How do I replace my system hard drive without installation media?

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Hi, Leo. My problem is this – my main drive failed today. It doesn’t seem to be spinning. There is power going to it as the light flashes for a few seconds. The error message says to install the boot media and in the BIOS, the hard drive is not even showing. It’s just the C Drive and all of my important stuff is on my external drives, which I do backup regularly. Hence, I’ll be replacing it soon. However, the computer only came with recovery discs. I’ve already tried reformatting the new drive using the recovery disc but it just keeps going back to the “Windows is loading files” screen. I changed a hard drive a few years ago but I had a startup disc to boot from. This machine does not have a boot disc. It’s Windows 7 and if I remember correctly, my other replacement used Windows XP.

You might be in a bit of a pickle.

There a number of things I gleaned from your question. Most of them are bad news. A possible glimmer of hope: you said you have your important stuff on external drives that you back up regularly. If you meant that you’ve been doing full system image backups, you’ll probably be fine.

Read moreHow do I replace my system hard drive without installation media?

If I buy the same model replacement machine, can I just move the hard disk?

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I have a Dell Inspiron 1545 operating on Vista. It has had problems with the monitor frame and hinges. I want to buy a used laptop of the same model and move my hard drive over to it. If I purchase a laptop with the same operating system, what kind of problems will I encounter? What if the used machine is purchased using Windows 7?

I receive so many variations of this question where people want to replace or swap hard drives from one machine into another.

Swaps like this usually don’t work, but your scenario actually could. Nonetheless, there are indeed a couple of misconceptions that I want to clear up here.

Read moreIf I buy the same model replacement machine, can I just move the hard disk?

My External Drive Is No Longer Visible. How Can I Get Its Contents?

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My husband is running Windows 7,64-bit. He has a secondary drive, 1 TB that has been on there for some time. He recently turned his machine on and the drive was no longer showing as being available. We have tried externally plugging the drive into another machine and it’s still not registering. Is it recoverable in any way?

There are several possible problems here. None of them are particularly simple to diagnose or resolve, but I’ll run through some of the ideas that I have.

Read moreMy External Drive Is No Longer Visible. How Can I Get Its Contents?

Will a failing hard drive have warning symptoms?

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My last hard drive yesterday gave me a blue screen of death while I was online. After that, my computer wouldn’t even recognize that the hard drive was plugged in. The thing was about 2 ½ years old and it was a replacement for the original drive that was making noises, but still works. This was my first total failure before I could get a complete backup. I have backups, but they were a week or two old. What would cause this if you had to guess? Like a sector zero problem? Shouldn’t I have a gotten a read failure (the drive shows up in the BIOS)? Or a grinding noise? I’m not sure, but I did not hear the thing spin anymore. I don’t know what the symptoms of a sector zero failure are. I’ve never experienced it. Of course, that would leave circuit board failure (with unknown symptoms.) The old drive was a PATA. The replacement is SATA.  I’ve tried several PATA cables and got the same results.

Ultimately, a drive can fail in so many ways that it’s not at all surprising that you didn’t get any warning – other than the failure itself.

It sounds like you’re expecting symptoms associated with a failure. While some do have signs (and I’ll go through a few that indicate that your hard drive is failing), you don’t ever want to rely on these absolutely.

Read moreWill a failing hard drive have warning symptoms?

Should I update my hard drive?

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Could you please tell me if I should update my hard drive? My Dell computer is eight years old. I’ve seen where you should update your hard drive, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to change any settings. Would it do that? Should I do this?

I’m not sure where you’re seeing this information that says “you should” update your hard drive.

In my opinion (and I’ve said this many times in different scenarios), if your machine’s working and you’re happy with it, I wouldn’t go looking for trouble. You don’t need to upgrade a hard drive unless you actually have a reason.

What reasons could those be? Let’s look at some.

Read moreShould I update my hard drive?

What good are image backups if I can’t restore an old backup to my new machine?

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I’m good little backup-er. I follow all of your instructions and happily use Macrium for regular image and file folder backups. Recently, the video system on my aging PC died and I decided to buy a new PC. I thought I could easily restore the image backup to my new PC, thereby saving me hours of reinstalling my software. But no, I can only restore an image to the same sort of hard disk on the same PC. What a waste! Surely, most people will want to replace their whole PC when they have a failure that requires them to think about restoring an image. How many people, and in what circumstances, find an image backup has been a lifesaver?

I understand your frustration, but restoring an old backup on to a brand new machine is not exactly what image backups are for.

And to be really honest, it’s not why you back up.

An image backup includes settings about your hardware, the configuration that Windows went through, and other information. When you place the image backup on a new machine, those settings in the image backup no longer apply. The backup can still be useful, but not for what you’re trying to do.

So, when is an image backup useful? Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

Read moreWhat good are image backups if I can’t restore an old backup to my new machine?

Does Windows Support Drives Larger than Two Terabytes?

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Hi, Leo. Many people say that three terabyte external hard drives don’t work with Windows 7. Do they? Here’s the issue. I’ve been using a 1TB Seagate Go-flex with a changeable bottom, which has worked well, but now I need a bigger drive. I went looking on Amazon for a 3TB unit and found a lot of scary reviews saying that basically drives bigger than 2TB don’t really work with Windows. The quote is about Seagate specifically but the same complaint has come up for the other drives too. “The drive is formatted in a way that causes the Windows backup and restore to fail when creating a system image because it uses a native 4K sector size. Native 4K sector drives are not supported by Windows 7.” If that’s not true, can you advise which drives are good these days? The answers I found on the site are all about smaller drives and dated in the past. There are so many drives out there that I can’t tell the good from bad. Do I go for one without an included backup utility? Or with? I just don’t want to return to or stick with a product out of ignorant inertia. Thanks for any help you can render.

The short answer to this fairly complex question is Windows supports drives larger than 2 terabytes (TB) just fine.

I’m running a 3 TB drive on my system as we speak. It worked in both Windows 7 and again once  I upgraded to Windows 8.

There are a couple of issues that can sometimes come up.

Read moreDoes Windows Support Drives Larger than Two Terabytes?