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How to upgrade your computers hard disk drive to a solid state drive

Most computers (laptop & desktop) nowadays come with a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) as standard equipment with a Solid State Drive (SSD) as an option. Each drive type has its pros and cons: HDD's are cheaper and have more storage, but SSD's are extremely fast (especially when connected to a SATA3 port). So if your existing computer has a HDD, odds are you could replace it with a SSD. Here's how to upgrade your computer hard disk drive to a solid state drive.

How to upgrade your computer's hard disk drive to a solid state drive

I wrote an article not long ago on how to upgrade the hard drive in your computer and will be referring back to it often. It describes how to clone a smaller drive to a larger one of the same type. Since SSD's normally have less storage than HDD's, this time I'll have to shrink the existing HDD (80 GB) partition(s) down below the capacity of the target SSD (64 GB) before I can clone it.

As in the aforementioned article, the first thing to do is a Checkdisk of the existing HDD. Doing this will assure there are no errors that may prohibit the cloning of the drive.

Running Checkdisk in Windows Vista
Running Checkdisk in Windows 7
Running Checkdisk in Windows 8

Now we have to start cleaning up the drive. Windows has a built-in tool called Disk Cleanup (cleanmgr.exe) that works pretty well at getting out the clutter. Try using it from an admin command prompt, that way you'll get more options.

Disk Cleanup Windows 7 / Vista
Disk Cleanup Windows 8

Since we are trying to get the maximum amount of free space we can, we will have to delete some files, which may include documents, photos, videos, etc. Doing a backup right now will insure we have a copy of all of the files if we need to recover some later.

Windows Vista Backup
Windows 7 Backup
Windows 8 Backup

Next thing I have to do is find out what is taking up the space on the existing HDD. For this I'll use a copy of SpaceMonger. After quick view, I see I can free up several gigabytes of space by permanently removing the hibernation file and temporarily deleting the swap file. Windows will warn you about having no swap file, but we will be recreating the swap file once the drive cloning is complete.

Disable Windows hibernation
Disable Windows swap file

The next thing we need to do to the drive is to defragment it. I'll use Defraggler from Piriform for this task. Once the drive is defragged, it's time to shrink it. To do this, open Computer Management, expand the Storage section in the left column and select Disk Management. In the right column, right-click on the partition marked as Boot (usually C:) and select Shrink. Remember to take the size down at least 10-15% below the capacity of the new SSD.

Shrinking a partition down in Windows 7
Shrinking a partition down in Windows 7

Once the partition has been resized, it's time to clone the drive. The following article has all of the details on how to clone you hard drive, including links to the cloning software.

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Note: An issue not addressed in the article above is the form factor; the existing HDD is 3.5" form factor and SSD's are normally 2.5" form factor.
A desktop hdd and an ssd with adapter brackets
This can easily be resolved by using a pair of 2.5" to 3.5" adapter brackets.

Once the drive cloning is complete and the system is running again, we need to expand the boot partition to use any free space that may be available. Open Computer Management, expand the Storage section in the left column and select Disk Management. In the right column, right-click on the partition mark as Boot (usually C:) and select Expand. Once the boot partition has been resized, you can now enable Windows swap file.

How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

Doing computer repair for a living, I get a lot of questions about how to speed computers up. When it comes to improving the performance of your computer, adding more memory has always been the best 'bang for the buck'. And it's not that hard to do. Here's how to upgrade or add more memory to your laptop or desktop computer.

How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

When you start to look at upgrading your computer's memory, there are three (3) things you need to know: type of memory it uses, how much memory you currently have and the maximum amount of memory your system can handle. Computer memory is installed into slots on the motherboard. Laptops use SO-DIMM (Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Module) slots and desktops use DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module) slots. The amount of memory slots varies from laptop (1-2) to desktop (2-8). High performance motherboards, like the ones used in servers, can have 16 or more memory slots.

There are a couple of ways to find out the memory specs of your computer. The first is the tried and true method, the manufacturers manual (either system or motherboard) and physically checking the slots in the computer (some laptops have the memory slots in two different locations). Or you can use an online tool like the Crucial System Scanner to find out what type of memory is in your computer. In some cases, instead of just adding more memory, you may have to replace the existing memory modules with larger ones.

Once you have found out what type of memory you need, it's time to go and purchase it. You can buy it on-line or locally. But remember, if you need to return it, it's easier to do it locally. Also, if you need two or four modules of memory, many vendors offer twin and quad packs of memory for less than the individual price. Once you have your new memory, it's time to install it.

Note: Remember to disconnect the power going to the system before working on it.

