How I Upgraded My Laptop Computer’s Hard Drive

… And Improved My Laptop’s Performance

If you’re like me, you keep a lot of stuff on your notebook (or laptop) computer’s hard drive.  Videos, applications, music files, e-mail, work files, and a lot of other things.  If your laptop is used for your job, it’s probably filling up – I know that mine did.

The already small 250 GB hard drive on my two year old notebook computer was full long ago.  I had to carefully decide what files I wanted to put onto it, and which files I had to save onto an external USB drive.  It wasn’t fun.   Having two drive partitions (a C: and a D:)  that were almost full slowed down my computer because it had to search for empty sectors to save data onto.  In the few cases where I actually used more memory than was installed in RAM, the system ground to a halt while the laptop started to use the hard disk to store temporary computing files.  Having an almost full hard drive on any computer is no fun – the ‘small’ drives on notebook computers make it even worse.

The solution I sought was to replace my slow, old hard drive with a new, faster, and much larger drive.  The challenge I faced – and the challenge that most laptop users will face – is how to move up to a larger hard drive without losing your data; how to move up to a hard drive without having to start from scratch, reinstalling your operating system, copying and reinstalling your applications, etc.

I looked at a few options.  I thought about buying another notebook (2.5”) hard drive and copying the data from my old drive to a new drive.  To do this would have involved buying an enclosure for this new 2.5” drive, hooking it up to my computer, and hoping that an exact, ghosted copy would be written to the new drive.  I could have tried to back up my hard drive to an external USB drive (I already have two 1 TB drives hooked up as external USB drives), and hoping that I can restore the backup onto my new drive.  However, some backup software wouldn’t like this – it only restores to the same drive that the data was backed up from – restoring data from a 250 GB drive to a 500 GB drive wouldn’t work.

I wasn’t confident that either of the above methods would even give me a new, larger, drive that I would be able to install into my notebook and boot from without problems.  (And, even if it could boot the OS, I wasn’t sure if I may wind up having problems with software license issues that sometimes happen when you copy from one drive to another).

I chose to use a hard drive duplicator that made an exact copy (cloned) my hard drive.   Two such Hard Drive Duplicators from Aleratec were available to me when I chose to duplicate my drive: the Aleratec 1:1 HDD Cruiser Hard Drive Duplicator and Sanitizer (Part Number 350103) and the Aleratec  HDD Copy Cruiser Mini Hard Disk Drive Duplicator and Dock (Part Number 350107).  Both devices are designed to make exact copies of a source hard disk drive.

I chose to use the 1:1 Hard Drive Duplicator and Sanitizer for my initial copy.  Although this device required a special adapter to support the 2.5” notebook drive, I liked it because it features Quick Load Drive Doors that allow me to completely insert the drives into a copy bay and securely lock them in.  In my work environment, having drives exposed isn’t the best option.

I bought a fast 500 GB notebook hard drive, inserted it into the adapter and put the adapter into the Target drive bay. Next, I prepared for some minor surgery on my notebook computer.

I have a few laptop computers, and they all seem to provide relatively easy access to the hard drives for upgrade.   When I remove any components from my notebooks, I first remove the power connection, then I remove the battery.   I make sure that there’s no power getting to it while I’m removing any of the components.

In the case of this particular laptop computer, getting to the hard drive involved removing a few screws from the underside of the computer – I closed the computer, flipped it over, and unscrewed the appropriate cover for the hard drive.  I wasn’t entirely comfortable removing screws until I was able to download the user guide, before starting surgery, which clearly showed which panel covered the hard drive.  Once I removed the drive, I removed the four screws that held it into its mounting bracket, making note of which side the drive label was on.

From there, duplicating the drive was easy.  I just put the source drive into the drive carrier and put the drive carrier into the Source drawer on the duplicator.  I turned the duplicator on, it checked the source and target, and I pushed the menu buttons until my option was to Copy the drive.  I pressed Enter, and in a little over an hour, I had an exact copy of my 250GB drive.  I installed the new drive back into my computer, closed up the covers, re-inserted the battery, and hooked up power.  I pressed the On button on my computer, and it started right up, as if nothing had been changed.

The 350103, as noted, was my personal choice, for many reasons.  First, I liked the fact that this hard drive duplicator is a solid, professional-quality device that locks the drives in while they are copied.  It also provides the capability to sanitize any drives I wish to retire or use in other computers.  Sanitization of the drives—deleting and overwriting each bit of data on the drive – makes me feel secure if I no longer use the drive, choose to donate it to a charity, install it into another computer, or otherwise give away control of the drive.  The 350103, on a desk or work area, is a solid, hefty device that, in my office space, would be hard to knock off a table.

It is worth noting that my other choice, the Aleratec HDD Copy Cruiser Mini Hard Drive Duplicator and Dock would have made the same copy, and wouldn’t have required the notebook drive adapter.  If you don’t want or need to lock your drives into a drive drawer, this duplicator is a less expensive option.  The Mini Hard Drive Duplicator is a capable device, built for making copies or for use as a drive bay that supports one or two drives over USB, but lacks the professional features of the 350103.

When I started my computer, everything came up as if the original 250GB drive was still installed.  It still looked – to the computer – as if both drives (actually, two partitions) were nearly full.  In a future blog, I’ll talk about a few ways to deal with enlarging the partitions on the drive to make use of the extra space.

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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