (dual boot) and as a Virtual Machine from within Linux, so, what you want is certainly doable. No "driver mess", no. But perhaps expect activation problems.
    – Marc.2377
    Jul 6, 2017 at 23:04
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    FYI, if you were using Linux instead of Win10, you could do this with very low risk of problems. Linux re-detects almost everything about hardware on each boot anyway, and is pretty resilient even to having the boot drive appear in a different order (at least with EFI, but grub booting legacy BIOS might not do so well). So booting might be an issue, but once you got Linux booted most distros would have open-source drivers for everything already installed. Since your GPUs are both NVidia, you'd probably already have NV's non-free driver installed and have fast 3D on the laptop. Jul 7, 2017 at 3:18

6 Answers 6

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Yes, you can.

Is it a good idea? No, and it may not work either.

When you take out the SSD from your main desktop and plug it into your laptop, the SSD may be connected to a different physical port internally. The boot manager may therefore not be able to boot from the SSD, giving a BSoD in return. It can be fixed, and some PC's are smart enough to do so for you if you desired. If your laptop is able to correct the problem, but your main PC is not, then your SSD will not work on your main PC anymore.

Furthermore, assuming things work correctly, Windows will install drivers for the laptop, polluting your system, making it slower.

Not to mention that if your drive is encrypted, it will most likely not even work at all.

So my advice is: don't do it. It's only for a few days, and the mess you can get from it is definitely not worth it. You may end up not having a laptop with you at all.

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  • No encryption, and the laptop has only one slot for a drive. Fair enough then. Jul 6, 2017 at 9:06
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    The laptop does, but your main pc doesn't. It likely has 2 or more SATA ports.
    – LPChip
    Jul 6, 2017 at 9:13
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    BOOTMGR doesn't care about which physical port your drive is connected to, AFAIK. Drivers for unconnected devices are generally not loaded and do not "make it slower", though there might be edge cases if you have esoteric hardware. Encryption works fine as long as you aren't using the TPM; a password will be requested at the bootloader step. The one scenario where boot might not work is if it's a UEFI install and Windows has added entries to the firmware boot manager - but there are ways around that (namely, installing in BIOS/CSM mode or adding a EFI startup script or using rEFInd).
    – Bob
    Jul 6, 2017 at 14:17
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    Strictly speaking, drivers (code stored in .sys files) don't slow down the system if they aren't loaded, and the OS won't load drivers when they aren't needed. Granted, however, some drivers also install a service (.exe) which runs on system startup, but they're seldom essential (eg. Catalyst, Nvidia, membaloon).
    – Marc.2377
    Jul 6, 2017 at 23:07
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In addition to the previously mentioned driver issues, the Windows licensing process will usually recognize that it is on a new computer and will deactivate itself. If you have a retail license, you can deactivate it on the old computer and activate it on the new one. If you have an OEM license or the free upgrade license (most people), then you would have to buy a retail license.

This has a good expanded explanation, covering both the driver issues and the licensing issues: https://www.howtogeek.com/239815/why-cant-you-move-a-windows-installation-to-another-computer/

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  • If not windows then some other apps atleast.
    – joojaa
    Jul 6, 2017 at 20:08
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    I ran into this in the XP/Vista days. I don't expect this to have changed in recent years. While it might be technically possible, the license issue with Windows will alone make such an idea infeasible.
    – Shauna
    Jul 6, 2017 at 20:59
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I'd be doing a full backup to an external drive before doing that. You'll add a ton of drivers to your system that you don't need, which can have bizarre consequences later. (Usually performance issues.)

For years I have used a program called EaseUS Todo Backup to migrate OS installs to new hardware - sometimes you need to for businesses that can neither reinstall nor reactivate legacy software, because the company is gone/dead. It works on pretty much any version of Windows. It removes the most problematic drivers from the image, allowing them to redetect on first boot, which lets you (for example) backup an Intel/IDE system and restore to a modern AMD/AHCI system, and have all the new drivers autodetect and configure properly... vice versa also works. That said, there are usually performance issues or other quirks. For a business, they wouldn't care. For a gamer, you certainly would.

That said, Win10 now has some of the same functionality built in. It fixes IDE/AHCI drivers when you go into safemode, for example, so just locate the Advanced Startup section in the recovery console and use that to fire into safemode once and it'll fix that one for you.

https://www.howtogeek.com/126016/three-ways-to-access-the-windows-8-boot-options-menu/

They also added a fix for a common BCD problem to the Restart button, so when it says you can "Click Restart to try again, yada yada", it's actually applying fixes, and sometimes that saves you a trip into the recovery console to use tools like bootrec or bcdboot. Click that Restart button at least once for all BCD/AHCI/etc problems.

