How to Copy a Hard Drive: A Guide on Hard Drive Cloning

Installing a new hard drive is a simple task even for those with no computer hardware experience. But if you want to replace your current hard drive or move your operating system to a new one, things get a touch more complicated.

Your solution? Cloning a hard drive. There are countless programs available  — some free, some not — that help you migrate your operating system and all files to a new drive.

Compared to dealing with the fuss of a clean Windows installation, choosing to clone a hard drive is a no-brainer. If you’re not sure how to get the job done, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s how to copy a hard drive.

What Is Cloning a Hard Drive?

A hard drive clone is a replica of the original. From the operating system to the drivers, every file is brought over from your current drive to the new one.

Most people copy a hard drive to use as a backup in case their current drive crashes and burns. But a hardware malfunction isn’t the only reason you may want to keep a cloned drive on hand.

Ransomware has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, with a 41% increase in frequency year over year. If your computer is ever affected, swapping the drive with your clone will remedy all but the most severe of infections.

You might also want to clone a hard drive if you’re currently using an HDD but want to upgrade to an SSD which boasts significantly faster load times overall.

Preparing to Copy a Hard Drive

Before we cover drive cloning programs, there are some hardware preparations to attend to. For starters, you’ll need two hard drives: your current drive and a new one to become its direct copy.

Plug both hard drives into your computer at the same time. If you’re using a standard desktop computer, there should be plenty of space to mount a second drive, as well as an additional connection on your current SATA cables.

If you’re trying to clone a drive on a laptop, you don’t have the luxury of a physical installation. However, you can attach your second drive to your computer through a SATA to USB adapter. It’s as easy as plugging it in.

Installing a second drive should not impact your computer. However, there’s a small chance your computer may try to boot off the new drive. If that happens, you’ll land on your BIOS screen and can simply set your computer to boot from the original drive as usual.

How to Copy a Hard Drive

Check your File Explorer and make sure both drives appear on your computer. All good? Then you’re ready to start the cloning process.

First, you’ll need to download a cloning tool. Macrium Reflect is perhaps the most well-regarded for Windows users. However, feel free to use any tool that suits your fancy.

For you Apple lovers out there, here’s how to clone a hard drive Mac instead.

The directions vary between different types of cloning tools. Follow the installation guide from your tool of choice. In general, it’s as simple as selecting your source hard drive and designating the destination drive. 

Copying and transporting all those files can take a great deal of time, so be patient. If you’re only interested in making a backup cloned drive, your job is done once the cloning process completes. Simply power down your computer and physically uninstall your cloned hard drive.

If this is an upgrade and you want to start using your new hard drive right away, you need to contend with another step.

Turn off your computer. Physically uninstall your old drive if you no longer have a use for it. You can also consider leaving the old drive as-is and reformatting it to use as additional storage space if you so choose.

Next, turn on your computer and access your BIOD. On this screen, change the boot order by putting your new cloned drive in the first position. Your PC will now boot from the new, improved drive.

Creating Regular Hard Drive Backups

It’s important to remember that a cloned drive is an identical copy of your current file state. Within a few months, you’ll have new documents, pictures, and whatever else you may want to back up on a physical drive. That means it’s a good idea to clone your hard drive on a regular basis so you always have a recent copy available.

If this sounds like work, don’t worry. Most cloning tools come with backup scheduling functionality, though you may have to use the paid version for this feature.

This is a great option for those who keep their cloned hard drive installed at all times. It won’t even need your input. If you don’t have the space to keep your hard drive installed, the SATA-USB converter is a simple solution to attach a temporary drive without popping your PC open.

Stay Safe With a Cloned Drive

Cloning a hard drive is the best way to back up your files or easily transfer your current OS. Without a cloning tool, you’ll have to worry about reinstalling your OS and moving any files from your current drive to the new one. And this doesn’t account for all the time you’ll spend reinstalling essentials like graphical drivers.

So now that you know how to copy a hard drive, you can avoid the wait and fuss the next time you need a backup or upgrade to a bigger, better, faster drive.

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