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How to move Windows 10 from your old hard drive to SSD

The move to a solid-state drive will transform your Windows experience

Abstract image of an SSD flying quickly through the air on a black background

Solid-state drives (SSD) are so widely available that many people chose to purchase one and move their Windows 10 OS from their HDDs or mechanical drives. For those building a PC from scratch, it may seem like a straightforward task, but it is challenging upgrading from an older hard drive. 

A decent SSD with 1TB used to be a pricey luxury but they are now far more affordable - as little as £100. It's a worthwhile investment as it's considered a major upgrade to HDDs. SSDs work in a flash format using integrated circuits to store data. 

What's more, HDDs are almost obsolete today, aside from small use cases where massive amounts of storage space are required. The majority of laptops available today are kitted out with SSDs as their storage capacity continues to grow. 
Moving from HDD or older to an SSD presents a few challenges, particularly if your system hosts critical files and applications. However, once it is done you will notice immediate benefits to your computer's performance and user experience.  

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Is it worth the hassle?

To migrate data in this way is a huge undertaking, one that requires lots of love and care - and a whole heap of time and effort. It's not for the faint of heart, particularly if you do have very important files. If the migration is successful, however, it will be completely worth any hassle that the process throws up as Windows 10 tends to feel smoother and more responsive on an SSD. 

For those that have been on HDD for a long time, extending periods of waiting are par for the course as boot-up times take an age (like up to a minute). And, even when the desktop is in sight, all the applications upon it might not have caught up.

With an SSD installed, your machine will boot to the desktop in a matter of seconds, and be ready to use almost immediately after. Generally, your experience using Windows will be more stable and faster overall, which saves time and alleviates frustration.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Be prepared!

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Before you move the Windows installation files to an SSD, you have to separate any other data (documents, pictures, music, videos) to another disc as these won't be transferred to the SSD – we just want the Windows installation to move.

You will then be using cloning tools to copy the Windows OS onto the new SSD, and move personal data onto the old disc. The great thing here is that you will get the benefit of running Windows from a faster drive while retaining the spacious hard drive for data.

If you are doing this with a desktop computer, then you will have little trouble fitting in both the new disc and the old disc as there should be plenty of space for both. Things get a little more difficult when it comes to laptops. At this point, you may have to remove the optical drive to fit in a second drive or spend more money on an SSD that can accommodate all the data present on the old disc.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: What do you need?

As mentioned before, for this project you will need your current hard drive, which you will migrate data from; your new SSD, which data will be migrated to; and a backup of all your data, as you can only clone the system files.

You will also need a cloning tool. In this instance, we will use EaseUS Todo Backup Free. Mainly because it is free and also because it is easy enough for most people to use. Also, the tool is good at cloning data from a large disc to a much smaller disc.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Defrag and back up your data

As we are cloning a disc, it is a good idea to defrag the file system before we start anything – this will reduce the time it takes to copy all the data. To do this, click on the Start menu and type in defrag. When you see the option for Disk Defragmenter, click on it and run the tool to tidy up the disc. This can take either minutes or hours depending on the size of the disc.

The next thing to do is back up ALL of your data. An external drive is a good start or an online service such as CrashPlan, but the latter will take a lot longer to complete, even with a good internet connection.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Delete unwanted data

If you are making the move to a smaller SSD drive, you will need to delete a few files off of it to make sure the process completes.

A good place to start is by looking in folders such as My Videos (which often has lots of very large files within), then My Music (loads of music collected over the years), and then My Documents.

Once your backup has completed and you have verified the data is properly backed up, then delete the data within these folders but not the folders themselves, as you may need them later.

It is important to note that we don't want to delete applications in the Program Files folder. This is because we also want them to benefit from the speed boost that an SSD has.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Send in the clones 

Once the old disc has slimmed down enough, you can then begin the process of transferring this data to the new SSD. Open EaseUS Todo Backup and select "Clone" from the left-hand sidebar.

Select your old disc as the clone source and select the SSD as the target location. Before anything else, tick the box next to "Optimize for SSD". This is so the partition is correctly aligned for SSDs (this ensures the best performance of the new disc).

The cloning tool will begin copying data over. If you tick the "Shut down the computer when the operation completed" box, the process will shut your system down when completed.

At this point, if you get an error message alerting you that the source disc is too big, you will have to go back to the step before and delete more data from the old disc. This can happen when you haven't formatted the SSD to find out the true capacity of the new drive.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Delete your old drive

Once complete, switch the PC back on and boot from the SSD. You may have to go into the boot menu and select the SSD as the drive to boot from.

It's here that you should notice the speed increase – Windows should now start and hit the desktop a lot quicker than before. But we are not finished yet. Next, you need to open up the File Explorer and wipe the old drive (make sure it isn't the backup). 

This can be done by right-clicking on the old drive and selecting format, with the information on the total capacity of the disc being available in the first drop-down menu. In the second one, check whether the default NYFS is selected, while the final dropdown box needs to have 'Default allocation size' enabled. Before exiting, check whether the 'Quick Format' box is ticked (it needs to be!), and then you can select Start.

Moving Windows 10 to an SSD: Recover data from a backup

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After deleting your old drive, it’s finally time to recover your data from the backup. In order to do so, open up your backup as well as destination folders in Windows Explorer, which can be the old, now-empty user folders, or brand new ones, created exclusively for this occasion. Start by typing C:\users\username with “username” being replaced by a term of your choice. Once you find each user folder, select Properties, then Location Tab, and lastly: Move. Transfer all your personal files from the backup onto the disc by clicking and dragging any documents, sound files, photos, videos back into your My Documents, My Music, My Pictures – or any other folders you may be using. 

Once you’re done, you might notice that your system not only works just as well as it did previously, but is also much faster at processing tasks. This will be an especially welcome improvement for business laptops, allowing you to spend less time on work tasks requiring the use of multiple tabs and programmes. Heightened productivity isn’t the only benefit of a speedier system – you will likely experience less stress as well.

Lastly, what you’d like to do with your backup is all up to you. As a recommended precaution, you might want to keep your personal files backed up just in case your laptop gets lost or stolen. In that way, you’ll be protected from even the most disastrous situations, and ready to pick up right where you left off as soon as you receive a new device.

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