Yes and no.
The scenario is very common, even without a hard disk failure: simply replacing a traditional hard disk with a newer SSD is likely to involve “downsizing” the drive, as SSDs are generally smaller than HDs at comparable prices.
Restoring backup images across differently-sized drives has become easier since this question was originally asked. Unfortunately, Windows built-in backup utility hasn’t improved in this regard.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
First, the data
The data needs to fit.
In the question, only 150GB of data was on that 750GB drive, so moving that data to a smaller 250GB SSD should be relatively easy.
For most people, though, the first problem is that the original drive is filled to the brim, and the data that would simply need to be transferred exceeds the capacity of the replacement drive. In cases like that, a few more steps may be necessary:
- Disk cleanup. Remove all temporary files, caches, and cruft that might be on the drive.
- Uninstall. Remove applications you don’t use to free up space.
- Install a second drive and move as much of your data to it as makes sense, freeing up room on the primary drive.
- Add an external disk, and move as much of your data to it as makes sense. (While often slower than installing a second internal disk, this is sometimes the only alternative, and generally much easier.)
Once you have the amount of data to be transferred down to something less than the capacity of the new drive, you’re at a point where you can start.
Restoring an existing backup image
Some backup programs will “do the right thing” when restoring an existing image, as long as the amount of data on the image is less than the size of the new drive. In the original question, while the image was of a 750GB drive, there was only 150GB of data on the drive.
Some programs restore that to a new drive as expected: they’ll set up partitions on the new drive to the largest available, and then restore the data, as long as it fits.
Windows Backup is not one of those programs. You’ll need to do something different.
Restoring when you can’t
The real problem here is that the failure has already happened, and the original disk is no longer available. We need to restore the backup image if we’re going to restore at all, and Windows Backup isn’t going to help.
Thus, the solution becomes somewhat more complex.
- Get another hard drive large enough to hold the backup image; ideally the same size as the original disk or larger. It can be internal or external.
- Restore the image to that drive.
- Using partition management tools — either Windows or third-party tools — resize the partition to something smaller than the size of the replacement drive.
- Back up this new, smaller partition. Ideally, back it up with better software that will resize the partition properly on restore.
- Restore it to your new, smaller SSD.
It’s a bit of a pain, but in theory it should work.
Preparation, if you can
If you’re not dealing with a drive failure, but still have the original working drive, I’d follow the same or similar steps without getting a replacement drive.
- Using partition management tools, resize the partition to something smaller than the size of the replacement drive.
- Back up this new, smaller partition using software that will resize the partition properly on restore.
- Restore it to your new, smaller SSD.
That only works, of course, if the drive hasn’t yet failed and you’re replacing it for other reasons.
About Windows Backup
Besides Microsoft warning us that they plan to stop supporting it, Windows’ built-in backup program is just too limited in too many ways to be a reliable tool for scenarios like this. I recommend you stop relying on it.
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,