Drive Cloning

I got a new 500 GB hard drive. Since the 250 GB hard drive on my notebook computer was kind of full, I thought it might be good to take the hard drive out of the portable and put in my notebook, then take the old notebook drive and put it back in the portable case. The basic idea would be I could move all the files over to the new drive, then put the new drive in the computer, boot up and I would have exactly the same thing except with more space (I’ll call this Option 1). But there are some wrinkles. First, I have a lot of junk on the drive and the computer acts up from time to time. Since the notebook is five years old, it might be worthwhile to reformat and start over. The existing drive has a RESTORE partition that can be used to reformat the C: drive and restore the notebook to exactly the same setup as the first day I got it (Option 2). That would still mean installing all of my software, moving over my pictures and other documents, and downloading a ton of windows and other updates. But the advantage is the computer should run a lot better that way. The downside is how do I do a restore from the old drive to the new drive? Or could I move the restore partition over to the new drive as a new RESTORE partition? Option 3 is to just use the Windows Vista disk that came with the computer and start a new Windows installation after putting the blank hard drive into my notebook, and rebuild the system from scratch, which would be even more trouble than the restore option.

I looked around on the internet and found that a lot of people are trying to do similar things with Dell computers and their RESTORE partitions. I read about some software that will do a byte-by-byte copy of a hard drive, including all the partitions. If you have a bigger hard drive, it will leave part of the hard drive unused, but you can expand any of the partitions into that space later in Vista. So that sounded like a good option that would give me Option 1, with the possibility of doing Option 2 whenever I wanted. To do this, you can’t just drag and drop the files, some of which are being used by Windows. Instead you need to clone the disk. There is some software called Arconis that does this, and they have a free trial version available. Another option is Norton Ghost, which I got a copy of when buying Norton Internet Security as part of a 3-pack of software (the third part being Norton Utilities). Norton Ghost lets you make an image of a disk and then restore that image to the disk anytime, or duplicate it onto other machines. I heard about doing this at work when they wanted to Ghost one drive to everyone’s new computer so we would all have exactly the same setup. It seemed like it could work here too, so I thought I would try it and install Ghost, which I had never even opened.

Once I got Ghost running, I found out it doesn’t do the byte-by-byte thing. It can copy a drive, but if you don’t copy it just the right way, it can’t be used in the notebook by itself. That seems kind of pointless, and they don’t really tell you what all to do. I tried it out, but it seemed unable to actually do what I wanted.

So I started downloading Arconis, which took a long time because it is 199MB. After an hour or so I had it downloaded, and then it took about 10-15 minutes just to get it to install. I don’t know why it needs to be such a big package. Once in there, I found out that the trial version doesn’t do the byte-by-byte cloning, and you have to pay $50 for the full version to do that. Well, I wasn’t going to pay $50 for a piece of software to use my $50 hard drive.

Next I decided to go with Option 3 and just build a new Windows installation from the disk. I put the new hard drive in the notebook and booted up from the installation DVD. It had an option to install Windows on the hard drive, so I started that. After a minute or so, it said it was unable to do this. I’m not sure why, it was just unable to do it. I tried a few different ways, and got nowhere. I wondered if I needed to reformat it somehow? I got nowhere with that.

I put the old hard drive back in and booted up normally (I backed up all of my documents just in case something goes wrong). I hooked up the new hard drive and formatted it, and I think tried Ghost again, but got nowhere. One of the Ghost options is to include the master boot record, and I’m not sure what that is, but it seems like I should have one.

I tried copying a very small third partition of the drive instead of trying the big partition, but it wouldn’t even let me create the file on the new hard drive.

So I thought maybe I could boot up from the RESTORE partition and instead of restoring to the same drive, restore to the new drive which would be connected by USB.

