How to clone your hard disk to SSD using a live Linux CD/USB

With the recent price crash on SSDs, it has become much more affordable to replace the hard disk in a laptop to an SSD with a decent capacity. As you’ll see in this video, even a relatively new laptop running Windows 7, it boots and launches applications in nearly 1/3 the time after upgrading to an SSD.

While we recommend installing a clean OS on the SSD for the best performance, there are many reasons people need to keep their existing Windows installation. For example, they may have software that they have trouble finding the installation media or product keys for, don’t want to go through the hassle of product reactivation or otherwise would find it too awkward or time consuming to reinstall or configure everything with a fresh OS. Some laptops also come with preinstalled software such as for DVD playback that cannot be reinstalled.

There are various products available that can clone a hard disk over to an SSD. Personally, I prefer using ddrescue to this, which is a utility supplied with most live Linux CDs such as the System Rescue CD OS, as used in this video. The main feature of ddrescue is that it does an exact 1:1 copy, unlike most other cloning software that recreates the partition table and copies what it determines to be the allocated data inside each partition. This can be a problem for those trying to copy a hard disk with multiple operating systems or with a special boot loader. For two identical size hard disks, a ddrescue clone between them will result in both hard disks having an exact byte for byte match throughout the recording surface.

As most people generally upgrade to an SSD with a smaller capacity than the original hard disk, in order for ddrescue to work, the contents of the original hard disk must be located within the outer boundary of the SSD. To do this, we first need to shrink the main partition to well within the capacity of the SSD. Anyone who has tried to shrink a partition in Windows Disk Manager has probably noticed that it cannot be resized under half its size. This is due to Windows placing some system files in the middle of the partition. So in this video, I show how to shrink the partition using Gparted in Linux. Gparted can move those ‘unmoveable’ files, allowing the partition to be shrunk down to as small as the size of its content.

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Once the partition is shrunk, it is just a matter of performing the ddrescue operation. The ddrescue operation will do a 1:1 clone right up to the SSD’s outer boundary. If there is no partition located after this point on the original hard disk, then the SSD is ready to boot. In this guide, I will also show how to deal with a factory restore partition located at the end of the hard disk. One option is to delete it before cloning, but as most laptops don’t come with recovery media, in this video I show how to keep that partition on the hard disk, but delete its reference from the partition table of the resulting clone so that Windows can boot from it.

The video starts off with a brief performance demo of the original hard disk, so for those who are just interested in seeing how I clone the drive, skip to 3:00. The video finishes off showing a performance demo of the resulting clone and how to expand the cloned partition to make full use of the SSD’s capacity.

To clone your own laptop hard disk to SSD, you will need the following:

  • A bootable Linux CD or USB stick – Get System Rescue CD here.
  • A blank CD or USB stick – Guide here.
  • A USB to SATA adapter – Available for under $10.
  • A fine tip Philips screwdriver to open the hard disk bay.

In this video, I connected the SSD using the USB to SATA adapter and had the original hard disk inside the laptop until the clone process completed.

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If your laptop has a 7mm bay, but have a 9.5mm SSD laying around such as from a previous upgrade, you may be able use that by dismantling the SSD and installing the PCB directly into the laptop. This is what I did in this video as I did not have a 7mm SSD handy at the time. Please note that dismantling an SSD will most likely void any warranty on it, so if you accidentally bought a 9.5mm SSD, it would be better to get it exchanged for a 7mm SSD rather than void its warranty taking it apart.

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