Can you move Windows installation to another drive?
When your old hard drive is on the verge of collapse, or is no longer adequate for your use, you may purchase a new HDD or SDD to replace it. But how about the operating system?
If you neither want to buy another Windows license key nor go through the hassle of installing OS & programs from scratch, then you may want to move Windows 10 to another drive directly. In fact, it is possible. But since there are many complex system files involved, you can't achieve it by manual copy and paste.
In the following article, I will share the specific method and a few caveats to migrate Windows 10 (or Windows 11, 8, 7, etc.) with secure boot.
This is a major concern for many people. If the license key cannot be migrated, then there is no point in moving Windows to another drive. So let’s take a look at the 3 license types:
✦ Retail: The license you purchase from local store or online retailer. It can be transferred between different hard drives and computers as many times as you want. If your Windows 10 is upgraded from Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 retail copy, the key is also transferable, but only once.
✦ Volume: Such licenses are distributed in bulk to large organizations, allowing one master key to activate any installation of Windows 10, but you cannot activate devices that doesn’t belong to the organization. Also, it’s not allowed to transfer the key with the device when the system changes ownership.
✦ OEM: This license is preinstalled on a new computer by the manufacturer. It’s linked to the motherboard in the device, so you cannot transfer it to another device, but it’s OK to install it on a new hard drive on the same PC.
To sum up, not all Windows license keys can be migrated to other computers, but they can all be transferred to another hard drive on the same machine (as long as you don't change the motherboard), and the rule apply to Windows 11 as well.
- If you are not sure of your license type, search for “Command Prompt” and type the command “slmgr /dli”. Press Enter and the information will show in the popping out window.
- Sometimes you may have activation problems and need to contact Microsoft support to explain the scenario and prove that you indeed have the license.
Since it’s possible to move Windows OS to another drive, how to accomplish it exactly? Here I will talk about 2 common methods:
✦Backup & Restore:
A common method is to restore Windows 10 system image to new hard drive. It involves both backup and restore, which is not very straightforward. And if you’ve ever created system image with Windows Backup and Restore, you may know how error-prone it is.
✦Disk Clone/System Clone:
To fulfill the task more efficiently, disk clone would be a better solution. With it, the procedure could be simplified as: install the new drive >> clone system (or disk) >> boot from the new hard drive. However, Windows doesn’t come with a cloning feature, you need specialist disk clone software to take over the job.
The one I use is an effective clone tool for all Windows OS and all brands of devices, AOMEI Backupper Professional. It enables you to migrate Windows 10 to new hard drive efficiently, and the operation is really simple. With the intelligent cloning mode, you are even allowed to migrate Windows 10 to smaller SSD.
Now let’s get started.
Preparations before moving Windows to another drive
✎Clean up your old hard drive
Delete junk files, uninstall programs you don’t need, clear temporary files through a disk cleanup.
✎Install disk cloning software
Download the disk cloning software and install it on your current hard drive. If you are running Windows Server, you can use the specialized Server edition.
*Clone features in free trial can only be demonstrated. Please upgrade for full functionality.
✎Install the new hard drive
If your PC has more than one slot, just install the new HDD or SSD alongside the old hard drive. Otherwise please use an USB to SATA adapter to connect it.
- If it’s a brand new hard drive and it doesn't show up in File Explorer, you might need to initialize it before using. Here’s a guide provided by Microsoft.
- If you’ve already stored some files in it, it’s better to backup the hard drive first, otherwise all the data will be overwritten during cloning.
Clone Windows 10 to another drive | step by step
Now we are ready to clone Windows 10/11 to another drive. The feature we use here is Disk Clone. It enables you to clone the entire hard drive including all the system and non-system partitions directly.
It's also possible to transfer only operating system to new hard drive, just use the System Clone feature. It will auto select the system partitions required for Windows to run.
Here I will show you how to move Windows 10 to another drive, the steps also apply to other OS such as Windows 11, Windows 7, etc.
