There are indeed programs that can help — they’re called backup programs.
While there are many, many ways to do what you want to do, I’m going to review what I think is the most resilient and appropriate way.
It’s how I do exactly the same thing.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
First: BACK UP!
First things first: start backing up. Now. Do not wait.
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 your existing files are there, in your backups, ready for recovery should you need them for any reason.
- The ability to recover, even if your hard drive fails 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 it can help you recover from…
… including the problem you’re describing.
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.
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 if you’ve been backing up regularly, most of these pieces 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 1a: Making an image backup if you can’t
If, for some reason, you haven’t, and cannot now install the backup software on your machine, or things aren’t running well enough for you to run it, there’s a slightly different approach to creating that all-important image backup.
- Install the backup software on another machine.
- Create the rescue media for that software.
- Boot your problematic machine from that rescue media.
For most backup programs, the rescue media can also be used to create an image backup. Do that now.
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 restore the layout of the hard disk exactly as it was on the original drive. What that means is that there’s a chance 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 rearrange your partitions so you can extend the C: partition into the unused space.
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 hard drive.
I’ll mention also that I have several books on backing up, including step-by-step instructions on performing the backup and restore outlined in this article, using free versions of popular backup programs. Check out the “Saved!” series of books at The Ask Leo! Store.
My recommendation: use an image backup tool like Macrium Reflect or EaseUS Todo, 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.
If you found this article helpful, I'm sure you'll also love Confident Computing! My weekly email newsletter is full of articles that help you solve problems, stay safe, and give you more confidence with technology. Subscribe now and I'll see you there soon,