How to Clone HDD to SSD in Windows

Why re-install Windows to a solid-state drive when you can just copy it?

Upgrading your PC from using a hard disk drive to an SSD can not only offer you more storage space, it will definitely make your computer faster. Now, because you can't simply copy Windows to a new drive, we'll step you through making a clone of your current hard drive onto the new SSD.

This guide uses the free edition of Macrium Reflect 7 v7.2.4523 to clone a drive. It’s compatible with Windows XP Service Pack 3 and newer. The following instructions, however, are based on Windows 10 v1903.

Hard Drives vs. Solid-State Drives

Hard disk drives (often referred to as drives or hard drives and typically written as HD or HDD) are made up of a hard, thin platters (like a CD) which spin around (again, like a CD) in order to read and write your information. Not only will these moving parts eventually fail, the speed at which they can operate is limited to how fast the mechanisms can work. Often, even at top speeds, HDs can make your computer feel slow.

Meanwhile, solid-state drives, or SSDs, rely on flash memory comprised of “storage cells” residing on multiple layers. There are no moving parts, meaning data travels to and from these cells like traffic flowing downtown. This process is exponentially faster than spinning a disk and reading data like an old-school CD.

Again, because there are no moving parts, SSDs are not only faster but have a longer life span. Problem is, hard drives are cheap, so lower-end desktops and laptops use them as primary drives. This not only affects the speed of your Windows startup process but how fast other applications load and respond.

You Can't Just Copy Windows

Whether you’re replacing a hard drive or upgrading to an SSD, you simply can’t copy Windows from one disk to the other. HDs are typically broken down into sections, or partitions, used by the PC and operating system. What you see on Drive C in File Explorer is only a portion of what’s actually stored on the disk. It includes necessary boot information on one partition, Windows 10 restoration files on another, and so on.

That said, if you’re upgrading a laptop from a hard drive to an SSD, you need to clone the former—boot files included. Your best bet is to use an SSD with an identical capacity, as cloning a drive to a model with a smaller capacity is difficult.

You’ll also need to consider how you’ll perform the clone: Install the SSD inside your PC or use an external adapter? Will you use the standard 2.5-inch SSD, or splurge for the M.2 card-based model (if supported)?

For this guide, we’re cloning a 1TB hard drive installed in a laptop to a 2.5-inch SanDisk SSD. This will be made possible using a USB-A to 2.5-inch drive adapter. You can grab the USB-A to 2.5-inch adapter from Amazon at a low cost.

As shown below, the adapter used in this guide connects directly to the SSD. At the other end, you'll find a male USB-A connector. It works with "blue" USB-A ports, aka USB 3.0/3.1/3.2, that supports data transfer speeds at 5Gbps or 10Gbps. We already had this adapter on hand thanks to owning an external Seagate GoFlex hard drive.

USB to external drive adapter

If you're taking the internal route, like in a desktop, install the disk as a secondary drive. Clone your primary drive to this disk, turn off your desktop, and then swap out the drives. You could even install the former Drive C into the secondary slot, format it, and use it as a data storage drive.

Clones May Not Work Across Multiple PCs

Once you clone an SSD, you can remove the original HD and install it inside your desktop or laptop. If you cloned a secondary drive, you shouldn't have any problems. If you cloned your primary drive containing Windows, you may hit a roadblock.

Laptop manufacturers typically place Windows 10 activation keys within the PC's BIOS or ACPI table. Prior to Windows 10, system manufacturers printed the product key on the PC's outer shell or within a provided booklet. That essentially enabled end-users to install a single copy across multiple PCs. It also enabled pirates to distribute free copies on the internet.

Now end-users don't have access to activation keys—at least in pre-built systems. When you initially set up Windows 10, the software digs into the BIOS or ACPI table and grabs the required key. It's then registered to your Microsoft account. The same scenario likely holds true for pre-built desktops from Dell, HP, and so on.

