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Recently, the hard drive on my laptop (Toshiba Satellite 1400) started to make horrible grinding noises and the computer would hang for several seconds before continuing operation.  Rather than waiting for a complete hard drive failure, I decided to replace my hard drive and try to recover as much as I could from the old drive.  This document explains how I replaced my hard drive.  I was completely successful and transfered about 20G of data, Windows XP operating system and settings.  The process took me about 14 hours but much of that time does not require a person in attendance.

Warning!

THESE INSTRUCTIONS ARE BASED ON MY SINGLE EXPERIENCE.  YOUR COMPUTER IS LIKELY DIFFERENT AND SO THESE INSTRUCTIONS MIGHT NOT WORK OR MIGHT EVEN CAUSE DAMAGE

I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE OR LOSS THAT RESULTS FROM FOLLOWING ANYTHING ON THIS PAGE. 

These instructions are my best effort to explain how I replaced my drive.  I have extensive experience in computers and electronics and so my instructions might skip steps that I considered straight forward.  Your experience may differ.

That said, I hope this is helpful and I would be glad to hear your comments or suggestions.

Backing Up

As we should all be doing regularly, it is recommended that you back up all the especially valuable data. 

Buying a Hard Drive and Enclosure

Buy a replacement hard drive that is larger than the amount of stuff you have on your existing drive.  I upgraded from a 30G drive to a 40G drive for $155CDN.  I don't know too much about the relative value of different brands of hard drive.  My personal opinion is not to buy a drive too much larger than you actually need since the price of hard drives only decreases with time.

For laptops, you will likely want to buy a hard drive enclosure as well.  These are small metal boxes that you can slide a hard drive into and it then connects to your USB port as an external drive.  For desktop computers, an enclosure is not important because you can usually just add a second hard drive to your IDE cable in your computer without much trouble.

Stick the new hard drive into the enclosure and connect to your computer.

Transferring Data

The industry standard for transferring a complete hard drive is a program called Norton Ghost from Symantec.  It is listed for $70 on the website and that seemed pretty pricey to me for what seems to be a relatively simple one-time job.  I'm sure those in the know, can find a copy for less than that.  Other options for transferring data include the 'xcopy' command available in the command window.  I found that the documentation for this option minimal but it might work for you.

I ended up using a program called 'DiskWizard' freely downloadable from Seagate.  I downloaded the 10MB Diskwizard for Windows version.

The program identified the external drive and under 'Maintenance' Options allows you to set up partitions and format the drive.  Ensure that at least one of the partitions is larger than the amount of data you have.  Once the drive is formatted, another option allows you to transfer from a source drive to a destination drive.  On my system, it took about 10 hours to transfer the contents of my hard drive over the USB cable to the destination.  Most of this time is spend watching a progress bar so clearly you can go do something else while this is going on.

Activate the new Drive

In order to boot off the new hard drive, you need to tell the BIOS that there is an operating system on the drive.  I used a DOS program called fdisk to do this.  Since I had skipped this step and spent a bunch of time later trying to figure out why my new drive was not working, I activated the partition after I had installed the drive.  I booted the computer using the Windows Restore CD that came with my computer and hit Cancel on the first screen.  This dropped into a dos prompt and I typed fdisk.  Use the program to toggle the 'active' marker for the partition on the drive.

I am sure that you can activate the partition while the new drive is still in the enclosure but I do not know how to do this.

Install the Drive

Turn off the computer and unplug it.  Use the owners manual that came with your laptop or trial-and-error to remove the panel covering the hard drive.  Carefully extract the drive being careful not to hit it sharply.  Keep track of the screws that you had to remove so you can reverse the procedure with the new drive and install it back in your computer.  Be very careful with the pins connecting the drive.  Be sure the pins are aligned before trying to force them into the drive.  Once the drive is firmly in place replace the cover panel and turn on the computer.

If everything goes smoothly, your computer should boot off the new drive and everything should be just as it was on your old drive including all your settings, preferences, programs and data.

Conclusion

I was impressed at how well the transfer worked.  I had fears of having to reinstall all my programs and setting up all my window preferences again so this procedure was very successful.

In addition, the enclosure and old hard drive (such as it is) can be used as backup and as a way to transfer data between computers.  Since it is USB it can connect to almost any modern computer easily.


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