If you ever had the need to upgrade your old HDD with a shiny new super-fast SSD you need some way to clone your OS installation to the new drive. As I was searching the net on ways to do this I run into various bits of available software either commercial or open source. I tried using Clonezilla but even though it worked on a Windows 7 machine, it failed cloning a Windows 8.1 installation (my guess is that this is due to changes in the system partition). And then it hit me: why not just use the built-in backup/restore capabilities of Windows 8.1?
In addition to your shiny new SSD, you will also need the following:
1. One external USB hard disk to store the disk image. This has to have enough free space and you will only use a folder to store the disk image (so you don’t have to format or empty this disk if it has enough free disk space). If your disk image is small enough then you can even use a USB stick.
2. Your Windows 8.1 installation media. This can be either a DVDROM or a bootable USB stick created from an ISO. To create the bootable USB stick simply format it as an NTFS disk, copy-paste the files from the ISO (or the DVDROM) of the Windows 8.1 installation media and then open an administrative command prompt, run cd e: (where e: is the drive-letter of the USB stick), run cd \boot to go inside the boot subfolder and from there execute the command: bootsect /nt60 e: /force (again, replace e: with your USB stick drive letter). Eject your USB (don’t buy into the “life is too short to remove USB safely” hype…) and you are good to go.
And here are the steps to do the cloning:
1. Boot into your existing installation of Windows 8.1 and go to Control Panel -> File History -> System Image Backup:
2. The “Create a system image” wizard starts. Make sure that you have connected the external USB drive (where you will temporarily store the image) and click Next:
3. We have selected to create a system image, therefore the wizard has selected our boot drive (C:) plus the EFI System Partition and the Recovery Partition. Click “Start Backup” to proceed:
4. The backup procedure starts:
Click “Close” to close the wizard.
5. You can verify that the backup has been stored on your external USB disk be looking for the “WindowsImageBackup” folder at the root. Note that there is no way to select a different folder through the graphical wizard.
6. Now you can proceed to shutdown your PC and replace your old hard disk with the new SSD. After that boot with the Windows 8.1 Media (either the DVDROM or a USB Stick) and also connect the external USB hard disk containing the backup above.
7. Click “Next” on the initial Windows Setup dialog and then select “Repair Your Computer”:
8. On the “Choose an option” screen, select “Troubleshoot”:
9. On the “Troubleshoot” screen, select “Advanced options”:
10. On the “Advanced options” screen, select “System Image Recovery”:
11. The option above starts the “Re-image your computer” wizard. The wizard is smart enough to scan your external USB hard disk and find the image stored there, under the WindowsImageBackup folder (note: if this is not case or if you have multiple images stored on the same USB hard disk then choose “Select a system image”). Click “Next”:
12. If you want to exclude additional hard disks from the restore process, make sure you have selected them through the “Exclude disks” option. Otherwise click “Next”:
13. Verify the selection and click “Finish”:
14. Make sure that you have made the proper selection and click “Yes”. Note that this will format your newly installed hard disk and restore the backup image:
15. The restore process starts:
16. Your computer will automatically reboot into the restored image:
And that’s basically it! We have successfully cloned our OS installation to a new shiny SSD without any additional tools needed outside of the Windows 8.1 installation media and the native Windows Backup/Restore tool.