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How to move Microsoft's Windows 11 from a hard drive to an SSD

Breathe new life into your Windows machine with these simple steps by finding out how to move Windows 11 to another drive

A blue solid state drive on a blue background

If your main PC storage is still a hard disk, it might be worth moving Windows 11 to another drive. This is because  the biggest speed boost you could give to your system by far is to replace the hard drive with a solid-state disk (SSD).

Although SSDs are more expensive on a per-gigabyte basis, they generally offer much better performance. Windows 11 should load much more quickly when you first boot the PC and programmes should open in an instant.

Swapping out a hard disk for an SSD is a relatively straightforward upgrade, although you’ll first need to transfer all the data from your current hard disk to the SSD. We’re going to talk you through that process.

How to pick an SSD for Windows 11

The first thing you’re going to need to sort is the SSD itself and here there are two things to consider: disk size and disk capacity.

If you’re replacing a hard disk in a laptop, you’re almost certainly going to need a 2.5in internal SSD that connects to the SATA port. Things are slightly easier with desktop computers, which normally have spare bays that let you install an SSD alongside your current hard disk.

An M.2 SSD shown inside a PC system

Shutterstock

A note on M.2 SSDs: Modern desktop motherboards also often come with an empty M.2 slot, usually located just below the CPU. This is designed to support smaller form factor SSDs, among other things, and is especially handy if you’re short on space or bay options. If you're planning to buy an M.2 SSD, just be aware that these come in a variety of sizes and types, each with their own connectors - so make sure to do your homework in order to get the one you need.

Before you make any purchase, check you can access the existing hard disk, especially on laptops or all-in-one PCs where it’s not always possible to remove the internal storage. You may need to consult your laptop/PC’s manual - usually available from the manufacturer’s website - to find out how to access the hard disk and you may need special screwdrivers to reach them.

SSD capacity is the other issue you need to consider. First you need to find out how much data is stored on your current hard disk.

Open Windows Explorer, click This PC and see how much data is stored on your C: Drive. Watch out for disks that have been partitioned, for example a system with Windows on C: and Data on D: - you need to add up both in those instances.

Ideally, you want an SSD that’s bigger than your current pool of data and then leave some room to spare. Beware, however, that SSDs start to get very expensive when you creep above capacities of 2TB.

If you’re replacing the hard disk in a laptop or all-in-one, you may find there aren’t any spare drive bays to have your old and new drives running at the same time. In this case, you’ll need to buy a SATA-to-USB adapter/enclosure so that you can plug the SSD into the laptop’s USB port and copy data from your existing hard disk.

Finally, if you’re adding a new SSD to a desktop PC and you’re planning on keeping your old drive, you’ll need to make sure you have spare SATA cables to connect your new SSD to the motherboard and power supply. If you're using M.2 SSD, this won't be an issue.

Moving Windows 11 to an SSD: Clean up and back up your PC

Before we get to cloning the data from the current hard disk to the new SSD, time for some housekeeping.

First, open Windows Search, type ‘add’ and open the ‘Add or remove programmes’ function. Remove any applications you no longer use or need, as there’s no point in copying over redundant data. Likewise, empty the Recycle Bin and Downloads folder, and clear out anything else you don’t need. After doing this, you might find you can get away with a smaller SSD, which will also be far cheaper.

Screenshot showing how to back up a hard drive using Windows 11

Next, you need to take a full backup of your PC, just in case something goes wrong. It’s advised that you do this for most things involving your hard drive, but moving data to a new drive is a fairly risky process without a backup.

Fortunately, Windows 11 has a variety of built-in backup options, including backing up files to Microsoft’s cloud storage service OneDrive or using the File History tool with an external hard disk/SSD. We won’t go through these options in detail in this article, but this site gives a good overview of the options.

Moving Windows 11 to an SSD: Plug in your new SSD

Make sure your system is fully powered down for the following step:

Once the backup is sorted, it’s time to plug in the SSD – either via the USB caddy or by putting it straight in a desktop PC.

