Intro

At home we had an old laptop laying around that’s used every so often to do something we couldn’t do (well) on a smartphone or tablet (e.g. creating address labels) or to run a tool that was only available for Windows. However, this laptop wasn’t the youngest and with its age came the side-effect of the laptop become extremely slow to work with.

Having a look at the resource explorer (Ctrl + Shift + Esc) showed that the hard drive was often reaching 100% usage even though not a lot of programs were running and the drive was far from full. This usually is a sign of a dying hard drive, meaning that the drive’s sectors were getting corrupted and the drive was spending a lot of time recovering data and moving it to healthy sectors, reducing its performance.

That’s why I decided to revitalise the laptop by replacing the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) with a Solid State Drive (SSD). SSDs don’t use spinning platters to hold data but make use of electronic storage, making them many times faster than their hard counterparts. By not having any moving parts, SSDs are also not as vulnerable to damage by vibrations (e.g. walking around with a running laptop).

Replacing a HDD with an SSD is often enough to add a couple more years of life to an old system, even with an OS like Windows 10. For more performance improvement, you could also install a light Linux distribution.

What you’ll need

You actually don’t need much to migrate from a HDD to a SSD:

  • The current HDD
    It makes sense that you still need a working HDD to clone from.
  • A new SSD
    An obvious one again, the SSD to clone to.
    You can get just about any SSD you want, just make sure the storage capacity of the SSD is at least the current used disk space. For example: Kingston A400, Samsung 870 EVO, …
    I’d also suggest going for the same form factor (3.5”/2.5”) as the drive you’re replacing so that you don’t have to mess with brackets or tape.
  • A SATA connector for the SSD
    During the cloning process, both drives need to be connected to the computer. If the computer does not have a spare SATA connector, you could use a USB-to-SATA adapter. E.g., this one on AliExpress.
    Note that 3.5” drives will most likely require a 12V power adapter, a 2.5” SSD can definitely be powered over USB (5V).
  • Cloning software
    You’ll need a tool capable of cloning the data on the HDD to the SSD.
    Preferably the tool is smart enough to only copy actually used disk storage space instead of blindly copying all sectors (including ‘empty’ ones).
    I used Macrium Reflect 8 Home Trial. This free tool also supports the Clone feature. Other tools I also looked at (AOMEI Backupper and Minitool Partition Wizard) also have this feature but require a paid license.

Preparation

Before migrating the system it’s a good idea to first perform these 2 things:

  1. Create a back-up of your data
  2. Clean the hard drive of unneeded files, folders, applications, etc.

Creating a back-up of our data

It’s always a good idea to have one or more backups of your data.

After cloning the HDD to the SSD, you’ll still have the HDD with the data in case the clone failed and the SSD doesn’t have (all) your data. However, since one of the reasons we’re doing all of this is that the drive is failing, we want to make sure we have secured another copy of our data.

Copy your files to an external drive, use Window’s built-in back-up tool, the tool of your Network Attached Storage (NAS) system, some scripting (e.g., rsync) or a 3rd party application. Make sure you disconnect any external drives during the cloning process.

Macrium Reflect also provides a back-up feature.

Clean our hard drive

The cloning process will copy all data that’s currently on the HDD to the SSD.

Over the years of using this computer, you may have collected quite some files and applications you’re not actually using anymore. This is a good moment to get rid of these unneeded files. Having less data to copy will also speed up the cloning process.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Uninstall unused applications.
  • Remove unneeded files from My Documents, My Pictures, My Video, My Music, etc.
  • Remove inactive user profiles (e.g., old user account for a sibling or spouse)
  • Use Window’s Disk Cleanup utilty to delete temporary files.

Cloning the hard drive to a SSD

The process for cloning our HDD to a SSD is really easy.

Note that the cloning process can take quite some time, so don’t expect this to be done over lunchtime.

