There are indeed programs that can help.
They’re called “backup programs”.
While there are many, many ways to do what you’re looking to do, I’m going to review what I think is the most appropriate way.
In fact, it’s the exact way that I frequently do exactly what you’re asking about.
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First: BACK UP!
First things first: start backing up. Now. Do not wait.
You are very, very lucky: most hard drive failures come without any warning; one day, the drive just fails.
The fact that you’re asking this question tells me you haven’t been backing up.
If you had been backing up, you would have:
- The knowledge that your existing files are there, in your backups, ready for recovery should you ever need them for any reason.
- The ability to recover, even if your hard drive failed completely without warning.
- A means to transfer your entire system to your new hard disk.
If you read Ask Leo! frequently, you may be tired of my constant harping on the miracle that is a well-maintained backup, but I can’t stress enough how important it is, and how many types of problems from which it can help you recover.
I know this for a fact myself, since very coincidentally, two days before writing the original version of this article, the primary hard drive on my primary work machine developed a bad sector that could not be repaired. Since then, I’ve used this technique to replace hard disks in multiple machines, both Mac and PC, as well as virtual machines.
Step 1: Make an image backup
In reality, there’s a little more to it, of course.
- Get and install backup software, if you haven’t already.
- Get an external hard disk to contain your backups, if you haven’t already.
- Create the “rescue disk” or “emergency disk” for your backup software, if you haven’t already.
All “if you haven’t already” means is that if you’ve been backing up regularly, most of these peices will already be in place. You’ll have backup software, you’ll have that external hard drive, and you’ll have created that emergency disk in case you ever need it.
Today, you need it.
Using your backup software, create a full-image backup of your machine. If you have been backing up, you can simply rely on the most recent backup image, if you like. I want additional reassurance I won’t lose any changes made since then, so I make a complete full-image backup immediately prior to changing the drive.
Step 2: Install the replacement drive
I’ll assume you’ve already purchased a replacement drive. It should have at least as much capacity as the drive you’re replacing, though it’s not at all uncommon for it to be larger – sometimes much larger. That’s OK.
Turn off your machine, unplug it, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for replacing the failing hard drive.
Step 3: Restore the backup image
After you put your machine back together again, reboot, using the emergency/rescue disk you created with your backup software.
Now, use that software to restore your backup image to the new hard drive.
That’s pretty much it. When that’s done, you can remove the emergency disk and reboot, and you should be up and running as if nothing had happened… except you’ll be running from your replacement hard drive.
Step 4: Tweak partitions
This step is technically optional, but as I said above, it’s common for replacement drives to be larger than the original. Most backup programs will restore the layout of the hard disk exactly as it was on the original drive. What that means is that there’s a chance all the extra space on the new drive will go unused.
There are several approaches.
- Do nothing. Your machine is working.
- Use Windows Disk Manager to create a new partition out of the unused space, which will appear as a new drive letter.
- Use Windows Disk Manager to extend an existing partition (ideally your C: partition), making that partition larger. (This may or may not always be practical, depending on how the partitions are laid out.)
- Use another disk management tool to re-arrange your partitions so you can extend the C: partition into the unused space.
Check the related articles below for links to partition-related information.
Now you’re really done.
The bottom line is exactly what you were looking for. Having a full backup image allows you to transfer everything from an existing, failing hard disk to a replacement disk. And that’s exactly what I recommend you do: start backing up to an external backup hard drive.
I’ll mention also that I have several books on backing up, including books with step-by-step instructions on performing the backup and restore outlined in this article, using several popular backup programs (including free versions). Check out the “Saved!” series of books at The Ask Leo! Store.
My recommendation: use an image backup tool like Macrium Reflect, and begin backing up regularly. It’s hard to overstate the number of different ways a regular backup can save you… but this is clearly one of them.