Note: This article was first published on 6th June 2015 and was re-published again in late 2016 as it is one of our popular reads and the procedure is still relevant, sans the newer OS versions this year.
If your system is running on a hard disk drive, do yourself a favor and upgrade to an SSD now!
In terms of bang for buck upgrades, nothing beats an SSD, especially if you are still chugging along on a mechanical hard disk drive. The reason for this is quite simple, the SSD is many, many times faster than a mechanical hard disk drive. Assuming you've adequate system memory for the tasks you perform, the responsiveness of your system improves considerably as the storage drive has long been the bottleneck in the entire system when considering the speed at which each subsystem operates. Just look at how a portable SSD performs against portable external hard disk drives. And that's just for external drives; it gets even faster when you consider a top tier internal SSD. For this reason alone, users are going to notice the biggest gains in performance by upgrading to an SSD.
In fact, if you happen to own an early generation SSD and you often tax your system, it also pays to upgrade it to the newest generation drives as SSDs have been steadily improving in performance and reliability.
However, upgrading to an SSD can be a daunting task. There are two key considerations: physically swapping your existing hard disk drive for an SSD, and moving all your data from your existing hard disk drive to the SSD. The first consideration can be tricky especially if you are a notebook user as not all notebooks are user upgradeable. The second is equally challenging. Obviously, a fresh install is the recommended way to go, but if you have already invested in a lot of applications, or if you just simply want to avoid the hassle of reinstalling all your applications, migrating from your hard disk drive to the SSD can be an intimidating prospect for some.
While we can’t help you with physically installing your SSD since every system is physically different, we can however help you with the second bit and that is migrating your data from your existing hard disk drive to your new SSD. We first prepared such a guide a couple of years ago and this time round, we've an updated guide to migrating your data to an SSD. Take note that although this new guide was done using Windows 8.1 and OS X Yosemite, the steps should remain similar as the cloning apps we recommended is supported by the version of your OS. If you require a guide to transitioning your Windows 7 system, do check out our earlier guide.
Generally, SSDs come in a number of capacity points and today’s most popular sizes are 256GB and 512GB. 256GB is an ideal combination of capacity and performance and should be sufficient for most users. Most of all, it is priced affordably. 512GB drives are also worthy of consideration because SSD prices have fallen so much that 512GB SSDs can be had for under S$300 today - that’s less than less than 60 cents a gigabyte!
Ideally, what you want is an SSD that can accommodate all of your data - OS installation, apps, photos, videos, and so on. This will ensure the best performance boost. If this is not possible, what we recommend is, at the very least, keep your OS installation and your most frequently used apps on the SSD. For users who want the most fuss-free migration process, our recommendation is to get an SSD that has the same or a bigger capacity than your existing drive.
If you have a desktop system, simply install your new SSD to any unused hard drive bay. For notebook users, who might want to invest in a hard disk enclosure to house your SSD while it clones crucial system files from your existing hard disk. For the actual cloning procedure, we recommend using the free to download EaseUS Todo Backup 8.2 and that's what we'll be using shortly to commence the process. But before that, there are a couple of preparatory matters to look into first.
Before you clone your hard disk drive, the first thing we recommend doing is to defragment it first. Additionally, it’s also a good idea to backup all your data to a portable external hard disk drive in case anything goes wrong.
After defragmentation, you will need to align your SSD. This step is necessary because traditional mechanical hard disks and SSDs store their data differently. Mechanical hard disks typically start the first partition after 63 blocks, while SSDs require 64 blocks of data for optimal performance.
To ensure they are aligned properly, we will use DISKPART. To ensure this is done properly, we need to open a command prompt with elevated privileges. To do so, hit the Windows button (assuming you're using Windows 7 or earlier), navigate to "Accessories" and right-click on "Command Prompt" and check the field that says "Run as Administrator".
Open command prompt and type in the following commands, in the following order. Be careful, especially when specifying which disk to align.
Now your SSD is properly aligned.
1. Once your SSD is aligned, go download EaseUS Todo Backup 8.2, it’s free and it’s a very effective and easy to use cloning utility. Once it’s downloaded, install and launch the application.
2. You will be greeted by a main menu. Select “Clone” from the top toolbar.
3. You will see a screen asking you to select your source drive (the drive you want to clone).
4. After confirming your source drive, you be prompted to select your destination drive. Check “Optimize for SSD” at the bottom of the window also, and then click “Next” to continue.
5. You are now given the chance to preview the disk layout. Don’t be worried about the free space, you can merge it later using a partition manager utility. Click “Proceed” to begin the cloning process.
5. You will see a progress bar and also the estimated and elapsed time of the cloning process. Once it is done and if you have an SSD that is of a bigger capacity than your original drive, you might want to consider merging the cloned partition and the unallocated partition to create a single larger partition. This can be done with free utilities such as EaseUS Partition Master Free.
If your new SSD has less storage space than your existing HDD, you will need to do some house-cleaning first. We recommend copying your personal files from your User directory (My Documents, My Music, My Pictures etc.) to another hard disk or portable hard disk first. Then, delete only the contents from the original folder but leave the original folders as it is for restoration later. This is of course assuming if you have adhered to the standard saving location for user-created files.
If you still find yourself lacking enough storage space on your SSD, what we recommend doing is uninstalling applications that you hardly use and reinstalling them on your old hard drive later after the cloning process. Obviously, this is not the most ideal solution, hence we strongly advise you to carefully consider the capacity of the SSD you are buying.
Once you have done so, follow the steps described in the first part above to clone your hard drive. After the cloning process is done, you will need to restore your user files. To restore your user files, simply go to your old hard drive and copy the files from your old User folders to the new one. Alternatively, you can also remap them to your old hard drive.
To do remap them, right-click on each of them and click on "Properties" and then the "Location" tab. Then click on "Find Target..." at the bottom right and find the corresponding folder in your old hard drive. Remap each of them and you’re done.
Take note that the remapping process is only applicable if you intend to keep your old drive along with your newly installed SSD. One downside is that if the old drive decides to 'retire', your precious data created will be at risk - unless of course you've an external back drive which is set to archive your files periodically.