Windows 7 Disk Upgrade

It is a mystery to me why laptop makers charge such a premium for SSDs.  Well, no, it’s not a mystery, they do it because they can.  Part of the reason is that it is such a pain, in the Windows world, to upgrade.

Cathy recently got a new HP ProBook 640 G1, replacing her ancient Vista machine.  The new laptop came with a 128 GB SSD, which served its purpose of demonstrating how dramatically faster the SSD is than a regular hard drive, but it is too small.  Her old machine, after deleting about 50 GB of duplicate stuff, was already at 128.

It is much cheaper to buy an aftermarket 256 GB SSD than to buy the same laptop with a larger SSD. so we set about an upgrade.

HP Laptops, at least this one, do not ship with install disks, instead, they come with a 12 GB “recovery partition” that soaks up even more of the precious space.  You can reinstall the OS from the recovery partition as often as you like, or you can, exactly once, make a set of recovery DVDs or a recovery USB drive.

There are two main paths to doing a disk upgrade:

  • Replace the disk, and reinstall from the recovery media
  • Replace the disk, make the old disk an external drive, and clone the old disk to the new one.

The first path is less risky, so we tried that first.  I had purchased a nice, large USB3 thumb drive for the purpose, and … the HP recovery disk creator would not create a USB!  What is this, 2004?  HP support is actually quite good, and I suppose that is part of what you pay for when you buy a “business” notebook.  They were surprised by this lack of functionality, since it is supposed to work, and eventually decided to send us recovery media.  They sent DVDs, which is not what we want, but fine.

The HP media worked fine to install onto the new 256 GB SSD, but did not restore much of the HP add on software.  Most manufacturer add-on software is crapware, but HPs isn’t bad.  We got most of the missing bits from the support.hp.com website except for the HP documentation!  You can get the PDF files for the user and service manuals, but not the online HP Documentation app.

Our plan was eventually to trickle down the 128 GB SSD to one of the kids, so we didn’t mind using up its ability to create recovery media, so we tried that next.  Rather than screw up the almost-working 256 GB drive, we installed an old 160 GB drive from Samantha’s old Macbook (replaced earlier by an SSD).

The home-created recovery media did better, installing all the HP add-ons…except the documentation!

Now with three working drives, and two sets of recovery disks, I felt confident enough to try the alternative: cloning the original drive.  I had a copy of Acronis True Image 2010, but couldn’t find the disk for it.  The new SSD came with a copy of True Image 2014, but first I read up on the accumulated wisdom of the Internet.  There’s a guy, GroverH, on the Acronis forums (see  https://forum.acronis.com/forum/3426 ) who has an astonishing set of howtos.

Manufacturers who use recovery partitions really don’t want you to clone drives, perhaps this is pressure from Microsoft.  It works fine if the new drive is exactly the same as the old one, but if not, unless the partition sizes are exactly the same, the result is not likely to work.  The cloning software will scale the partitions if you restore to a bigger drive, but they won’t work.  You have to manually tweak the partition arrangement.  Typically the recovery partition is at the end, the boot partition is at the beginning, and the “C:” drive uses the space inbetween.

Now earlier when I couldn’t find the True Image install disk on another project, I tried the Open Source CloneZilla and was quite happy with it.  It is not for the faint-hearted, but it seems reliable. I used CloneZilla to make a backup of the original drive, and then, because the recovery media had already created a working partition structure, merely restored C: to the C: of the experimental 160 GB drive.  Windows felt like it had to do a chkdsk, but after that it worked, and lo, the HP documentation was back!  (And Cathy’s new screen background.)

As the last step, we put the 256 GB SSD back in, and used CloneZilla to restore C: and the HP_TOOLS partition contents that weren’t quite the same in the original and recovered versions.

Whew!

So, contrast to a disk upgrade on a Mac:  Put in new drive, restore from Time Capsule, done.  And this restores all user files and applications!

Next challenge: migrating Cathy’s data files and reinstalling applications.  Memo to Microsoft:  it is just unreasonable that in this new century we still have to reinstall applications one by one.