Upgrade your notebook hard drive on Windows Vista using a USB drive

April 5, 2008

I just purchased a new 200GB 7200RPM drive for my laptop, to replace a 100GB drive that I had trouble making enough space on (A$195 at CPL). I went through the process of investigating the ways to backup the existing drive and even started to backup the drive using DriveImage XML. The problem is, I wasn’t convinced that with all the extended attributes in Vista, that a third-party image backup was going to do the job. The light-bulb in my head suddenly shone brightly. Surely Windows Vista has an equivalent of NT Backup? And it does.

Called the “Backup and Restore Centre”, it allowed me to make a complete backup of the drive to my NexStar external USB drive. I needed to have enough space equivalent to the amount of space taken up on my disk.

I successfully made the backup, then switched over to the new drive. I thought I had to install un-activated copy of Vista and then run the Restore complete backup from the Backup and Restore Centre. It turns out that you will be unable to restore the image using the Backup and Restore Centre.

I don’t have an emergency partition on my laptop, so I needed a Vista installation DVD. I ran the DVD, selected my language, and then on the next screen was able to select the option “System Repair”. It then gave me some options for what I wanted to do next. At this time, I plugged in my USB drive and selected “Restore a complete backup”. But alas, my image wasn’t on the list of available backups!

It turns out, that if you want to restore from a USB drive, the USB drive needs to be plugged in before you boot the computer. If it’s not, the drive won’t be recognised and the drivers won’t be installed at the right time.

Ok, so I started the process again, this time with the USB drive already plugged in on boot, and this time when it got to the Restore a complete backup screen, my backup image was available, and I was able to restore successfully.

When it restored the image on the new larger sized drive, it was restored to the original size, so I went and right-clicked on Computer in the Start Menu and selected Manage.  This takes you to the Computer Management MMC applet.  I selected Storage and Disk Management, and this enabled me to either expand or create another partition.

I originally expanded the partition, but later on I decided to split the partition in half. The reason? I only have 100GB external drives. So I created two partitions less that 100GB each so that I could choose to backup an individual partition separately from the other.

Next, activation. After restoring the hard drive image to a new drive, you will have to re-activate Windows Vista. I didn’t have the product key handy, so I chose to do an automated telephone activation. This initially failed claiming too many activations, however I got put through to a nice person on the service desk, explained what I was doing, and he provided me with the activation key, which involves keying in about 8 lots of 6 digits.

And whalla, I am now completely up and running, and without having to pay for extra software. I hope this helps someone!