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

Once considered a pricy and luxurious product, a solid-state drive (SSD) is a storage format that’s now far more widely available and affordable; you can purchase a 1TB SSD for under £100, for example. This technology uses integrated circuits to store its data, typically in a flash format, and is considered a major upgrade against conventional mechanical drives, or HDDs.

This older hard drive format is almost obsolete in today's age, putting aside situations in which you require massive amounts of storage space, for instance. Most, if not all, laptops are fitted with SSDs rather than HDDs or eMMC which is a more compact but less sophisticated iteration, and the maximum storage capacity for SSDs is growing quickly too.

For anybody building a PC from scratch, it’s a fairly simple undertaking to install Windows 10 on an SSD, but it's far more challenging to upgrade an older hard drive. Deciding to migrate a Windows 10 installation from an HDD to an SSD is a major step, especially if your system hosts critical files and applications. Doing so, however, will bring immediate benefits to your system’s performance, and the broader user experience.

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

This sort of migration is a huge undertaking, and demands a lot of time and care to make sure that you can get it right. Many feel that it’s simply not worth the hassle, especially those who might not wish to risk losing their most important files. Successful migrations grant instant benefits, however, and those who successfully shift Windows 10 across to an SSD tend to feel it’s far smoother and more responsive.

If you've been using an HDD for a while, then you’re likely to be accustomed to waiting extended periods of time to boot your system - often up to a minute, if not longer. Even then, once you can see your desktop, you might have to wait a few more minutes before your applications are 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!

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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.

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). 

This can be done by right-clicking on the old drive and selecting format, with the information on the total capacity of the disc being available in the first drop-down menu. In the second one, check whether the default NYFS is selected, while the final dropdown box needs to have 'Default allocation size' enabled. Before exiting, check whether the 'Quick Format' box is ticked (it needs to be!), and then you can select Start.

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

Last but not least, the data can be now transferred from the backup onto the disc, which at the moment will be free of any folders or content whatsoever, meaning that you can start creating some brand new ones. Treat it as some well-deserved extra storage for your device.

In order to view your (now empty) user folders, start by selecting C:\users\username and replacing “username” with a term of your choice. Next, right-click on each user folder, selecting Properties, Location Tab, and then Move. This way, you can select the brand new user folder as the destination for your data.

Remember to also restore your personal data from your backup! This can be easily done by clicking and dragging any documents, music, pictures, videos, and other files back into your folders, whether it’s My Documents, My Music, My Pictures. After you’re done, your system should be able to work just like before, but speedier. This will definitely prove helpful in managing your time spent on work tasks, as well as save you unnecessary frustration.

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