Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Project: Replace Windows Vista Laptop Hard Drive with a New, Fast, Vista Boot Drive

Do It Yourself Holiday Project:

Upgrade the hard drive on your Vista laptop for $75.  Or... How I successfully swapped-out the old hard drive on my home Toshiba laptop.   

Update on file search: Vista file search now works great!

January 21 2011
Update on mysterious Windows Explorer crashes when attempting to play mp4 files.

Problem:  Explorer crashes when I try to play mp4 files.  Specifically during these steps... 

Open downloads folder / Select and right click an mp4 file / Select player as Quicktime player / Quicktime starts to open / Then error message  / "Widows Explorer detected error" / and options to "search for solution online" and "restart Windows Explorer" / if you try either option then / windows explorer closes and Quicktime player freezes.   The wording of the error messages may not be exact.  

Solution: Open downloads folder, or what ever folder you were using when you encountered the play mp4 file crash problem. Go to "Organize" left click to view the pulldown menu / select "folder and search options" / select the "view" tab / check the box "Always show icons, never thumbnails" / "click apply" to save changes.  Then go ahead an select the mp4 file you want to play in this folder.  I found that after this change I could play mp4 files using Quicktime Player with no further problems.

This seems to be a known bug or "security feature" in Vista Windows Explorer.


DECEMBER 21, 2010

My experience hour-by-hour including some wrong turns and course corrections. 

Be forewarned, formatting and disk clone operations take several hours each. The hardware swap-out itself is very easy, but be careful. Don't lose screws and make sure you can put each piece of mounting hardware back in place securely.

At the end of the process we have a boot-able, bigger, faster new hard drive running Vista on the laptop, and the old drive is available as a portable external USB case drive.

Total project cost ~$75 and a few hours work plus down-time to run format and clone procedures.

I will give a detailed account of this project covering even some obvious stuff. If you are an expert you can just scan this material and get started.

My laptop is about three years old. Vista Home Premium | 2GB | Toshiba | dual core Intel | 150 GB C: drive.

First, here are the symptoms that suggested the laptop hard drive was in trouble.

> Making more noise and failure on boot up.
> Had to use system restore to boot successfully.
> Frequent windows shadow copy activity after boot as detected 
            by examining windows task manager.  

I concluded several weeks ago it was probably time to buy a new computer. But I figured that replacing the hard drive would turn the old computer into a great back up or second computer. So I decided to try to replace the C: drive with an upgrade.  

I had not replaced a laptop drive before this, so I have logged all the steps and some wrong turns along the way.  Share your comments and experience in the comments bar. 

Philosophical Aside:  Why do this project instead of having someone else do it or just buying a new one? 

 I view it as an opportunity to dig in and personally experience what is considered mainstream technology of 2010.    It is satisfying in some way, to get "under the hood" and see some of the inner workings of the operating system and the hardware.  

It is also an opportunity for me to gauge the health of the technology. That is, are the functions of both the software interface and the mechanical design of the hardware well designed or do we have badly engineered stuff in our possession?  Sometimes, bad engineering only shows up when you try to repair or replace functions or components.  Comments welcome.

Further, this project when successfully completed, will possibly impress yourself, your friends and associates. Possibly.

OK....Here we go...

STEP 1 Prepare and update Vista

First, check that the version of Vista is up to date. If not, install the updates at the Windows Update site.  Check the windows version using winver. Click the start button and type winver in the search box.

Here's what winver gave on my computer:

Windows Vista Home Premium
Version 6 Build 6002 Service Pack 2

Ok, Vista is up to date.  

Speaking of updates, here's some good news for Vista customers.

If you were unsatisfied with the Vista file search utility, check again.  With little fanfare, it seems that Service Pack 2 added a great file search utility to Vista.  For Free!   
I don't have all the details but after updating Vista, I tried file search from a folder and it actually worked!  Check it out.  Just open a folder. Documents, for example, and type something in the search box at the top right.   Merry Christmas from Microsoft.

STEP 2 Buy a new drive, an external drive bay, and connect it via USB to the Laptop.