Before I could try that, I decided to use Vista to partition the new hard drive into 3 partitions just like the old hard drive, and then I could copy each partition and see if that works. One problem is getting them in the right order, which I did not do. The other is that it takes a really long time to copy a 200 GB hard drive partition, but that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m pretty sure it won’t work, but we’ll see.

I could possibly also find a free version of some drive cloning software.

The drive copying was going to take 2 hours, so I went to bed. The next morning, I woke the notebook up and there was a message from Ghost saying the copy had failed. I had also created partitions for the RECOVERY drive and the a small DellUtilities drive. Ghost says it can’t copy a drive to removable media, so in desperation I just moved the RECOVERY files over to the new RECOVERY partition. Then I shut down and put the new hard drive back in computer. Of course it didn’t boot. So I got the Vista installation disk and chose to repair my computer, which resulted in me being told to restart. I restarted, and the computer booted up in my normal old desktop, except that I was using the new hard drive. So the copy of the C: drive had worked, but I think the master boot record was still messed up and the Vista install disk fixed it. I tried a few different programs to see if everything was working and it was, but the notebook did download drivers for the Toshiba hard drive and then I had to restart. But it restarted pretty quickly and without incident. The only problem was some of the drive letters were off and I still hadn’t expanded the main partition into the unused space. The Computer Manager will let me change the drive letters, but I couldn’t extend the main partition because it wasn’t adjacent to the free space: the RECOVERY drive was in between. So I deleted the RECOVERY and DellUtilities partitions and expanded the main partition into all but 11 GB of the free space, so I could put the RECOVERY partition back. I attached the old hard drive to the Buffalo connector to make a copy of RECOVERY, but the drive letter of the old drive was D: F: and G: or something, so I had to disconnect and makes sure the new RECOVERY partition was D: instead. Then I was able to copy the drive from the old drive to the new drive (no longer removable) successfully, and I checked the box to get the Master Boot Record again, thinking that maybe each partition needed a MBR to make it available to boot from at startup. Restarted again and now the computer won’t start because I had broken the MBR. So the Vista install disk repairs my installation again and now I’m up and running. I have no idea if I could actually do a restore from the recovery drive, plus I don’t have the DellUtilities drive. Honestly, I might just wait on that since the computer seems to be working okay (for the most part, I got a couple of errors, one from Firefox saying my last session had crashed and one from Apple’s updater, but both iTunes and Firefox are working.

4 thoughts on “Drive Cloning

  1. The Windows disk put the regular boot loader back in place instead of the Dell one that lets me have the option of restoring my computer. But I found this tip that would probably let me do a restore manually from the D: partition where I copied all the RECOVERY files.

    You can use the Windows Vista DVD supplied with your computer to boot into the Dell recovery and restore. As long as you have not deleted or damaged the recovery partition this should allow you to use the factory drive image to restore your PC back to factory state and repair your MBR at the same time.

    Restart your computer with the Vista DVD in the drive

    Press F12 during reboot and in the menu choose boot from CD/DVD ROM Drive

    When the Vista DVD loads, accept the default options on each screen untill you get to the language screen, set your language then your time and currency keyboard layout, then coninue.

    On the Install Now screen click Repair Your Computer.

    Click NO if Windows tells you it found problems with your startup options and asks you to apply repairs.

    In the System Recovery window click Windows Vista then click next to choose a recovery option.

    Choose Command Prompt.
    In the CMD windows type the following lines press enter after each line.

    path d:\windows;d:\windows\system32
    CD Tools

  2. The laptop had started giving me a lot of problems lately and I had some dll files I couldn’t repair. I decided to do a factory reset after backing up my files. First I tried doing a new installation of Windows Vista, but after doing that I couldn’t use wi-fi. It seemed like a better idea to just do the restore from the restore partition, so I used the instructions above to do that. It went pretty smoothly, but the installation still needed to be repaired with the Dell Vista disk, which was pretty quick. Now I am installing all of the 77 Windows updates (271 MB) that have come out since then. Hopefully I won’t get a virus infection before all of that happens.

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