How to move Windows 10 to another drive:
1. Launch the software and navigate to Clone tab, the options here include System Clone, Disk Clone and Partition Clone. The following tutorial will use Disk Clone as an example.
2. Select your source disk with Windows 10 installed, and click Next.
3. Select the connected target HDD or SSD, click Next to continue.
4. Confirm the operation and Start Clone. Here are also some additional options that may be helpful to you:
When the progress reaches to 100%, the Windows installation has been transferred to new hard drive.
Supplement: How to boot from the new hard drive successfully
After the cloning is complete, if your PC has only one drive bay, you can shut it down and physically replace the old hard drive with the new one; if it has more than one slot, and you want to keep the old hard drive as a second storage, you just need to do the following:
1. Restart the computer, press the required key (could be DEL, F2, F12, etc.) to enter BIOS. The specific key depends on the manufacturer and model, which you can directly search in Google.
2. Set the new hard drive as the first boot option, then press F10 to save the change and exit.
If your computer boot from the new drive successfully, then you are free to decide what to do with the old hard drive. You can either discard it or keep it as a storage device. AOMEI Backupper also integrates a disk wipe feature to help you clean a hard drive completely.
FAQ: Transfer Windows 10 to another dirve with different size or style
With AOMEI Backupper, you can achieve disk or system migration with great flexibility and simple operation. However, some users may still have concerns about migrating Windows 10 between different disks. Here I will answer some common cloning questions.
Q: Can you move Windows 10 between disks of different sizes?
Absolutely yes. The Intelligent-Sector cloning technology enables you to clone disk from small to larger or larger to smaller. You just need to make sure the target drive has sufficient space for all the data you want to transfer.
Q: How to make full use of the capacity of cloned disk?
Sometimes you may find after cloning disk to larger disk, the cloned SSD not show full capacity. This is because the cloning procedure does not adjust partition size automatically to fit on the destination disk. To make full use of disk capacity, you can try the following 3options in Edit Partitions feature:
👉Copy without resizing partitions: It will not resize the partition size.
👉Add unused space to all partitions: It will reallocate the unallocated space to each partition of the target disk, appropriate for the disk size.
👉Manually adjust partition size: It allows you to extend unallocated space to any partition on the destination disk you want. And it requires you to manually adjust the size of the partition.
Q: Can you clone between disks of different partition styles (MBR/GPT)?
There are two partition styles for data storage - MBR and GPT. AOMEI Backupper supports cloning all data disks and system disks MBR to MBR/MBR to GPT or GPT to GPT/GPT to MBR.
To check the partition style of your disks, you can first try the following steps:
- Press Win + R to open the Run window. Then, type diskmgmt.msc and hit OK to open disk management.
- Then, right-click the disk you want to clone and select Properties in the pop-up window.
- In the Properties window, select the Volume tab and confirm the partition style. It can be MBR (Master Boot Record) or GPT (GUID Partition Table).
AOMEI Backupper supports cloning data disks and system disks of all brands and partition styles, such as cloning MBR to MBR/MBR to GPT or GPT to GPT/GPT to MBR directly. But you still need to make sure the partition style of the target disk is compatible with your boot mode (MBR for legacy BIOS and GPT for UEFI).
If you need to convert the partition style of the target disk, you can also use the Convert the destination disk... option in Edit Paritions.
Q: Can you clone dynamic disks?
AOMEI Backupper supports cloning all basic disks. But dynamic disk is different - you cannot use Disk Clone to clone an entire dynamic disk.
What you can do is using Partition Clone to clone each data volume on it, and using System Clone to clone dynamic system volume separately.
If you want to move Windows 10 installation to another drive directly and securely, the easiest way is using disk clone software. AOMEI Backupper is a good choice with its powerful disk clone and system clone features. You can use it to migrate operating system from a hard drive to a larger HDD or smaller SSD.
If you need to transfer hard drive to new computer without reinstalling windows 10, there’s also a Universal Restore feature to ensure the computer can boot after dissimilar hardware restore. Download and give it a try!