  • Desktops - Disconnect the power cord going to the computer
  • Laptops - Disconnect the ac charger and remove the battery (if possible)

How to remove a laptop memory module from memory slot

How to remove a laptop memory module from memory slot

  1. Spread apart the securing clips on each end of the memory module slot until the module pops up.
  2. Remove the memory module from the memory module slot.

How to install a laptop memory module into memory slot

How to install a laptop memory module into memory slot

  1. Align the notch in the memory module with the tab in the memory module slot.
  2. Slide the memory module firmly into the slot at a 45 degree angle, and press the memory module down until it clicks into place. If you do not hear the click, remove the memory module and reinstall it.

How to remove a desktop memory module from memory slot

How to remove a desktop memory module from memory slot

  1. Push the release tabs near both ends of the memory module slot until the module pops up.
  2. Remove the memory module from the memory module slot.

How to install a desktop memory module into memory slot

How to install a desktop memory module into memory slot

  1. Align the notch in the memory module with the tab in the memory module slot.
  2. Insert memory module vertically and press down until it snaps into place.

Running your old version of Windows XP in a Virtual Machine

If you haven't heard by now, Windows XP has come to the end of its life. After April 8th, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP, which means no more security patches or hot fixes. Using Windows XP as a primary operating system is no longer an option. But you can still use your old version of Windows XP and the installed programs on a newer version of Windows using a Virtual Machine (VM).

A physical to virtual migrated version of Windows XP inside of VirtualBox running on Windows 8
A physical-to-virtual migrated version of Windows XP inside of VirtualBox running on Windows 8

The problem most people are having with going to a new version of Windows is that they have software installed on Windows XP that they cannot install or will not run on a newer version of Windows. Either the software came pre-loaded, they lost the installation media or the company went out of business. If you're one of these people, there is hope.

I've written a few times about using VM's to run different operating systems on the same computer. Basically, you create a virtual hard drive and install your operating system inside of it. You can also create a virtual hard drive from your physical hard drive. This way you can upgrade to a newer version of Windows and still have access to your old Windows XP programs.

Note: With the change of hardware from physical-to-virtual, Windows will need to be re-activated. Physical-to-virtual hard drive migration of a Windows installation is a valid function for customers with full retail copies of Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.

To do this you will need two programs, Microsoft's Windows Sysinternals Disk2vhd and Oracle's VirtualBox. Both programs are free for personal use and the links to the software are below. First thing to do is create a virtual hard drive from your existing physical hard drive. Start up Disk2vhd and you get only one simple menu. Select 'Prepare for use in Virtual PC' and 'Use Volume Shadow Copy' and deselect 'Use Vhdx'. Next select the location for the virtual hard drive file. For the best performance, you should create the virtual hard drive on a different physical drive (network or external).

The Disk2vhd main screen with options
The Disk2vhd main screen with options

Now it's time to install VirtualBox on the new system. Remember to also download and install the VirtualBox Guest Extensions. Once installed, copy over the virtual hard drive you created with Disk2vhd. Next you create a new VM with settings (operating system, memory, etc.) based on your old computer. You then will be prompted to create a new virtual drive or use an existing one. Browse and select the virtual drive that you created.

Modified boot menu in physical to virtual migrated version of Windows XP
Modified boot menu in physical to virtual migrated version of Windows XP

The first time you start the VM, it will find the new VM hardware and try to install drivers for them. If it fails to find drivers, just go to the 'Devices' tab on the top menu and select 'Insert Guest Additions CD image'. Open Windows Explorer and browse to the virtual drive named VBOXADDITIONS and run VBoxWindowsAdditions. This will install the keyboard, video and mouse drivers. You will have to tweak the settings to get it run flawlessly. If you're migrating a version of Windows XP, I recommend disabling access to the internet, since there is no longer security updates and patches for Windows XP after 4/8/14.

For more information on VirtualBox or Disk2vhd, just follow the links below.

Oracle VM VirtualBox
Sysinternals Disk2vhd

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Are you running out of free space on your computer's hard drive? You've uninstalled unused programs and cleaned it up, but still cannot free up any more space? Doing computer repair, I've seen this many times and have personally run out of space more times than I care to remember. Here's how to upgrade the hard drive in your computer.

Changing out a hard drive may sound scary, but it's not. If your existing drive is healthy and you have a good backup of the data on it, you should be good to go. The procedure is the same for desktop computers and laptops, with slight differences due to form factor (physical size).

