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

Updated September 24, 2020

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 an M.2 slot). So if your existing computer has an HDD, odds are you could replace it with an SSD. Here's how to upgrade your computer hard disk drive to 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 refer back to it often. It describes how to clone a smaller drive to a larger one of the same type. Since SSD's typically 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 article mentioned above, the first thing to do is a Checkdisk of the existing HDD. Doing this will ensure there are no errors that may prohibit the cloning of the drive.

Running Checkdisk in Windows Vista / Windows 7

Running Checkdisk in Windows 8

Running Checkdisk in Windows 10

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

Disk Cleanup Windows 10

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

Windows Vista / Windows 7 Backup

Windows 8 Backup

Windows 10 Backup

The next thing I have to do is find out what is taking up space on the existing HDD. For this, I'll use a copy of Space Sniffer. After a 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

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows Vista

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 7

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 8

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 10

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 details on how to clone your 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 SATA HDD is 3.5" form factor, and SATA SSD's are 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 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 the Windows swap file.

For more information on upgrading computer drives. click on the following links.

How to clone the drive in your Windows computer

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

How to create the Windows 8.1 user group of tiles on the Start screen

With the release of the Windows 8.1 Update, all new users have a new group of tiles on the Start screen: This PC (My Computer), PC Settings, Documents (My Documents) and Pictures (My Pictures). If you're a Windows 8.1 existing user or still running Windows 8, you will not see these added to your established Start screen, only new profiles get these. Windows RT users only get the PC Settings tile. Here's how to create the Windows 8.1 user group of tiles on the Start screen.

  1. On the Start screen, left-click on Desktop.
  2. Left-click on File Explorer on the Taskbar.
    Pinning This PC to the Windows 8 Start screen
  3. Right-click on This PC and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  4. Right-click on Documents and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  5. Right-click on Pictures and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  6. Left-click on the Start button or press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key to bring up the Start screen.
    Pinning PC Settings to the Windows 8 Start screen
  7. Bring up the search charm: Windows 8 - Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + F or bring up the Charms bar and select Search. Windows 8.1 - Left-click on the Search button.
  8. In the Search box type PC Settings. In the search results, right-click on PC Settings and select Pin to Start.

Inside the Windows 8.1 Update

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Update (actual name), the latest refinement of Windows 8.1. Most the changes are targeted at keyboard / mouse users, like me. The update comes only months (10/17/13) after the initial release of Windows 8.1 and includes user interface enhancements and security fixes. Here's a look inside the Windows 8.1. Update.

The update builds on the previous Windows 8.1 changes geared towards keyboard / mouse users: the return of the Start button, smaller tile size on the Start screen and booting directly to the Desktop. But the overall focus was still towards touch sensitive devices. The Windows 8.1 Update changes all of that.

The first thing you'll notice is the default behavior of Windows 8.1 has changed. Windows 8.1 now checks to see if there is a touch sensitive display attached to the computer and modifies the way it runs. For example, if your computer doesn't not have a touch screen, the default programs that open pictures, videos and music files go back to the familiar Desktop apps that Windows 7 used. Here's a complete list of the changes to Windows 8.1 behavior:

Windows 8.1 defaults before update Windows 8.1 defaults after update
  • Boots to Start Screen
  • Closing App takes user back to Start Screen
  • Pictures, Music and Video files open with Modern App
  • Boots to Desktop
  • Closing App takes user to the previously used App.
  • After closing all Apps the user ends in the Desktop
  • Pictures, Music and Video files open with Desktop applications

New Windows 8.1 Update Start screen features
New Windows 8.1 Update Start screen features

The Start screen has also seen some Desktop friendly revisions too. Microsoft has finally added a Power button, so you no longer have to log-off to turn off or restart your computer. Also added are familiar Desktop style content menus for the Tile properties. There are also a new set of tiles that are added for new users; This PC, PC Settings, Documents and Pictures. They won't appear for existing users, but can easily be recreated if you want them.

New Metro app Title Bar with Minimize and Close buttons
New Metro app Title Bar with Minimize and Close buttons

Microsoft also made some changes to the Metro (Windows RT) interface too. In an effort to make it more Desktop friendly, Metro apps now have a drop-down Title Bar on top, similar to Desktop programs, with Minimize and Close buttons. Also, Metro apps can now be pinned to the Taskbar (the Store is automatically pinned with the update).

For more information on the Windows 8.1 Update, just follow the link below.

Exploring Windows 8.1 Update

How to move from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

The end of life for Windows XP has been and still is a major headache for consumers. You've got your old computer set up just the way you like it and its running fine. But there comes a time when you need to move to a newer and more secure operating system. Here's a couple of ways to move from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.

