For $20 you can purchase a license to Paragon Software's excellent "Migrate OS to SSD" product, which is actually a subset (or "component," to use Paragon's own terminology) belonging to its $40 Drive Copy 12 Professional product. It does a quick, easy, and careful job of copying the OS drive on a notebook or desktop PC to a solid state drive (SSD) drive attached to that same machine.
After using this product, you need only shut down the PC, remove the current system drive, and replace it with the SSD copy—and you've migrated to that new drive.
What's Going on Behind the Scenes
A typical problem when migrating from a conventional spinning drive to a fast SSD stems from the sizes of the source and target drives involved. Even budget notebooks ship with 300-plus GB drives nowadays, and most desktop systems offer hard disks that are 500 GB or bigger.
Downsizing from a bigger to a smaller drive can pose problems, as I describe in two other InformIT stories I've written that explain how to make the SSD switch on a Windows PC:
- Working with SSDs in Windows 7 and 8
- Slim Down Your Windows 7 System Drive for Notebook SSD Migration
Paragon helps to automate this chore by prompting the user to exclude data by unchecking boxes associated with unnecessary or superfluous files and folders. When a suitable size is achieved, after excluding sufficient unneeded or unwanted elements, the migration process begins. The starting point is depicted in this screenshot from the Paragon Website (Migrate OS to SSD product page), which shows a 750 GB OS drive with 410 GB of space in use (see Figure 1). By unchecking the video and music boxes, the user can lower space requirements on the target drive to 110 GB, after which the migration process gets underway. This is about as simple as drive clean-up gets (consult my "Slim Down..." article above for more tips and tricks if Paragon's selections don't cut holdings down enough to fit onto your chosen SSD).
Figure 1 Sometimes you have to do some trimming before migration can occur.
When you launch the program, a wizard pops up on your screen with some important preannouncements. Indeed, if there's anything you want to save on the target drive (usually an SSD), you must back it up before you start migrating because all data on the target drive will be overwritten as a consequence of copying the source drive over to that device.
Figure 2 Copy or back up anything you want to preserve from the target drive!
Click Next to start the migration process and you'll be presented with an "analyzing hardware" window that cycles for as long as it takes for the software to identify and describe all OS drives on your system, along with corresponding partition data for each such drive (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 The program goes off to find and describe any and all OS drives it finds.
When this process is complete, you'll see a list of all the results in a single pane of information. Generally, you'll pick the C: drive on your system, which is the most typical drive letter for Windows OS drives. Once you've selected the OS to migrate (that is, your source drive), click Next to proceed to the next step to select your migration target (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 Drive C selected as the migration source
Next, you see a list of target disks that represent the inventory of direct-attached storage devices on your system, excluding the source drive (in Figure 5, this includes internal SATA drives for items 1 and 3, eSATA drives for items 2 and 4, and even a RAMdisk for item 5). In Figure 5, a 149 GB (nominal 160 GB) Seagate drive is selected, though you'll probably pick the item for your target SSD when you perform this task "for real."
Figure 5 Here we select Disk 4, a 149 GB Seagate HD as our migration target.
Once a target drive is selected, the program presents another information screen that says "Ready to copy OS to target disk." This screen serves as another warning that the target drive is about to be overwritten, and also lets users access a list of folders to copy, and to instruct the program to "Use all available space for the partition with OS."
Figure 6 shows the "Ready to copy..." screen, while Figure 7 displays a checklist of folders from the target drive with all current selections checked off (by default, everything is selected the first time you view this control pane). If you make changes to the folder checklist, the program pauses to recalculate the size of the target disk image before proceeding.
Figure 6 The "Ready to copy..." pane gives you one more chance to cancel out or to change your target copy selections.
Figure 7 You get one more chance to review your chosen set of folder selections for the copy operation.
When you're ready, click the Copy button shown in Figure 6 to start the migration process from the source to the target drive. This provokes one final warning pane, which requires users to check a box labeled "Yes, format target disk and delete all the data on it." You can't say that Paragon misses any opportunity to protect users from themselves, as Figure 8 indicates.
Figure 8 One final hurdle[md]and permission—before migration gets underway.
Only then will you see a screen that reports on the migration process as it proceeds. First, the software deletes all original partitions. Next, it re-creates the partitions and sector size from the source drive on the target drive, in a process called "partition alignment" (more on this at the very end of this article). Next, it copies all partitions it finds there (it's typical for Windows OS drives to include a smaller recovery partition as well as the actual OS partition, which is why you see two "Copy partition" entries in Figure 9.
