How to Clone a Hard Drive or SSD in Windows 10 for FREE

You may want to upgrade your hard drive to a larger capacity at some point or replace a slow mechanical hard drive (HDD) with a much faster Solid State Drive (SSD), but the thought of having to copy all your files and give up your program licenses makes it such an uphill task that you just decide to settle for what you have at the moment.

Well, not anymore. Here you will find step-by-step instructions on how to transfer everything from your old disk to a new disk. In this case, the new disk might be an SSD or a traditional mechanical hard disk it doesn’t really matter.

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This process is sometimes referred to as mirroring or cloning. It reproduces an exact replica of all the data and files from your old disk to the new one.

These include your Windows operating system, files, applications, licenses, data, settings, access credentials, all browser data including bookmarks, history, login credentials and every other thing on your disk.

Reasons Why You May Need This Solution:

  • Upgrading from a mechanical hard disk (HDD) to an SSD
  • Replacing a failing hard drive (A quick way to identify a failing hard drive is when you begin to hear some glitchy sounds from your hard disk as it spins, then you should consider purchasing another storage disk and using this process to completely transfer all you have on your old disk to the new one.
  • Mirroring your PC to another PC. In other words, having two computers with the same exact contents. This could come in handy if you want to upgrade to another laptop but would want to retain every single content of your old laptop.

However, there are some important precautions to take when doing this, but before we get to that, here are the tools we will be using for this process:

  1. A screwdriver for disassembling your laptop hard drive cover
  2. A USB SATA Adapter cable
  3. Your new SSD (We recommend these brands for reliability)

With that, the next step would be to download a free OS migration tool. There are several of them online, but I highly recommend using the minitool partition wizard. This tool is very reliable and quite easy to use. The previous versions like Version 10.2  and Version 11.5 can offer you a complete migration for FREE if you follow the procedure shown in this tutorial and in the video below. The latest version, version 12 requires a paid pro subscription to perform disk cloning operations.

Please note:  When installing Version 11.5, you will likely get a pop-out notification from Windows Security reporting a threat (low) “PUABundler-Win32/FusionCore”  or “Browser Modifier” or something similar. This is not a problem, you can ignore it and proceed or remove it and proceed, it really doesn’t matter. This happens because Windows Security sees that the app may include 3rd party offers, meaning it may try to install unwanted software after installing the Minitool Partition Wizard. Just pay attention at the end of the installation if it prompts you to install additional software just ignore or uncheck the option, or close the installation, the actual app would have already been fully installed at this point.

The rest of this tutorial will be based on the 10.0 and 11.5 versions. 

After downloading, run the installation file by double-clicking. Select your preferred language and hit ok.

Accept the license terms and hit next on the following pages.

Here, choose whether or not you want to create a desktop shortcut and if you want to participate in the customer experience improvement program, then hit next.

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On this next window, it asks if you want to install additional software. If you don’t, simply uncheck the box where it says “I have read the Privacy Notice…” and then hit next to continue with the normal installation.

On the window that follows, hit install.

and hit finish to complete the process.

Before the next step, connect your new disk or SSD to the laptop using the USB SATA Adapter cable as shown below. If you have a USB 3.0 port, then you should definitely use it, this will fasten the process substantially compared to a USB 2.0 port.

On the page below, choose Disk Clone

It should take you to this copy disk wizard. Here hit next.

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On the next page, it asks you to Select Disk to copy. Here, by default, your C drive labeled Disk 1 is selected. If for some reason this is not the drive you want to copy, then select the drive you want to copy and hit next.

On the next page, it asks you to select the Target Disk, which in this case is the new 240 GB SSD I want to upgrade to.

Here check that this is the disk you want to upgrade to, especially if you have more than one secondary disks attached to your computer, then hit next.

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It then reminds you that all the data on the destination disk will be destroyed, are you sure you want to continue? Here double-check that you have selected the right disk before hitting Yes.

On the next screen, you will see a summary of all your selections. By default, Fit partition to entire disk is selected and Disk 2 is the target disk, which is my SSD. If that’s right for you, click next.

It then informs you to configure your BIOS to boot from the destination disk when next you boot up, I will explain this a bit later, just click finish.

Next, it returns you to this main page below where you will now click apply on the top right corner to begin the migration process.

 A note will pop out recommending that you close all applications before applying the changes.

Here close down any application running and hit Yes to start the migration process. If you get past this stage then just wait for the migration process to run as supposed.

However, oftentimes you will get this notice saying “Operation copy partition cannot be completed because drive C is being used now”.

It’s okay to get this notice, mainly because some background processes running on your laptop make your drive C appear busy for the process to run, so it offers you three options, you either restart, retry or cancel the process. Here click on Restart Now and then wait for the partition wizard to automatically perform the migration process upon restarting.

This process will take a while depending on the amount of data you have on your hard disk and the performance of your laptop. With a higher performance laptop in terms of processor and RAM, this process could be a lot faster.

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As shown above, is important to have your computer powered on the whole time, so use your AC adapter if necessary.

When the migration process is complete, proceed to the final process which is the actual swapping of the old disk (HDD or SSD) with the new disk (HDD or SSD). Before that, here are two important warnings.

  • First, we had a note to configure the BIOS to boot from the destination disk when next we boot up, here’s what that implies. Most likely your default BIOS settings is to boot up from your main drive which is drive C, so if you are replacing your hard disk with an SSD or one SSD with another, then you don’t have to change your BIOS settings, it will automatically boot from the drive it finds attached to your main disk connector.
  • The second thing is the issue of activation or a Windows license. First, let’s understand what the disk migration implies, it basically means you have successfully copied your Windows to another drive, so you have the same copy of Windows on two separate drives both activated with the same digital license.

This does not imply that you can run the two copies of Windows on two separate machines. They might run successfully, however, your Windows license is attached to your laptop, so attaching any of the two drives to some other laptop could violate the license terms of your Windows, hence you will end up with an unlicensed Windows.

Depending on the type of license you have, you might even lose the license on your main laptop if you use your drive on another laptop and return it back to your laptop, so to preserve your Windows license, only run these drives on your main laptop.

To swap the old SSD with the new one, first shut down the laptop, then remove the SATA adapter from the laptop and the SSD. Locate your hard drive compartment, most laptops would have it underneath.

Carefully unscrew to uncover the hard drive, remove and replace the hard disk with the new SSD or HDD, tighten back all loose screws and then you’re good to go.

Power on your laptop normally, and it will boot straight into the new SSD or HDD. You will observe from your desktop that all files and folders are exactly as you had them on the old disk. All the settings, including the Wi-Fi credentials, are preserved.

Also if you check your Windows activation status, it should say that Windows is activated with a digital license which means you have successfully transferred your entire system from the old SSD to a new SSD without having to install Windows again and without losing any files, applications or settings.

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You could also use this process to mirror one laptop to another. This mostly comes to play when you want to replace an old one and you want to maintain the exact same data and settings on the new one, then in addition to all the processes already described above, you will also need a new license key for the other laptop.

Usually, when you move your cloned disk to another laptop, it will lose the previous license. This is because your Windows license is somehow tied to the laptop hardware as well, so moving the software to another laptop would require a separate activation for such a laptop. However, if the destination laptop has the license integrated into the chipset, then it will automatically inherit that license, hence you will have a licensed Windows without having to activate it.

The same goes for your paid apps. You should ensure you have the required licenses backed up before mirroring your laptop to another laptop, otherwise, you will end up with unlicensed apps in the mirror laptop.

Please share your comments, questions and feedback in the comment section below. 

The following video demonstrates the solutions in this tutorial.

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