A screen shot of the website AmIRunningXP.com
A screen shot of the website AmIRunningXP.com

Upgrade the operating system on your existing computer

The biggest problem with this scenario is that there is no way to do an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. First is the different partition, folder and file architecture. Second is that the majority of Windows XP installations in-use are 32-bit. All most all versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 / 8.1 in use are 64-bit. You can still get 32-bit versions of them, but with the 4GB memory limit, they are not very popular. If your computer was built within the last 5-7 years, it may be compatible with Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1.

Windows 7 / Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 hardware requirements:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard drive space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

How to upgrade your existing computer from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

  1. Download the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check to see if the hardware in your existing system meets the minimum hardware requirements.
    Windows Upgrade Assistant
  2. Check your existing hard drive for errors.
    Detecting and repairing disk errors in Windows XP
  3. Defragment your existing hard drive.
    Using Disk Defragmenter in Windows XP
  4. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  5. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or the latest version (Windows 7) of Windows Easy Transfer. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP
    Windows Easy Transfer
  6. Perform a clean installation of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, erasing the existing partition(s)
  7. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  8. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  9. Install all of the programs you had installed on your previous version of Windows. This way when you transfer your documents and settings the file associations for your documents will be already set up.
  10. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or run Windows Easy Transfer built-in to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP

Migrate from your old computer to a new computer

This, by far, is the easiest way to go. Only problem might be if your existing programs are not compatible with the version of Windows on your new computer. If you find that a program won't run right out of the box, you may be able to run it in 'Compatibility Mode' for another version of Windows.

How to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

  1. Download the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check to see if the hardware attached to your existing system meets the minimum hardware requirements.
    Windows Upgrade Assistant
  2. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  3. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or the latest version (Windows 7) of Windows Easy Transfer. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP
    Windows Easy Transfer
  4. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  5. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  6. In install all of the programs you had installed on your previous version of Windows. This way when you transfer your documents and settings, the file associations for your documents will be already set up.
  7. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or run Windows Easy Transfer built-in to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP

Also, here's a series of articles I wrote a few years ago on my personal experience upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 1)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 2 - Drive Imaging)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 3 - Hardware / Software Inventory)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 4 - Windows 7 Installation)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 5 - Applications and Settings)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 6 - Epilogue)

How to use layered security to protect your computer

It seems whenever I tell someone that I repair computers for a living, I almost always get asked the question "What do you recommend for anti-virus software?". I tell them that I use a layered approach to security, not relying on just one program for protection. I personally don't like to use all-in-one security suites. It's not that I don't trust any particular software; I just don't like having just one piece of software protecting my computer. Here's how to use layered security to protect your computer.

Protecting your computer with layered security
Protecting your computer with layered security

Software firewall

Windows has had a pretty good firewall built-in since Windows Vista and it's turned on by default. It comes pre-installed inside of Windows and is ready to go. There are also some great stand-alone programs like ZoneAlarm. This is also one of those additional features of all-in-one security software. It's your choice.

Anti-virus software

This one is a no brainer. There are plenty of free and retail anti-virus programs on the market, and I have used quite few different ones over the years. Some internet service providers like Cox Communications even offer free security suite software. The only thing to keep in mind when picking an anti-virus program is the performance of the system you're installing it on. I would not install a full-blown security suite like Norton or McAfee on a tablet or netbook.

Anti-malware / anti-spyware software

Anti-virus software normally looks for, you guessed it, viruses. I've cleaned out quite a few pieces of ransomware that anti-virus programs missed because it wasn't a virus. Quite a few of anti-malware programs are meant to be run side-by-side with anti-virus software. But there are a couple of exceptions to this rule: McAfee software doesn't like to work with Malwarebytes Anti-malware, but it can. And never install Microsoft Security Essentials along with SuperAnti-Spyware, as they are completely incompatible. It's a long story, but basically they are the same program.

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET)

EMET actuality works as a shim between programs and the operating system. It looks for known patterns of attack and can prevent programs from getting access to the operating system. It can prevent a hacker from using security holes in programs until the developer issues an update. Just configure EMET to monitor any program that can access the Internet. I've seen it work first hand (rouge flash inside of browser) and it does what it's meant to do.

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Bring your computer to us and save

Diagnosing PC problems can be time-consuming. From running memory checking software to scanning for viruses, these are processes can take some time. We base our in-shop service on the actual time we work on your computer, not the time it takes your computer to work!

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Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in servicing laptop and desktop computers. Since 2008, our expert and knowledgeable technicians have provided excellent computer repair, virus removal, data recovery, photo manipulation, and website support to the greater Phoenix metro area.

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