Figure 9 Migrate OS to SSD reports on migration progress step-by-step.
While the partition copy process is under way for each partition to be migrated, you'll see a progress bar describing time remaining for completion on the current copy operation. Figure 10 shows a little under four minutes before that action is estimated to be complete.
Figure 10 The final copy operation is under four minutes away from estimated completion.
In using the program, I observed that its initial time estimates can be optimistic. It would often start out by reporting less than half the actual time it would take to perform the copy operation for the big (OS) partition. But the program would usually catch up with itself in a minute or two, after which time remaining would decrease steadily as the final operation completed.
Once the program completes its work, you should see a "successful migration" screen like the one shown in Figure 11. This provides some guidance on how to make sure the proper drive gets selected when you reboot your machine, to make sure your new target drive is doing its job. (Because I've always plugged the new drive into the same SATA port as the original source drive occupied, I've never had to tweak the BIOS to get the system to boot properly, but YMMV depending on your system/motherboard setup.)
Figure 11 Once the migration completes, Migrate OS to SSD tells you how to transition from the old drive to the new one.
If you try to boot and fail, you'll definitely want to reboot, then enter your BIOS, and make sure your new target drive is designated as the first drive in the boot order. (I usually place it behind USB to permit booting from a specially formatted repair or install USB Flash drive, and behind my optical drive, if the system includes one.)
The Drive Is Migrated: Now What?
Once Migrate OS to SSD finishes its work, you'll need to shut down the PC. Once it's powered down, disconnect external power, crack the case, and swap the target drive for the original source drive. Then reconnect external power (and any other cables you may have had to disconnect to get at the drive), and reboot.
Your PC should restart without a hitch—I never encountered any difficulties in the handful of notebook PCs and the pair of desktops in which I tried it out—and you should be off and running on your new SSD. Generally, that means booting and shutting down more quickly, and enjoying faster performance across the board at runtime!
Concluding Technical Postscript
In reading about what Migrate OS to SSD does during the migration process, I observed that it matches the partition alignment from the source drive on the target drive as well.
Having just recently read the October 4 Windows Secrets newsletter wherein Fred Langa does a great job of describing partition alignment's motivation and its ins and outs, I came across the following statement in his conclusion to that article: "Although it certainly does no harm to align an SSD, my timing tests suggest that SSD alignment will make little or no meaningful improvement to drive performance for typical desktop applications." He also says that if you can do it without having to perform much extra work, it's probably better done for both SSDs and conventional drives in all cases.
With that information in mind, I posed this question to Paragon Software:
I've read from other sources that while alignment is important for spinning drives, it's less important for SSDs. Could somebody please give me an informed, engineering-level comment on this contention?
Here's how Jim Thomas of Paragon Software's Technical Services department responded to this query:
While SSDs don't experience the noticeable performance impact of misalignment as [do] traditional spinning hard drives, they still benefit from partition alignment. Performance is increased, and there are less unnecessary writes to the SSD when partitions are aligned. When misaligned partitions are present on an SSD, the number of Writes to the drive will increase, due to a Read/Modify/Write scenario, which can cause faster sector wear. SSDs contain extra storage not immediately visible to the user, which accommodate for the limited write cycles of flash memory cells. Once a sector on an SSD is flagged as worn, one of the hidden data sectors will be made available in its place without any user interaction. SSD manufacturers point to the hidden storage capacity and algorithms built into their controllers which compensate for misalignment, yet the best way to ensure SSD performance and longevity is to start with properly aligned partitions.
Fortunately for most readers (and especially for anyone who uses Migrate OS to SSD), the process is both transparent and automatic. Whether or not you side with Mr. Langa or Mr. Thomas in this regard, automating this process makes it easy for users to take care of alignment as part and parcel of the migration process.
I found Paragon Software's Migrate OS to SSD to be easy to use and it has done a splendid job in helping me migrate several systems from conventional hard disks to SSDs. On my production desktop, in fact, I used it to migrate from an 80 GB SSD to a 160 GB SSD in the wake of a memory upgrade that forced me to increase the size of my paging and hibernation files substantially, and left me with less free space on my original OS drive that I liked.
I'm happy to report that Migrate OS to SSD works well no matter what kind of source or target drives you designate: I've now used it to go from all possible combinations of hard disks and SSDs in source and target positions without encountering a single problem.