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Can I use my old hard drives with a new motherboard?

If I get a new motherboard for my computer, can I use the hard drives that I
have with it? From what I’ve read, I expect the current C drive operating
system won’t work with a new motherboard, but if I installed the operating
system on my current D drive, and used that as the new C drive, would it work,
or would I be risking the information on the drive? (I really don’t want to
lose all my pictures!) I would then want to put my current C drive in as my new
D drive, and delete the old OS off that. Also would the programs get confused
as to what drive they are on?

The short answer is yes you can probably do what you’re suggesting. In fact,
it’s one way I’d probably approach the problem myself.

But we also need to set some expectations about what it is you’ll have when
you’re done.

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First, if you get the exact same motherboard as a replacement you can
probably just avoid the issue complete. Chance are you can just plug C: into
C:, D: into D: and things will likely just work.

If you have a different motherboard (replacement is always a good time for
an upgrade :-), or you just want to play it safe, then plugging your new drive
in as C: and your old C: drive in as D: makes a lot of sense, and will in all
probability work just fine.

You’ll install Windows onto your new drive, and once done everything that
was on your old C: drive will appear on your new D:. Very handy, and you should
be able to copy those pictures off with no problem.

But you raise a good issue: everything may not be what you expect.

Yes, your programs will be very confused. For one thing, since
you’ve installed Windows from scratch onto your new drive, the programs will no
longer be “installed”. They’ll be present on the D: drive, but they’ll no
longer appear in the Start menu. If you do manage to locate and run one of the
programs, it’s likely that it’ll fail since all of its settings that were kept
in the Windows registry are no longer in the registry of the newly installed
Windows. Temporary locations or other support files that are part of setting up
a program are, effectively, wiped out with a clean install of Windows.

“… since
you’ve installed Windows from scratch onto your new drive, the programs will no
longer be ‘installed’.”

The files will still be on the D: drive, but Windows, and the application,
will have lost track of them.

Now, there are applications out there that you can purchase that claim to be
able to “move” installed programs from one computer to another, or from one
hard disk to another. Because of the complexity involved in doing so reliably,
I’m somewhat skeptical – but it’s skepticism born of ignorance, as I’ve not
tried such a utility. Yet. I do have a copy of one of the more reputable
programs on my shelf for evaluation later this year.

Without such a utility, the solution is to reinstall all of your
applications from their initial install CDs. In my opinion that’s one of the
most reliable approaches you can take. It is a bit of work – but once done, you
have not only a fresh, clean install of Windows, but the same for all of the
applications you chose to reinstall.

Once the applications have been reinstalled, you can copy over data files
from your old drive and be on your way.

We’re not done! I can’t let this go without this comment:
You’re not backing up, and you should be.

If you have important things on your hard drive that you don’t want to lose
and they’re only on that hard drive – you’re taking a huge risk. Some
day that hard disk might die – without warning, and without recovery. You could
easily lose everything that’s on it. I strongly
recommend you take this opportunity to invest in a backup strategy that will
cover your assets in case of a disaster scenario.

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15 comments on “Can I use my old hard drives with a new motherboard?”

  1. I have replaced motherboards and kept the hard drive many times over the years without any problems.

    Well, one “minor” problem with an easy workaround. The first time you boot to Windows (assuming this is a Windows system, given the references to “C:” and “D:”), it will probably detect new hardware and will want to install new drivers off the Windows CD. Unfortunately, I have had motherboard upgrades where this “insert the Windows CD” prompt occurs _before_ the CD drivers are loaded, causing a nice Catch 22 situation.

    To get around this, I make a “\windows.cd” directory on the hard drive, and copy the Windows install CD there _before_ installing the new motherboard. Then, simply tell the new hardware wizard to look there, rather than the CD drive itself.

    Reply
  2. Well, some days before I have read something about copying windows registry, specially “\…\WAB”, and “\system32” directory. After that I supposed was told to get some “merge program”, and run it including these two situations. The issue was making ourselves a new computer and tranfer the windows serial to the new one, including hard disks and keep them ok. Might be good discoussing these options ? Something good to keep from this?
    Vic

    Reply
  3. I’ve got a client that has had their mobo and cpu fried, so ive replaced both those, but here is where the problem lies, they did not back up their system and would like to keep everything the way it was on the old hdd without reformatting and losing all data and programs installed (as they do not have the original install files for these programs). My question is (as i know the old xp pro hdd will not boot with new system) i’ve already run the repair install and recovery console, but to no avail, it gets stuck un the boot loop like many others. But, i have built my own machine with the same system (mobo and cpu) with a clean xp pro install which does not have any programs or devices installed…. could i swap the start up files to the old hdd with the same mobo and cpu to get it started to detect all the new drivers and keep programs and data etc. and if so, what files would i need to replace on the old hdd from my clean hdd? (ive already tried everything i can think of and this popped into mind) btw, i cannot boot into safe mode on the old hdd to remove the drivers so windows will pick them up on repair for the new mobo. and the system when boots in safe mode will hang on ‘gagp30kx.sys’ which i assume is the video card? or failing that, how would i go about deleting the drivers that try to boot using recovery console. sorry for the long question, im just at that stage where ive been over and over with this thing for days and becoming a zombie. cheers and thanks in advance, pammii.

