How to Upgrade Your Laptop's Hard Drive to an SSD

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Drive-Cloning Software

If you don't want to change the operating system, the easiest way to upgrade your laptop drive is to use a drive-cloning tool. That's how we performed the drive swap on our test machine.

Software that can make an exact, bit-for-bit copy of drive partitions has been around for years. Utilities such as Norton Ghost, Acronis True Image, and even the free Drive Image XML are incredibly useful for making backups, as well as for migrating hard drives.

For our example here, we used Acronis True Image Home 2010, a $50 utility. We've long used the professional version of True Image for cloning system drives.

You can use a drive-cloning tool in one of two ways. The first method is to create a bootable CD and then boot from that CD and run the software to copy the drive. The second approach is to install the app in Windows and then clone the drive by running the software within Windows. We used the latter method since it didn't require us to attach an external optical drive to our netbook-class laptop.

Before we started the cloning, we popped the Apex SSD into the Thermaltake drive dock and then plugged the dock's power cord into the wall. Prior to booting the PC, we plugged a USB cable from the drive dock into one of the USB ports on the laptop. We then turned everything on, waited for the USB drive to be recognized, and ran True Image.

Looking at the drive layout (as in the screenshot above), we knew that we had to keep the recovery partition at 12GB and the System Reserved partition at 102MB. The main partition was listed as 220.78GB, so that had to shrink. Luckily, the test laptop was a fairly new system, so we had only about 22GB of actual data and applications on the hard drive, which meant that we didn't have to move any data off to make space.

We installed True Image Home 2010 on the test laptop, and then ran the application and chose 'Clone Disk'.

When presented with the choice of automatic or manual drive cloning, we chose manual, since we wanted to manage how the three partitions were cloned.

We then selected the source drive, which was the Toshiba drive, with a listed capacity of 232.9GB. You can see the layout charted at the bottom of the screenshot here. Since we had only two drives connected, the OCZ Apex became the target drive.

Important note: Make sure to pick the correct target and destination drives. This is the most dangerous part of the whole process. If you select them incorrectly, you run the risk of copying over your system installation, losing your OS and all of your data!

In the next step, we selected what Acronis calls the "move method." Since we wanted to keep the partition sizes the same, we picked 'As is'. With True Image Home 2010, this choice is fairly smart: It makes exact duplicates of the small partitions, including their size, but knows that the main partition will be smaller, and resizes that one appropriately. In past versions of True Image, you had to select 'Manual' and type in the partition sizes yourself.

We then clicked 'Next', and we were off and running--True Image performed a drive-integrity check, rebooted the system, and proceeded to perform the actual cloning process in DOS mode.

If you wish, when you do the cloning, you can watch the transfer process as it happens. Or you can watch paint dry. We elected to come back after it finished.

Next: Swapping Drives

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