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How to move Windows 10 from an HDD to an SSD

It's relatively straight forward to move Windows 10 from a hard drive to an SSD, but you will need to take steps to protect your data

Learning how to move Windows 10 from a hard-disk drive (HDD) to a solid-state drive (SSD) can be a challenging task, but worthwhile if done correctly. 

Migrating operating systems to an SSD is a common tactic among users today due to the sheer number of highly affordable SSDs currently available on the market. 

A decent SSD with 1TB used to be a pricey luxury, but can now be purchased for as little as £100. It's a recommended investment as it's considered a major upgrade to HDDs. SSDs work in a flash format using integrated circuits to store data. 

What's more, HDDs are almost obsolete today, aside from small use cases where massive amounts of storage space are required. The majority of laptops available today are kitted out with SSDs as their storage capacity continues to grow. 

However, moving from HDD or older to an SSD presents a few challenges, particularly if your system hosts critical files and applications. However, once it is done you will notice immediate benefits to your computer's performance and user experience.  

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Is it worth the hassle?

To migrate data in this way is a huge undertaking, one that requires lots of love and care - and a whole heap of time and effort. It's not for the faint of heart, particularly if you do have very important files. If the migration is successful, however, it will be completely worth any hassle that the process throws up as Windows 10 tends to feel smoother and more responsive on an SSD. 

For those that have been on HDD for a long time, extending periods of waiting are par for the course as boot-up times take an age (like up to a minute). And, even when the desktop is in sight, all the applications upon it might not have caught up.

With an SSD installed, your machine will boot to the desktop in a matter of seconds, and be ready to use almost immediately after. Generally, your experience using Windows will be more stable and faster overall, which saves time and alleviates frustration.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Be prepared!

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Before you move the Windows installation files to an SSD, you have to separate any other data (documents, pictures, music, videos) to another disc as these won't be transferred to the SSD – we just want the Windows installation to move.

You will then be using cloning tools to copy the Windows OS onto the new SSD, and move personal data onto the old disc. The great thing here is that you will get the benefit of running Windows from a faster drive while retaining the spacious hard drive for data.

If you are doing this with a desktop computer, then you will have little trouble fitting in both the new disc and the old disc as there should be plenty of space for both. Things get a little more difficult when it comes to laptops. At this point, you may have to remove the optical drive to fit in a second drive or spend more money on an SSD that can accommodate all the data present on the old disc.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: What do you need?

As mentioned before, for this project you will need your current hard drive, which you will migrate data from; your new SSD, which data will be migrated to; and a backup of all your data, as you can only clone the system files.

You will also need a cloning tool. In this instance, we will use EaseUS Todo Backup Free. Mainly because it is free and also because it is easy enough for most people to use. Also, the tool is good at cloning data from a large disc to a much smaller disc.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Defrag and back up your data

As we are cloning a disc, it is a good idea to defrag the file system before we start anything – this will reduce the time it takes to copy all the data. To do this, click on the Start menu and type in defrag. When you see the option for Disk Defragmenter, click on it and run the tool to tidy up the disc. This can take either minutes or hours depending on the size of the disc.

The next thing to do is back up ALL of your data. An external drive is a good start or an online service such as CrashPlan, but the latter will take a lot longer to complete, even with a good internet connection.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Delete unwanted data

If you are making the move to a smaller SSD drive, you will need to delete a few files off of it to make sure the process completes.

A good place to start is by looking in folders such as My Videos (which often has lots of very large files within), then My Music (loads of music collected over the years), and then My Documents.

Once your backup has completed and you have verified the data is properly backed up, then delete the data within these folders but not the folders themselves, as you may need them later.

It is important to note that we don't want to delete applications in the Program Files folder. This is because we also want them to benefit from the speed boost that an SSD has.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Send in the clones 

Once the old disc has slimmed down enough, you can then begin the process of transferring this data to the new SSD. Open EaseUS Todo Backup and select 'Clone' from the left-hand sidebar.

Select your old disc as the clone source and select the SSD as the target location. Before anything else, tick the box next to 'Optimize for SSD'. This is so the partition is correctly aligned for SSDs (this ensures the best performance of the new disc).

The cloning tool will begin copying data over. If you tick the 'Shut down the computer when the operation completed' box, the process will shut your system down when completed.

If you’ve managed to receive an error message telling you that the source disc is too big, you’re going to need to return the previous step and eliminate more data from the old disc. This may have occurred if you have failed to format the SSD to learn your new drive’s true capacity.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Delete your old drive

After you’ve done this, turn your device on again and boot from the SSD. You might find that you’ll have to manually enter the boot menu and choose to boot from the new SSD drive.

At this point, you should start to notice a significant speed improvement. This means that your operating system should boot up and arrive at the desktop a lot faster than it used to. However, the process doesn’t finish here. You’ll now have to navigate to File Explorer and wipe your old drive, but double check that it isn’t your backup before you do.

Simply right-click the old drive and choose format, and you should be able to see in the first drop-down menu how much capacity of the disc is available. In the second menu, make sure the default setting NYFS has been selected, before navigating to the last dropdown box where you’ll have to enable the ‘Default allocation size’ option.

Lastly, make sure you have ticked the ‘Quick Format’ box, before hitting Start.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Recover data from a backup

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You can now recover your data from the backup, since you’ve now deleted the old drive. To do this, head to Windows Explorer and open up the backup and the destination folders. These folders can be the old user folders, which should now be empty, or you can create completely new ones.

Begin by typing C:\users\username, making sure to replace the 'username' with your own. After locating each user folder, hit Properties, then Location tab, and Move. Now you’ll be able to move all your personal data from the backup onto the disc. This is simple to do, simply click and drag any photos, documents, videos, and sound files back into the area they correspond to such as My Documents, My Music, or My Pictures, as well as any additional folders you use.

After completing this, you might soon realise that your PC is much faster at completing tasks. This is great for business users as they can now complete tasks faster, especially if they have multiple tabs or programs open. Aside from greater productivity, this will also help users to experience less stress throughout their working day.

The final step is to consider what to do with the backup you created. It could be a good idea to keep your personal data backed up in the rare case that your device is lost or stolen. Having a backup helps you to install your files on a completely new device if you need to, meaning that you’re protected from unforeseen disasters and can get back up and running much faster.

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