How to copy the contents of one hard drive to another
Question: I have a computer with a 20GB drive and would like to install a 80GB drive that I have, as the 20GB drive has under 1GB remaining. Can I use imagining software to copy all Programs, files, and folders (including system files) from the old drive to this bigger drive, and make it be the startup drive? What would be the best software for me to use?
Answer: Yes, you can copy the contents of one hard drive to another, as long as the drive you're copying to is as large or larger than the old drive, and as long as you have the right software. You can even copy installed programs and the operating system over to the new drive, so you don't need to spend money on another Windows license or worry about re-installing programs.
Both hard drives will need to be connected to your motherboard using a standard IDE cable. Two hard drives can be connected with the same IDE cable - just make sure that the old drive (master) is connected to the first available connector slot, and the new drive (slave) is connected to the middle slot on the cable.
You'll need a software program to copy over the old hard drive's contents to the new hard drive, also known as "ghosting" or "disk imaging".
I'll discuss 2 disk imaging programs in this article - one that's both a ghosting program and a backup program, and another lighter-weight solution that only handles disk copying (and is more affordable too).
Norton Ghost is a well known and trusted program that will duplicate your old drive directly to another drive.
Norton's step-by-step wizards make it easy to copy the contents of your old drive to your new hard drive, even if you're not super technical or very good with computers.
Norton Ghost will ask you to choose the source drive (the old drive) and the target drive (the new drive), and then will ask you a few questions about how you want to control the disk copy.
For example, if you want the new hard drive to be the boot/startup drive, then you'd want to check the "Set drive active" option. If you want to erase any partitions on the new drive, then you'd check the "Copy MBR" option for copying the master boot record from the old hard drive.
Once you've selected the options you want (which are explained in full detail in Norton's help file), then Norton will copy everything over from your old drive to your new drive.
Before you do it though, I strongly recommend backing up the old drive (again, using a trusted backup program like Norton Ghost) in case anything goes wrong along the way... such as accidentally selecting the wrong source drive, and replacing the contents of the source drive with the destination drive.
Copy Commander is a more affordable alternative to Norton Ghost that lets you copy the contents of one hard drive to another, and also lets you manage the size of your hard drive partitions.
This program is the easiest program I've seen for disk imaging, and they even have an option where you click one button and it automatically looks for an empty hard drive on your system and copies everything over to it.
Copy Commander doesn't even need to be installed. Simply start up from the Copy Commander CD or have it create a bootable diskette for you and and you'll be ready to copy.
You'll select the source drive and the target drive, and it will copy over all your data, installed programs, and operating system.
One thing Copy Commander has that Norton Ghost doesn't, is the ability to manage disk partitions on either hard drives. Copy Commander includes a free copy of Partition Commander, which lets you create and format partitions on your system.
Both of these programs will get the job done. I prefer Norton Ghost because it also lets me set up automated backup jobs, but the simplicity (and affordability) of Copy Commander makes it a good option too.