    Reply
  4. Linux. Many distributions available, free for the price of downloading and burning it.
    I swapped a SATA HD and Grafx card into a fully functional system. Windows would not go. Linux go’ed. Writing this while hunting down a way to make Windows go (for one game only, once I’m done with it I reformat and say goodbye to Windows on my personal boxes).
    Why is it so easy to–and get this, hot plug a hard drive into your mobo–change hardware on other OSs while the leading OS supplier’s software costs so many man-hours to change? Motherboards’ lifespans are finite–not that they die, always, but c’mon, the technology changes.

    Reply
  5. Hi Leo, My, Motherboard has failed me, and I have important data on my HDD(which has windowsxp installed), when I put it in another computer, it just makes a blinking sound and I get the message ‘Cannot read HDD’. Is there anything I can do to use this HDD again?

    Reply
  6. A local competent builder is assembling a new machine for me. New: motherboard; new boxed version XPpro; new HD. Old: XPpro; 2 HD; several Autocad,Catia & Solidworks programs. How to transfer to the new machine? I realize this is already partially answered in your column but the “devil” is in the details! Specific questions are best when all details are given. Some friends advise Magic Mover. That seems to out of date. I am in no hurry to lose programs. This seems to be a common task, as 2 other of this builder’s customer’s are attempting to do the same task. Also I have no agreement on partitioning of the new HD. How many partitions of what size? I have about 20 gig of cad type programs now.

    Reply
  7. I have a related question and comment:

    I agree – many times, if you just move your hard drive from one machine to another and boot up, it may likely fail.

    My question is this: could it be done if all drives for the NEW machine are installed prior to moving the hard drive, will it work? And if it works, can you dual boot?

    Reply
  8. hi leo,
    I am baout to replace my motherboard. At present I have windows7 installed in C and many other imp info
    in the other hard disks. will all the information get erased when i replace my existing motherboard with a new one? if so is there any chance in which i can keep all my information as well as the OS intact?

    thanks.

    Backup everything first. It’s possible that you will need to reinstall Windows.

    Leo
    01-Dec-2009

    Reply
  9. ATTENTION!!! I just bought (Dec 1, 09) a brand new HP Pavillion and opened it up (was no warranty tape on it) to move my E drive from my old computer over (has all my pictures and music) and the new Hard Drive and Motherbord have a completely NEW setup! New style of cables, power and data for HDD, and no place on the motherboard to plug in the ribbon connector from my old HDD! Has a place for a floppy ribbon (34 pin block – FDD) but NOT a 40 pin IDE block! Don’t understand their mentality (industry forcing everyone to buy new hard drives =$$$$ I suppose). My old Motherboard has a physical problem and wont run. I guess I can plug my old HDD into a friends computer and tranfer it all to a newly bought new style HDD(like to keep this data off the same HDD as my OS). Any way of using the 34 pin Floppy block? Is there a card I can plug into a PCI slot and connect to? Can my HDD be converted to an external drive that uses a USB or other connector? ***ANY thoughts or suggestion wouid be greatly appreciated***

    Get yourself an external USB enclosure for the IDE drive – they’re available at most places like Fry’s or even Amazon. Cheap, and very flexible. New computers these days are using SATA drives, which are typically faster, though a different interface.

    Leo
    03-Dec-2009

    Reply
  10. My problem is slightly different. I have new motherboard not as the same as my dead motherboard. I don’t have OS CD just the recovery CD because the OS is pre-installed in my pc. Thus the old HDD has the Windows XP MCE. Will the Windows work with the new motherboard if I install it and start the pc with this configuration? Please help, I don’t have a pc now.

    Reply
  11. If you can’t buy online, your only choice seems to be Best Buy. By the way, if you try to replace an IDE with a SATA, be prepared to buy a cable, too. That bumped the $34.99 drive to $54.99. To Roger, you were required to burn your own windows recovery disk before the computer died. Product activation prevents you from moving it to a new computer. Note, the recovery took hours on my HP. It read the info at 1X speed.

    Reply
  12. I’ve put the OLD drive in as D: in the new computer, and since it was the system drive before it has /program files and /windows directories that I want to delete. It also has a directory named with a random number inside of which is are /AMD and /386i directories. I can’t delete these! I cannot change their properties to remove the “read only” attribute. How best to free up these disk areas?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply

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