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Langa Letter: How To Safely Add Or Replace A Hard Drive

Want to expand your PC without having to rebuild your operating system? Fred Langa shows you how to do that--and more.
Alternatives And Solving Problems
OK, sometimes things go awry--perhaps your imaging didn't work as expected, or perhaps you just wanted to start afresh, with a from-scratch, lean new setup. You can still use the same general ideas shown above, up to and through the "Moving Data To The New Drive" step. What happens next depends on how much of your old setup you want to retain.

One alternative is, before you deactivate the old setup, run the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard and use the option it offers to collect all your old Windows files and settings into a single file for later use. You can store this file anywhere convenient, either on the old or new drive.

Next make the new drive the master and reboot to it, then set up a fresh install of Windows there. When done, run the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard again, but this time from the new setup. When given the choice, tell it you've already gathered the old files and settings in a file and point the Wizard to the file you previously created. The new Windows will digest the information from the old setup, adding the files and settings to itself on the new drive.

If you want the old files but not necessarily the old settings, it's even easier. Skip the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard on both the old and new setup. When you've installed Windows afresh on the new drive, use the technique shown in "What If Something's Left Behind?" to gain access to your original setup and manually copy whatever files you want from the old setup to the new.

This technique--having both drives easily accessible and able to be swapped back and forth as master or slave, singly or in combination--is one I find much easier in the long run than the usual manufacturer's directions, which involve fully mounting the new drive before it's ever activated. Once mounted in a drive bay, it's usually much harder to get at jumpers and to get cables lined up and connected easily, which slows or limits you if you need to roll back a step, or if you need to easily boot from either drive. But again, if you're new to PC hardware, you might want to follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly, at least the first time, so that you'll fully understand the basic process before you use the alternate method I employ. And of course, when in doubt, default back to the manufacturer's instructions, as they're designed to keep your new drive's warranty in effect.

Drive vendors also often provide software tools to assist you in setting up the new drive and moving files to it. I've never found these tools particularly useful, but my PC use tends to be nonstandard. If such tools come with your new drive, they're certainly worth looking at and in fact might be all you need.

Ready For The Next Step?
In the previous column, we discussed using the Windows Disk Management tool. And in this column, we looked at what's involved in physically juggling hard drives. Although each of these columns stands alone, they also form the foundation for our upcoming discussion of an extremely low-cost terabyte server. Stay tuned!


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