How I Upgraded My Laptop's Hard Drive and Almost Lost My Mind

No reader questions this time. I just want to share a personal experience.

I bought a new hard drive for my laptop recently, and set out to install it Tuesday morning. No big deal; I've updated hard drives before.

True, I'd never swapped a laptop's hard drive, but how difficult could it be? The directions on Lenovo's web site made it look easier than losing money in Vegas.

But before you can lose money in Vegas, you have to get to Vegas, and earn some money. And before you can start using your newer and bigger hard drive, you have to clone the contents of the old drive onto it. That's relatively easy on a desktop, where you can easily plug in two internal drives. Laptops? Not so simple.

My solution was time-consuming, but easy--or so I thought. I would use Acronis True Image to create an image back up of the old drive onto an external hard drive, swap the internal drives, then restore the backup courtesy of the True Image boot CD.

No problem with the backup. And not much of a problem with the physical swap. True, the directions skipped one little step--just a minor chore that involved removing and re-inserting four of the tiniest screws this side of eyeglass repair. That little process only tripled the length of the whole swapping procedure.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was going to get to know those screws intimately.

Feeling confident after physically installing the drive, I booted into True Image. Then I ran into a problem in much the same way Daffy Duck runs into an anvil. The program just wouldn't let me turn the 87GB partition in the image file into a 200GB partition on my new drive. If I couldn't resize the partition, what did I need a new drive for?

I won't bore you with all of my attempted solutions and diagnostics. Let me just say that if a certain Acronis' tech support representative takes up drinking, I take full responsibility.

Luckily, my friend Max lent me a lifesaver. No, not a candy, but a Bytecc USB 2.0 Drive Mate.

By providing a quick and easy way to externally access my old internal hard drive, the USB 2.0 Drive Mate made an easy job of cloning...or at least an easier one.
Basically a SATA-to-USB (or IDE-to-USB) adapter, it turns an internal drive that isn't currently inside of anything into an external one. (Yes, I knew such things existed; I just didn't know I needed one.)

With the old drive hooked up via USB, I could do what I should have done in the first place: clone directly. Except True Image wouldn't let me. Instead of cloning the drive, the program considered the task and gave up. Why? Like a child explaining incomplete homework, its excuses weren't quite believable.

Next step: Swap the drives again, affording me round two with those teeny, tiny screws. With the old drive back in the bay, I plugged the new drive into the Drive Mate and tried cloning again. True Image remained firm in its belief that the job couldn't be done.

So I booted with the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows (see Six Downloadable Boot Discs That Could Save Your PC) and tried cloning with one of the disc's more useful tools, DriveImage XML.

The good news: Instead of an error message, DriveImage XML started copying and told me how long it would take.

The bad news: six hours. That would be well passed my bedtime.

I checked my PC first thing Wednesday morning. DriveImage XML told me the cloning was a success, but there was only one way to be sure.

And so, once again, I swapped drives, and once again tempted fate with those microscopic screws. But this time, I was working without caffeine. I pulled out a screw and watched in horror as it dropped, missed the table, bounced off the floor, and disappeared into the fourth dimension.

My wife and I spent ten minutes in a desperate screw hunt. We even moved the printer table, where we found a battery, old photos, odd toys, and enough dust to choke a Roomba. But no screw.

Eventually we found it. Ever notice that whatever you're searching for is always in the last place you look?

The new drive in place, I booted the laptop and got what I expected: an error message. But at least it was a Windows Vista error message! And it told me I needed to use a Windows Vista disc to fix the problem. Not so good a sign. Vista came, discless, with my PC.

Luckly, I have the Vista Recovery Disc (also discussed in the Six Downloadable Boot Discs article), which can do everything a Vista installation disc can except install Vista. Once it was up, I clicked the Repair your computer button.

Then came the real shock: Microsoft's Repair tool actually repaired the problem--quickly and with no fuss, then rebooted into Windows Vista. Everything was exactly like it was before the ordeal, except I had a whole lot more drive space.

The last thing I expected was success.

Email your technology questions to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

Subscribe to the Power Tips Newsletter

Comments