The Proper Way to Clone Your Operating System

Samsung SSD

SSDs (Solid State Drives) are getting cheaper, bigger and faster.

Most recording studio DAW users have been using SSDs for audio and media for quite a while. Adding a new SSD for your audio and media is quite an easy task. Just plug it in and start using it.

Samsung SSD
Samsung SSD

However, it is amazing how much difference it will make to the speed and feel of your system by replacing the operating system drive with an SSD. But replacing an operating system drive is often considered a more daunting and difficult task. Especially if the existing OS drive needs replacing with a larger one. In the past, many of us simply replaced the drive with a new one and re-installed the OS.

The answer is to clone the drive. This technology has existed for a long time but there are some rules that make it much more effective.

I have done this a number of times over the years and recently done it again, upgrading from a normal 500GB HDD to 1TB SSD for example.

So here is my method which should help to avoid problems. This is also recommend by others if you dig deep around the web you may find this information in a longer form.

Let’s get going.

Step One. Get Acronis True Image (2017)

Yes there are other tools that can be used to do this job but Acronis is the one I have always used. It is not free. But it is not crazily expensive either. Plus it can be used for other things too. However, even if you are not using Acronis, most of the rules below still apply.

Step Two. Make bootable media.

Make a bootable media using a USB stick so that you can boot directly to the Acronis tools using the USB. This is very important. It is possible to clone and OS drive from within Windows but that method is prone to failures. Of course if you are cloning a non-OS drive then the bootable media is not required.

USB Media
USB Media

Step Three. Change the drive locations.

This is the most vital (and probably the most ignored) step of the procedure.

  • Test that the bootable media works by following the first three steps in Step Four. Once you see the Acronis screen you know all is good. You can then proceed.
  • Shut down the machine.
  • Remove your existing OS drive.
  • Put the new SSD drive in the exact same place that your old OS drive was.
  • Put the old OS drive in another place (preferably in an external USB enclosure) so that when you start your computer it will not try to boot from or reference it in any way.

I use a USB docking station for placing external drives, useful for backup purposes too. You can move your OS HDD to another location within your machine though, just be aware that you must not let the computer attempt to boot from it. This is why the external USB method is good because it can be started after the USB media has booted your machine.

Icy Box Docking Station
Icy Box Docking Station

Step Four. Go for it!

Bearing in mind that if things go wrong, all you have to do is put your old OS drive back where it was. So not really much to worry about.

  • Insert the bootable media
  • Start the computer. You may have to enter BIOS to tell the computer to boot from the USB media.
  • You should now see the Acronis application.
  • Once Acronis has booted from the media simply follow the instructions to clone the disk. This can take a while depending on the disk size. My most recent job took about an hour for a 1TB HD with about 700GB of data cloned to a 1TB SSD.
Acronis True Image
Acronis True Image
  • When the process is complete and you are ready to reboot.
    • Remove the old original OS drive.
    • You may have to enter BIOS again and set the boot drive back to the original settings. Remember your new drive is in the place of the original one. So the computer should not notice any difference. It will effectively think that your newly cloned SSD is actually still your original HDD.
  • Boot up!

Step Five. Bask in the new super speed glory…

And remember you now also have a spare HDD drive which still has your full OS on it which can be used in case of emergencies or can be reformatted and used as a backup drive.

It may seem daunting at first but the benefits you will see from going through this procedure will honestly amaze you.

Cheers, P.