  1. Download and install Macrium Reflect.
  2. Connect the SSD to the SSD adapter and plug the adapter in your computer.
    The drive should automatically be recognised (see diskmgmt.msc) but will most likely be blank (so it won’t appear as a storage drive in Explorer). If not, use Device Manager (devmgmt.msc) to search for new devices or to look for firmware for your drive.
  3. Open Macrium Reflect.
  4. In the right-side section of the application, under the HDD disk you want to clone click Clone this disk... to start the cloning wizard.
  5. Follow the wizard, the default settings should work for most people.
    More info can be found in the Knowledge Base.
  6. Wait for the cloning process to finish.
    Note that you can opt to automatically shutdown the computer when the process has finished, useful when you do the cloning overnight.
Screenshot of Macrium Reflect
Macrium Reflect - Clone Drive …

At this point, the data of the HDD is now cloned to the SSD. Partitions may have been resized if the SSD had less disk space than the HDD but was big enough to store the data of the HDD.

Installing the SSD

The next thing to do is to physically install the SSD in the computer/laptop.

The exact process for opening the computer/laptop to be able to gain access to the HDD will depend on your device, but these are the basic steps:

  1. Disconnect any battery and/or power adapter from the device.
  2. Open the casing. This may require removing screws (some may be hidden under rubber feet or stickers).
  3. Locate the HDD and disconnect it. This may also require unscrewing the HDD from the holding bracket.
  4. Install the SSD in the location of the HDD. Screw the SSD in the bracket if applicable.
  5. Close the casing, or at least make sure you’re not touching any of the electronics.
  6. Connect the battery and/or power adapter again and boot the device.
Photo of a disassembled laptop showing the internals
Disassembled laptop showing CD/DVD drive, old HDD, and new SSD.
Photo of SSD installed in the HDD's bracket
SSD installed in the bracket using 4 screws (marked red) with the bracket mounted inside the laptop (orange).

Windows should now boot. It may be going through a Repair Procedure first, that’s because it may need to configure a few drivers for the SSD. After this, it should boot just fine. Subsequent (re)boots won’t go through this repair procedure and should be lightning fast compared to booting from the HDD.

We’re already done upgrading our system now. If you want to boost your system’s performance even more, you may want to have a look at the optional steps below.

Optional steps

You now have a fully functional and much faster device that should last you a few extra years.

If you want, however, there’s a few more things you could do.

Use HDD as extra storage drive

You now still have the old HDD available.

If this drive is still in good health, you could consider wiping the drive and plugging it in as a 2nd drive (if you have a spare SATA connection) or using an external hard drive enclosure to use the drive as an external USB drive. This will give you some extra storage space that cost you nothing as you’re repurposing old hardware. As such, you can also keep costs low by using a small SSD as boot drive and a huge HDD for file storage.

Don’t use the HDD as a boot drive, or you’ll lose any speed improvements we just gained by using a HDD. Also try to keep the Program Files folders on your SSD to speed up application performance. The HDD could be used to store (less frequently used) documents.

Do not use a failing drive as storage or backup drive!

Improve other specs of the device

Swapping a HDD for a SSD will give your system a significant speed boost. However, there are other parts in your system which may also be holding you back or which may benefit from an upgrade. Whether you do so will depend on the performance you’re aiming for, the ability to replace these parts in your system, and the price of upgrading vs buying new.

If your motherboard supports it, you could install an extra RAM card in a free slot or replace the existing set with a new set with more RAM memory and/or higher speeds. Having more RAM will allow you to have more programs open at the same time and will boost certain applications.

Then there’s also the CPU. If your device allows you to replace it and the motherboard support a higher-spec’d CPU, you could consider upgrading this as well.

Don’t forget that you’re upgrading an older device. The motherboard may no be compatible with the latest generations of CPU or RAM. There may also be bottlenecks caused because of older hardware not being able to handle to full speed of your new hardware.

The end

That was it for this blog post.

If you have further questions, hook me up on Twitter. I’m definitely no expert in this subject, but I’ll try to help as best as I can.