How to move Windows 10 from your old hard drive to SSD

The move to a solid-state drive will transform your Windows experience

Abstract image of an SSD flying quickly through the air on a black background

A solid-state drive (SSD) is a type of storage device that uses integrated circuits to store data, typically in a flash format. It was once considered a luxury due to its cost, but today devices with up to 1TB are available for less than £100.

The drop in price has made standard mechanical hard drives largely redundant, save for extremely large storage needs. As such, modern PCs and laptops are more likely to now come with an SDD, or the eMMC equivalent, which is generally more compact.

For those that can build a PC from scratch, installing Windows 10 on an SSD is fairly straightforward, but it is far more complicated upgrading an older hard drive when Windows is already installed.

It's a fairly big decision moving a Windows installation to an SSD, particularly if you are concerned with dealing with critical files – our guide to fixing a stuck Windows update might ease your worries. If you do go ahead with it, you'll see almost instant benefits.

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

You may be wondering whether it’s worth taking the time to move your Windows install, particularly if you’re hesitant about messing about with critical files. The fact is that you will see the benefits almost immediately.

Windows 10 is far smoother and quicker when installed on an SSD. If you’ve had an HDD installed for quite some time, it’s likely that you’ve become used to waiting up to a minute, if not longer before your machine hits the desktop – and even then it can be a while before programmes are finished loading and ready to use.

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!

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.

Next thing to do is the 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 (often has lots of very large files within), then My Music (loads of music collected over the years), 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.

At this point, if you get an error message alerting you that the source disc is too big, you will have to go back to the step before and delete more data from the old disc. This can happen when you haven't formatted the SSD to find out the true capacity of the new drive.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Delete your old drive

Once complete, switch the PC back on and boot from the SSD. You may have to go into the boot menu and select the SSD as the drive to boot from.

It's here that you should notice the speed increase – Windows should now start and hit the desktop a lot quicker than before. But we are not finished yet. Next, you need to open up the File Explorer and wipe the old drive (make sure it isn't the backup). 

Right-click on this old drive and select format. In the first drop-down menu, the total capacity of the disc should be available. In the second, you want to make sure this is set to NTFS – usually this is set as the default option. In the last dropdown box, you want to select 'Default allocation size'. Finally, make sure the 'Quick Format' box is ticked, before clicking Start.

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

We can now move data from the backup onto your old disc, which can now be considered extra storage for your system. This will now be completely empty and free of folders, so you might want to start creating some new ones.

Click on C:\users\username (replace username here!) and you should see your (now empty) user folders. Right-click on each one, select Properties, and go to the Location Tab. Click on Move, and select the newly created user folder as the destination.

To restore your personal data from your backup, simple click and drag documents, music, pictures, videos, and other files back into your My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, and other user folders that you have just moved.

Everything should now work as before, only faster.

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