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How to Transfer Data from One Hard Drive to Another

written by: •edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 1/11/2010

This guide explores how to copy one hard drive onto another - whether you're just looking to copy standard data or the operating system as well!

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    Why Are You Transferring Data?

    There are several reasons why you might wish to copy one hard drive onto another. Your original hard disk might be failing and you need to save the data as soon as possible, you might wish to retain a valuable backup, or you might be duplicating data across several HDDs in order to have several PCs set up in the same manner.

    As there are several reasons to instigate data transfer from hard drive to hard drive, there are also a few different methods, depending upon your task and intended outcome. This guide illustrates the following scenarios:

    • Data transfer from hard drive to hard drive
    • Backing up the operating system and data
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    Transferring Data from One Hard Drive to Another

    To transfer from hard drive to hard drive you'll need two hard disk drives There are different ways to achieve this. If you have space in your PC for an additional hard disk, then this should be used. If your motherboard uses IDE hard disks, the ideal way would be to use two IDE channels, one for each hard disk with the jumpers setting both devices as “master” to enable optimum data transfer speed. In Windows it is then possible to copy data from one device and paste or drag it to the other (providing the active operating system is not being copied).

    With SATA hard disks, data transfer should be even quicker. As the jumpers switches on SATA disks are for a different purpose to those on IDE drives, these should be left alone.

    If you’re limited for space, utilizing an external USB hard disk device might be the answer. Depending on the nature of the data you wish to back up, this may or may not be a permanent solution – these devices are excellent for copying data to, including system backups and standard documents. If your PC is limited for space, you can copy one hard drive onto another USB hard disk, replace your internal disk drive and then copy the data from the USB device to your new internal drive.

    Note that this method will not work if you intend to copy the active operating system. To do this, you will need additional software.

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    Backing-up the OS

    Finally, copying the contents of a hard drive including the operating system is a different kettle of fish.

    To do this, you will need disk imaging software such as Norton Ghost or one of the free alternatives. Proceeding with this task, a second hard disk should be set up, formatted and partitioned, with a partition size matching that of your current physical disk.

    Using you disk imaging software of choice, your original disk should then be backed up, using the new partition as a destination. Once this process is completed, you should be able to remove the original drive and boot into the operating system as before.