Now, all of that said - I personally wouldn't do it on my main gaming PC without a backup, because then I might have to reinstall Windows and all my games/software to fix a performance anomaly or other glitch. That's a huge hassle. Far more hassle than a new $50 SSD.

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  • This implies the obvious: If you're going to try this, clone your SSD onto a another one and use that for experiments, etc.. If it gets screwed up, it's only a copy. But perhaps the best advice was from @TrudleR: Use a vm.
    – Joe
    Jul 11, 2017 at 6:30
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Answering your title: Can my laptop and my desktop share an SSD

Yes, you can.

Other answers already covered the potential driver and activation issues. Those are real. However there is a workaround: use a virtual machine.

Install a working OS and a type-2 hypervisor (e.g. linux+vmware player, windows +vmware, etc) or a type-1 hypervisor (e.g. ESX, Xen). Then as a guest install windows on top of that.

Vmware will provide the same virtual hardware to the guest and there will be no driver issues. It will just work.

There are some downsides though: Now you have to maintain three installations: main windows setup with all your settings, and the OS for both desktop and laptop virtualisation.

And if you use windows to run the virtualisation software then you will need additional licences for those. And you will need the right licence to legally run windows in a VM. (IIRC home editions do not allow this, but e.g. datacentre does).


So yes. Technically possible.

And no: probably not in the way you hoped.


As for the question in the body.

Can I take my SSD and use the laptop with it for few days without reinstalation and with all the applied software and settings ?

Yes. Though for the title I assumed a nice clean setup intended to share.
This question is now about an already install OS. So while above paragrahs are still valid they might now apply to your specific case.


for few days

This also chances the answer. I now assume a single move to laptop and a move back later. Not something which you are going to do every weekend. (e.g. work weekdays on a desktop and move the SSD during every weekend when going home).

Which means that for this I am just going to answer yes.

The same mentioned issues (might need to reactivate, drivers will change, etc etc) still apply. But it will probably work and if you only want to do this move once then it might be worth the hassle to fix all those drivers when you switch.

Still, do make and test a backup. Preferably a full disk one. And be ready to have the installation break down and no longer work at all. Just because it usually works does not guarantee success for one specific attempt.

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  • It's probably worth mentioning that VMware offers a product which will convert an installed OS (Linux or Windows) into a vm. This was a bit tricky when I did it for Windows 7 a few years ago, but it worked. It was free and I think it still is. This avoids building the Windows vm from scratch which can save a bunch of time and money. You may still need to get a few new license keys for some of your apps, hopefully without fees. vCenter Converter Standalone - vmware.com/products/converter.html
    – Joe
    Jul 11, 2017 at 6:47
  • There are several P2V's out there. But you still move at least once to 'new' hardware. And the vmware hardware is different. Some just due to other drivers. Some logical but confusing. E..g a host using wireless and a guest seeing a wired connection.
    – Hennes
    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:12
  • You're correct. I didn't address configuration other that by saying it was a bit tricky. But once you jump through the hoops, you should (at least theoretically) be done. And it won't interfere with the live system it was generated on or any new one it is run on - except to take the resources the vm needs to run. As you say, you do have to maintain whichever systems and vms you keep over time.
    – Joe
    Jul 14, 2017 at 8:13
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Anecdotal evidence - yes it works (but not worth the hassle)
When I build a PC a few years ago i did just that with Windows 7 on an unencrypted SSD
The Laptop was an Acer with Intel mobile Core2Duo CPU, some integrated Intel graphics and 4GB DDR2 RAM
The new system had an AMD A10-5800k APU and 8GB DDR3 RAM

Booted up just fine after assembling, automatically installed a whole bunch of drivers, and some more after restarting. And I had to reactivate Windows. The whole process from first press of the power button to a fully usable system took more than an hour.

Since then I upgraded the OS to Windows 8 and later 8.1, and even though the old drivers are probably still somewhere on the disk, I didnt ran into any major issues (and I'm typing it from this very machine)

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  • Yes, I agree. It usually works. No guarantees though. And if you have fun setups (e.g. windows on HW RAID and no loaded IDE/AHCI driver) and move to a regular setup then you are in for some fun.
    – Hennes
    Jul 8, 2017 at 11:52
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I've been sharing ssd with desktop and laptop for nearly a year. It absolutely works flawlessly.

Combo is i5-8400 desktop with with acer aspire i3-7100

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    It would be helpful if you added some detail on your particulars. Any random setup isn't likely to perform similar to yours.
    – fixer1234
    Sep 28, 2018 at 23:57
  • Desktop is: CPU/Processor: Intel i5-8400 Memory: DDR4 16 GIGS Kingston Hyper X Furry Video Card : NONE Operating System: Windows 10 64 bit Hard Drive: Samsung EVO 860 250 gigs, laptop is Acer Aspire, i3-7100 A315-51-38G5 Sep 29, 2018 at 2:21

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