Even a basic Solid State Drive could be as much as 10x faster than an old optical hard drive, and if your motherboard supports it, a newer M.2 NVMe drive could be an even bigger improvement.
Completely replacing your hard drive, which could potentially contain thousands of your most important files, dozens of programs, and of course your Windows 10 installation, can seem like a daunting task. In reality, it really doesn’t need to be, and with the drive cloning method explained below, you won’t need to reinstall a single thing and could complete the whole process, from start to finish, in less than an hour or two (depending on the size of your drive, number of files, etc).
Choosing Your New SSD
The first thing you need to do is choose and buy your new Solid State Drive. The price of storage is relatively low at the moment, and you can find a standard 1TB 2.5in SATA SSD for as little as £70 ($90). If your motherboard is less than 5-6 years old, it will almost certainly have a M.2 connector. M.2 drives are, generally, faster still than 2.5in SATA drives, but you should expect to pay around £100 for a 1TB drive, although prices are falling.
If you are not sure, check the board specification on the manufacturer website (if compatible with M.2, it should say Something like “M.2 connector, Socket 3, M-key, type 2242/2260/2280”). Choose the SSD that suits your budget and compatibility accordingly.
Migrating from a larger HDD to a smaller SSD is possible, but requires more work. And who wants to lose storage space, right? Try to at least match the capacity of your old drive, or take this opportunity to increase your storage space.
Clean Up Your Old Hard Drive
Taking a bit of time to clean up your existing hard drive may be essential (if you are migrating to a smaller SSD) or just useful for speeding up the cloning process. In Windows 10, you can easily check your storage capacity and usage level by going to Settings > System > Storage. Here you will see your storage broken up into categories such as Apps & Features, Desktop, and Temporary Files. Clicking on each of these will give you options to clean up some space.
Modern games can take up huge amounts of space, so one of the quickest ways of reclaiming some storage capacity is to remove any you no longer play in the Apps & Features list. Sort the list by size, and it is very likely that any games you have installed will be at the top. We save 107GB by uninstalling just two games!
Even if you have no games installed, there are sure to be some apps and features you can live without, or large files you no longer need. Get rid of anything you no longer need or can live without.
Installing Macrium Reflect (Free Edition)
Macrium Reflect is backup, disk imaging and cloning software from Paramount Software. There are both paid and free versions available (we will be using the free edition) available to download here.
Download the software installer (click the “For Home Use” button) and double-click on it to start. Make sure that the free version is selected in the downloader windows and then click “Download”. Follow the prompts to install the software.
Before going any further, make sure that your new SSD is fitted and is being detected by your PC. We won’t go into how to install a new SSD here, but it should be as simple as connecting a SATA and power cable (or slotting an M.2 drive into the correct slot) and restarting your PC. Your SSD should automatically be assigned a drive letter.
Open Macrium Reflect and you should see your hard drive displayed. Any partitions will be displayed, along with the capacity of each partition and how much data they currently contain.
Below the drive display, click on “Clone this disk…” and then “Select a disk to clone to”. There should be only one option displayed (your new SSD), so select this. Assuming you don’t want to change or reorder the partitions, click next. If you want to only clone certain partitions, you can simply drag the partition you want to clone from one drive to the other.
If you are cloning to a completely new, unused SSD, it should have no partitions set, and for this guide it is easiest to simply copy like for like. This assumes you are cloning to a drive that is the same size or larger than your existing drive.
After clicking next, a detailed summary of what actions will be carried out is displayed. For this guide, you can simply click Finish to start the cloning process.
Depending on the size of the drive, the speed of the old drive and how much data needs to be cloned, this can take up to a few hours. The progress will be shown on screen as the clone happens.
Finishing Up the Migration
When the cloning process completes (hopefully without any errors) you won’t notice any immediate difference. This is because you have simply created a cloned disk, but everything is still running on the old one. It is important that you don’t do anything that will add data to the current disk, as it will not be there when you switch over to using the new SSD. One thing you should create is a text or Word document called “Old Drive” or something similar on the desktop. Because this will only appear on this, the old drive, it will help you differentiate the two drives during the next step.
Power down your computer and open it up. If you are simply replacing a SATA HDD with a SATA SSD, all you should need to do is disconnect the SATA and power cable from the old drive and connect it to the new one (ensuring that you don’t change which SATA port it connects to on the motherboard). When you reboot, the BIOS should detect the new drive as the boot drive.
If you want to keep the old drive in use, perhaps as additional storage, reconnect it to a different SATA port on your motherboard, with the SATA cable for the new drive replacing it. When the computer reboots, check the desktop for the “Old Drive” file you created, to ensure that it hasn’t booted to the old drive by mistake.
If it has, you will need to change the boot order in the BIOS. To view the BIOS, restart your computer, and press the relevant key during the POST process (usually F10 or Del). In BIOS, look for the Boot tab, and then change the boot order so that your computer boots from your newly installed SSD. You will probably also need to do this if you have replaced the old SATA HDD with a M.2 drive rather than a SATA SSD. Save and exit, and check to see if the correct drive has been used (look for that “Old Drive” file again).
Assuming the new SSD is now being used, your job is finished and you can start to enjoy faster loading times! You can wipe the old drive if you still have it installed.