That's not the case with home-built PCs. Here users purchase a Windows 10 product key from Microsoft or third-party sellers, like Amazon. Once it's installed using that key, Windows 10 registers to the user's Microsoft account. If you clone that drive, however, and install it in another PC, you may still face the activation roadblock.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't list specific parts that define a "hardware change" other than the motherboard.

Ultimately if you cloned a primary drive in a pre-built desktop or laptop (Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc.) and are merely swapping out an HD for an SSD, you shouldn't have any issues with Windows activation. The same is true with home-built systems.

What you can't do is clone your pre-built PC's primary drive and use it in another PC without purchasing another Windows license. The only workaround is to call Microsoft's Customer Service number and explain your situation. Meanwhile, moving the cloned primary drive of a home-built system to another will require a call to Microsoft as well.

Now let's clone your drive!

Install Macrium Reflect 7 Free Edition

Head to Macrium Software's site to download Macrium Reflect 7 directly from the developer. The extensive installation process may appear unnecessary, but it assures you’re downloading the company’s genuine, clean software versus grabbing the tool from a third-party that could be packed with adware or malware.

  1. Click Home Use to download the installer.

    Macrium Reflect 7 Free Edition Download Page
  2. Click Continue on the pop-up screen. You don’t need to enter an email address.

    Macrium Reflect 7 Free Edition Download Page
  3. Locate and run the downloaded ReflectDLHF.exe file. It opens as the Macrium Reflect Download Agent that installs the actual software on your PC. Select the location where you want to store the download and click Download.

    Macrium Reflect Download Agent
  4. Click Next on the Macrium Reflect Installer screen.

    Macrium Reflect 7 Free Edition Setup Wizard
  5. Click Next to install the software and accept the License Agreement. Click Next again to continue.

    Macrium Reflect Free Edition License Agreement
  6. Select the Home option and click Next.

    Macrium Reflect Free Edition License Key Selection
  7. You can choose to register the software by entering your email address and acquiring a code, or simply uncheck the registration option and click Next.

    Macrium Reflect Free Edition Registration
  8. Select an install location and click Next. Click Install on the following window to complete.

    Macrium Reflect Free Edition Custom Setup

How to Clone a Hard Drive to SSD

Once the software loads, select the drive you want to clone. If you’re cloning a primary drive with Windows 10, you’ll see it listed as OS (C) along with the NTFS Primary label. As shown below, drives typically divide into several sections, or partitions, used by your PC and operating system. Therefore, you can’t simply copy Windows to another drive and expect your PC to boot.

  1. With the drive selected, click the Clone This Disk link under the selected drive.

    Macrium Reflect 7's Overview Page
  2. In the following pop-up window, click the Select a Disk to Clone to link listed under Destination. You can use a drive already installed in your PC, or an external drive connecting to your PC using an adapter. In this example, we’re replacing a laptop’s clunky hard drive with an SSD.

    Macrium Reflect 7's Partitions Page
  3. If your target drive already contains data you no longer need, click on a partition followed by the Delete Existing Partition option listed underneath. Repeat this set for all unwanted partitions.

    Macrium Reflect 7 Select a Destination
  4. Next, click and drag all partitions from the source drive down to the target drive. As previously noted, you may need to adjust the partition sizes accordingly. If you’re moving to a smaller drive, partition sizes need to be smaller. If you’re moving up, make the partitions larger. Ultimately, you want these partitions to fill the entire disk, so you don’t have unused space.

  5. Click Next when you’re ready to clone.

    Macrium Reflect 7 Clone Source Disk
  6. Click Next again to skip the Schedule This Clone option.

  7. In the final window, verify the cloning actions and click Finish to complete.

    Macrium Reflect 7's Summary Page
  8. Click OK on the following screen to save the backup settings.

Clone a Secondary Drive

Finally, you can use this guide to clone a secondary drive too. For instance, you may own a laptop with an SSD serving as your primary drive and a slow, clunky HDD as a secondary drive storing data (typically Drive D).

In this case, select the secondary drive instead when you launch Macrium Reflect. It still won't boot like a primary drive, but at least your PC will feel somewhat zippier when accessing stored files or programs installed on your new secondary drive.