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How do I copy my primary hard drive to a new hard drive?

Answer: Copying a hard drive sounds easy, but it is more complex than simply copying all the files and folders from one hard drive to another. This is because the primary hard drive, which includes the operating system, contains many important files that are invisible and will not get copied via a standard drag and drop copy process. The hard drive also includes important file system information that will not be copied. Finally, the system may not allow you to copy certain files because your user account may not have permission to copy them.

In order to copy your primary hard drive to another drive, you must "clone" the drive. The cloning (or imaging) process creates an exact copy of the entire hard drive. This data can be written directly to another hard drive or saved as a disk image file, which can be applied to a hard disk or another type of media.

Several disk cloning utilities are available for both Mac and Windows platforms. Mac OS X users can use Apple's built-in Disk Utility or a third-party program like Bombich Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) or Shirt Pocket SuperDuper. Windows users can use Microsoft Windows Image Backup (included with Windows 7), or other utilities like Acronis True Image or Symantec Norton Ghost.

Regardless of what program you choose, make sure the software can create a "bootable backup," which is necessary for creating an exact copy of the data. Once you have copied the hard disk (which make take several hours, depending on the size), try to boot your computer from the new hard drive. If the system boots successfully, then the copy process was successful. After using the new hard drive for awhile and making sure there are no unexpected problems, you can overwrite the data on the old hard drive. But make sure to always keep at least one recent backup of your current hard drive.

Published: July 14, 2010 — by Per Christensson

Answer from the PC Help Center