If you’re adding an SSD to a desktop PC, simply attach the new drive to a spare bay. Some PC cases come fitted with dedicated SSD bays, often located on the reverse side of the panel housing the motherboard. However, you may find that your case only has hard drive bays, in which case you’ll need to buy an SSD caddy or adapter. Once secured, connect the SSD to the motherboard and power supply using SATA cables.

If using an M.2 SSD, simply place the drive into the spare slot on the motherboard and screw in the other end using an M.2 screw.

A screenshot showing how to assign a partition to a newly installed storage device on Windows 11

File Explorer will usually not show new hard drives or SSDs in Windows unless the hardware has been partitioned or initialised. To accomplish this, first select the Windows search bar and look for ‘partition’ and choose ‘Create and format hard disk partitions’. Once this has been selected, it should display the option to initialise the disk by utilising MBR or GPT.

Windows 11 only boots from drives formatted with GPT, so it’s useful to choose this option. After you’ve done this and the process is finished, you should find in the Disk Management window that the drive will be displayed as unallocated space.

Moving Windows 11 to an SSD: Clone the hard disk

You will now begin the process of transferring data to the new SSD. The SSD you purchased could come with software that will clone your hard disk, or you can always search for software that performs this function.

Struggling to find some? The Macrium Reflect free version performs well. Simply enter your email address and the company will send you a registration code and download link to use. From here, install the software on your Windows 11 computer and enter the registration code on the screen after it asks for a licence key, pressing Next to skip the licence key screen.

A screenshot showing how to clone a hard drive using Macrium software

After installing Macrium, choose the hard disk you’re using and select the ‘Clone This Disk’ button which should be shown below it. A new window should appear, with the installation wizard, that will guide you through the process. Ensure you’ve selected all of your hard disk’s partitions, and then make the destination drive your new SSD. Click OK to begin the process, ignoring any messages which ask you to save a backup schedule.

It might take some time for this to be completed, which will differ depending on how much data your device has that needs to be copied.

Moving Windows 11 to an SSD: Replace the hard disk (laptops / all-in-ones)

If you’re changing your old hard disk for the new SSD in an all-in-one or a laptop, then this will be the moment where you have to swap the drives. It is extremely important to ensure you’re careful when carrying out this process. This means writing down where the screws that you take out came from as well as deploying an anti-static band or ground yourself somehow before handling any sensitive components.

After you’ve managed to remove the old drive, grab your SSD and gently slide it into the slot and, after making sure which holes they go into, replace the screws.

Moving Windows 11 to an SSD: Reboot from the new drive

Now you can hit the power button and you might be lucky and find that the system is automatically using the new drive to boot from once you’ve inserted the new SSD and replaced your old hard disk. However, if this doesn’t happen, you’ll have to insert the old hard disk as well as the new SSD into a PC, and then program it to boot up from the new drive instead of the former one.

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For this to happen, navigate to your BIOS and boot up the UEFI setup screen. It’s quite simple to access this, hit the power button and then simply press and hold a key on your keyboard. Obviously, it might not be the same for all systems or devices, but usually the key you have to hold is a function key, such as F1 or F2 located at the top of the keyboard, or the DEL key. An easy way to find out which keys your PC needs to perform this function is by looking at the splash screen when you turn on your system. Here, the keys you need are usually displayed on screen, with the logo of the company that made the device. Alternatively, the internet can be your saviour, you can search “UEFI key” along with the name of your PC or laptop model.

When you’ve figured this out and opened the correct menu, look for the boot options and change the boot sequence so that the PC boots from the new SSD drive instead of the old one. Don’t forget to save these calibrations and, with a bit of luck, your operating system should now boot up from your new piece of hardware.

If you’re left wondering whether you’ve done it correctly, your system should straight away improve. You’ll find that programs will load in the blink of an eye, and that it will only take a few seconds to boot the login or desktop screen.

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