Migrating a boot partition to a new drive in Windows

I installed a new hard drive on my wife’s machine because she kept running out of space. I didn’t have the time or inclination to do a new Windows XP install, and didn’t want to install the drive as a secondary because that means she would constantly have to redirect where stuff is installed, so I decided to transfer the old drive data to the new drive.

I got her a Western Digital drive, so I figured I’d try using their utility to do the transfer. The Western Digital Data Lifeguard boot CD-ROM utility failed to copy the old partition to the new drive with an unspecified error. (Come on! Cryptic errors are better than nothing!)

So I tried using the GParted LiveCD. It took a long time just to get something visible on the screen, mucking around in interactive boot mode. Finally, I got it to copy the partition to the new disc and resize it. Or so it told me. It took an hour but the target drive was not bootable. I checked all the partition flags and even booted the Windows install CD in recovery mode to rewrite the boot sector (FIXBOOT), and when that didn’t work, the MBR (FIXMBR) and boot sector. It just wouldn’t boot — and no error messages from the BIOS either (how nice).

Finally, I downloaded Acronis Migrate Easy 7.0.

This program is awesome. It is what all low level utilities should be. It just works. I was hesitant to try anything that didn’t run off a boot disc, assuming that I was asking for trouble running a program in Windows to copy the boot partition to a new drive. But it was easy and clear, and apparently Acronis really knows how to make Windows do low-level stuff the right way. It re-booted the system into the UI mode that I’ve only seen chkdsk run in and copied the partition to the new drive, then told me it was done and I could remove the old drive and reconfigure the system to boot from the new drive. And it just worked.

I copied a partition from an 80 gigabyte parallel ATA drive to a 250 gigabyte serial ATA (SATA) drive. The partition was automatically expanded to fill the new space, and I didn’t need to defrag afterwards even though the source drive was pretty fragmented — apparently it does more than just a blind copy of the clusters.

Anyway, this program is awesome and worked perfectly. I just wanted to sing its praises and hope this might help someone else avoid the hassle I went through learning about it.

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