How I Upgraded my Laptop Computer’s Hard Drive – Partition Issues

In a previous post, I talked about how I cloned my old 250 GB notebook hard drive onto a 500 GB laptop hard drive, and reinstalled it into my notebook computer.  The Aleratec Hard Drive Duplicator that I used made an exact copy of the 250 GB drive.

My computer saw the 250 GB drive but the extra 250 GB of capacity weren’t immediately available.  In this blog, I’ll look at the issues related to getting the additional drive capacity.

My Windows 7 Experience

Last year, I upgraded my operating system from the Vista that was installed onto it to Windows 7.  I’ve been using Windows ever since Windows 2.0 came out in the late 1980s, and have a lot of experience with issues of partitioning and managing drive sizes.  However, once Windows finally cut its connection to DOS, and the tasks of managing hard drives became a choice of using tools included in Windows, or software that is run at boot time, the basic issues changed.  The task of managing hard drives from within Windows have not changed substantially in the last few versions of Windows, although there may be some Windows 7 specific issues that may not apply to Windows XP or Vista.

In Windows 7, if you attach a new hard disk, Windows will probably recognize it as new, and offer to help you set it up.  It will let you create a partition, and ask you if you want a full format or a quick format.   However – this is only for a new drive.   What I installed was a duplicate of the 250 GB drive that was originally in the computer – Windows did not recognize the drive as a new drive.  Therefore, I had to choose the tools to use for upgrading my drive.

To get to the drive management screen, I clicked on the Start button (lower left of the taskbar).  Next, I highlighted Computer and clicked the right mouse button.  From the next menu, I selected Manage.  In some cases, you may have to tell Windows 7 to run this as Administrator, because it provides tools to change (and potentially damage) your Windows installation.

The Computer Management Screen opens.  On the left side of this screen, click on Disk Management.  The Disk Management screen will show the drives physically connected to your computer.  It may take a while, if you have external USB drives, before this screen opens.

The new drive will show up as Disc 0.  If your hard drive was like mine, it would have two partitions, which ran as C: and D:.  When you move the mouse pointer into the partition you want to modify and click the Right Mouse button, a menu will open, showing you your options.  On my computer, when I clicked on the C: drive (the boot drive), the only option related to partition size was Shrink Partition. This was NOT what I wanted to do.  The reason Windows won’t let you expand the partition is because Windows doesn’t let you resize the boot drive – doing so could make the system non-bootable.  From within Windows 7, you can resize the other partitions, but not the boot partition.

What I chose to do was extend the second partition – the D: drive.  I clicked Extend Volume, selected the size I wanted to extend it to (I used all available space), and Windows extended the partition, adding all the free space on the drive to this partition.   While some users may prefer to extend the boot partition, this usually isn’t a good idea.  The idea behind a boot partition is to use it to store and run the operating system and applications.  Confining the boot partition to boot files, applications, and system settings helps free the drive for system operation.   Keeping actual data to a minimum on the boot drive is an effective strategy.

In my case, this is what I chose to do.  I moved many of the non-system related directories to my new, larger D: drive, freeing a lot of space from the C: drive.   There’s one risk to moving data from one drive to another, however—some applications may have used the C: drive to store files.  In some cases, you may have to reset the storage locations, within the application settings, to the D: drive.  (I didn’t move my Program Files, Program Data, Users or Windows files – I was careful to only move those directories that appeared to be holding only data, video or music).

In my case, simply expanding the D: drive and moving files and directories from the boot drive worked fine.  However, not all computer users will find this acceptable.

Both Aleratec Hard Drive Duplicators I was using  provided another connectivity option: they can also connect via USB cable and make the installed drives look like external drives.   If, for example, I wanted to resize the boot partition, I could have used another computer to connect to the drive that I inserted into the Aleratec Hard Drive duplicator.  Each drive would have appeared to the system as if it was another hard disk drive.  Using the steps outlined previously, I would have been able to locate and modify the partitions on the hard drives.

However, rather than using the tool included in the Windows operating system, such tools as Partition Magic and Partition Manager, run from Windows on another computer attached to the drives in the Aleratec Hard Drive Duplicators, or launched as a boot device (if you want to change drives already inside your computer) would provide more flexibility and give you the ability to modify the drive, even if it’s installed into the computer you’re looking to change.  In addition to the partition tools included in the Windows operating system, third party partition management programs offer more flexibility and other capabilities.  These tools let you create a boot disc, for example.  When you use their boot disc to start the computer, you are able to make changes to all partitions, including the Windows boot partition.  Or, if you have a hard drive that is inserted into an Aleratec Hard Drive Duplicator that is attached to your computer over USB, you can run the program as a Windows application, and modify the partitions in a drive in the Hard Drive Duplicator.

Because these software products, usually installed on a CD-ROM (and perhaps now, on a bootable flash drive), start the system without running Windows, the partitions can be modified without changing Windows.  In addition to the software listed above, some bootable Linux distributions may also provide partition management software that will allow you to move and resize partitions on your notebook or desktop computer.

I’ll look at some of these options in a future post.

Mark Brownstein is a technology journalist and technology consultant who specializes in explaining and interpreting new technologies, and clarifying how to integrate these new products into current systems. He has been Editor-In-Chief at computer technology and networking publications, has held significant editorial positions at major technology magazines, and is a frequent contributor to various technology magazines. He has written seven books. He is Microsoft Certified, and spends much of his time testing hardware and software products, running his own networks, and learning the best ways to get computer systems running and to keep them running.

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