Two different sizes of hard drives side-by-side
Two different sizes of hard drives side-by-side

There are two types of drives, SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive), two different types of hard drive interfaces, SATA (7 pin connection cable) and PATA (40 pin ribbon connection cable) and two different form factors (physical size) of drives; 2.5" and 3.5" (the dimension relates to the width of the drive). HHD's come in 3.5" and 2.5" sizes, SSD's come in only the 2.5" form factor. Laptops use the 2.5" form factor and desktop computers can use either size. If you're planning on using an SSD or 2.5" HDD in a desktop computer you'll have to use 2.5" to 3.5" adapter brackets. Also, if you're installing an SSD into a laptop, check the physical dimensions first. Some SSD's are higher (thicker) than standard 2.5" HDD's and may not fit into a laptop.

View of hard drive properties inside of Disk Management
View of hard drive properties inside of Disk Management

The next thing to do is find out what you have for an existing drive. Open Computer Management, expand the Storage section and select Disk Management. Find the disk you want to upgrade, right-click on the disk name (Disk 0, Disk 1, etc.) and select Properties. On the General tab you will find the model number of that drive. Do a Google search for it and find out the specifications (form factor, data capacity and interface). Now it's just a matter of getting a new drive that matches the form factor and interface. Remember that the data capacity of your new drive has to be equal to or larger than your existing drive.

If your existing drive is an HDD, the first thing to do is check the existing drive for errors. Running a Checkdisk will find any errors that might prevent the successful cloning of the drive.

Running Checkdisk in Windows XP
Running Checkdisk in Windows Vista
Running Checkdisk in Windows 7
Running Checkdisk in Windows 8

If errors are found on the existing drive, you will not be able to use the software provided by the new drive's manufacturer. In this case, you will have to use third-party software like R-Drive that can ignore read errors.

Two ways to clone a hard drive

Drive-to-drive cloning

Drive-to-drive is the easiest to do and a few drive manufacturers (Western Digital, Seagate, etc.) have free utilities to do this. There are also a few free disk cloning utilities out there. Check out the UBCD, it has a few. All you have to do is turn off your computer and install the new drive into your computer. If your system is a desktop computer, consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to do this. If it's a laptop, you will have to attach it using either a USB adapter or inside of an external case.

A laptop hard drive connected to a USB adapter
A laptop hard drive connected to a USB adapter

If you plan on reusing your existing laptop drive, an external case might be the way to go. That way when you're done, you can put your existing drive into it, reformat it and use it as an external drive for storage.

Once you have the new drive in place, just start your computer up, install the manufacturer's software and start the disk clone. If you're installing a larger drive, always remember to check and make sure that the new free space is going to partition you want to expand. Once done, just power off the computer and change the drives out. If your system is a laptop, consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to change out the hard drive. If you installed a HDD, first thing you want to do is a Checkdisk. When you clone a drive, you copy everything including the MFT's (Master File Table). SSD's will automatically adjust them, HDD's don't. Run a Checkdisk to fix them.

Drive-to-image / image-to-drive cloning

Drive-to-image / image-to-drive are a bit harder to do but it has an advantage, a full disk backup. This process does require third-party software like R-Drive and an external drive or network drive. Most disk cloning tools allow you to create a boot disk, that way you can boot your system up on it to clone the drive. Once you have created a boot disk, you're ready to go.

Basically the process is the same as drive-to-drive, but instead of cloning to the new drive, you create a file containing an image of the existing hard drive on a removable hard drive or network folder. I prefer the portable (2.5") external hard drive, as they don't require any additional source of power (AC adapter). Boot your computer up on the disk you created. Once it is booted up, attach an external hard drive or configure the network settings and select the location for your drive image.

After you create the drive image, you can shut down your computer and change out the drives. Consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to change out the hard drive. Then you boot your computer back up on the disk you created, reconnect your external drive or network drive and restore the drive from the image file. If you're installing a larger drive, always remember to check and make sure that the new free space is going to partition you want to expand. Once done, just shut the system down, remove the boot disk and start it back up. If you installed a HDD, first thing you want to do is a Checkdisk. When you clone a drive, you copy everything including the Master File Tables. SSD's will automatically adjust them, HDD's don't. Run a checkdisk to fix them.

Custom cases: Back in Black

Here are the before and after pictures of the finished case for the upgrading your computer cheaply article.

Back in Black 1Back in Black 2

The face and body are RUST-OLEUM's 'Satin Black' Universal All-Surface Paint. I then applied a couple coats of RUST-OLEUM's Crystal Clear Enamel.

SideNote: I contacted RUST-OLEUM to let them know about my daughter's faux stone and chalkboard case. They thought it was cool and hoped they might be able to add it to their web site. Here's the image we sent them.

Faux stone and chalkboard with RUST-OLEUM on side

Till then,

Scott

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

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