More Hard Drive Stuff: 

Went to local STAPLES office supply store to buy the parts. Purchased a Western Digital Scorpio Blue SATA Laptop drive. Generic box specs are as follows: 320GB MB Mo Cache 5400 rpm. Sale price $54. Conveniently, they also carry an external drive bay (case) from ANTEC Media. The drive case has a SATA connector, a USB mini connector, and comes with a cable.

When I got back home I unboxed and mounted the new drive in the case. One screw, slide in carefully, mates with connector inside the case, follow the directions provided. After new drive was  mounted and case closed up, I connected it to the laptop with the supplied cable. Vista did not recognize the new drive because it comes in an unformatted state.

STEP 3 Get and install free software to perform the formatting and drive image copy step. Use Vista Computer Management tool to Format, Create Partition, and Initialize Partition on new drive.

We need to make a bootable drive image of the old C: drive on the new drive. The hardware however did not come with any software to perform a disk clone.

Checking at CNET I found a software called Drive Image XML from RUNTIME SOFTWARE. They have good reviews and offer a free home use version. So we downloaded Drive Image XML from their site. Here's the link to download directly from Runtime Software:

Before proceeding with the clone and swap, it's probably a good idea to back up the C: drive to an external backup drive. See appendix below showing how I did this backup using XML and Vista utilities. 

A possible fly in the ointment:

Most of us have OEM versions of Vista on our laptops. OEM Vista usually includes neither CD/DVD backup disks from Microsoft, nor a way to make them. Instead the hard drive is equipped with a separate Vista recovery file. Recovery is to be used in case installed Vista files become damaged or destroyed. I haven't checked if the Vista recovery files can be transferred over to the new hard drive. I plan to check into this later. I have been using the laptop with new drive for several days, and have not encountered any difficulties. 

After backing up the files on C: we continue work on setting up the new hard drive...

The new drive comes out of the box unformatted. I confirmed that by connecting the USB drive to the Laptop and click My Computer for a drive list. Checking.... Drive does not show up on my computer. Try rebooting … still no external USB drive displayed in My Computer. 

 OK we need to format the drive using a Vista utility called Computer Management.

XML software has a FAQ page with this stuff in it too. 

Here's the link to the FAQ page from Runtime Software:

Here's how to get to Computer Management to format the new drive.
Right-click on My Computer. Menu pops up and select Manage. Then you get the Computer Management window. In the left menu pane under Storage, click on Disk Management.
Wait a few seconds. The disk management graphic display pane will show up. 

Disk Management recognized the new WD SATA drive as Disk 1 with the cryptic information: Unknown at 298.09 GB unallocated. Not Initialized.

The existing internal hard drive C: is recognized in Disk Management as Disk 0.

I first tried to format the disk, Disk 1.  Right click on the graphic in the disk management pane. It looks like a white rectangle under a blue line. When you right-click the rectangle, you get a menu including the format option.

I selected format simple and received “Cannot Format. Disk Not Initialized error from VISTA.”

OK, so first “initialize” the disk.

To INITIALIZE: right-click on the white rectangle graphic in the Computer Management window.
Select actions in the popup menu.  Select initialize as Master Boot Record (MBR.)

... I may have left out something in here, but all can be accomplished using Computer Management menu options. 

You can do all of the above Computer Management stuff via XML. After selecting drive-to-drive copy. XML prompts you through the Computer Management steps with embedded instructions to complete proper formatting.

Ok, now to format the new drive....

After completing "Initialization" of the new drive, the Computer Management Window display shows Disk 1 as: Online, and the grey cross hatching is gone. If you want to create multiple partitions you can also do that, but I am using a single "primary" partition for the entire new drive.

To format the new drive, right-click on the rectangle graphic for the new disk and select format simple option. 

Here goes....

Formatting 298.09 GB. 

This will take several hours. Maybe 4 hrs I estimate (roughly).
The Computer Management Disk format display is minimal. Just a number percent of format completed.

So we wait....

6:10pm 5% complete

6:20pm 10% complete

This seems faster than for the other older drive formatted yesterday. That's good!

If you open windows task manager, and look at processes you can see the formatting write bytes accumulate. The process name is vds.exe.

6:40 pm 19%

7:15 pm 36%

8:05 pm 60%

8:37 pm 74%

9:11 pm 89%

And at 9:20 pm formatting is completed. Time elapsed: 3 hrs.

Computer Management display shows Local Disk E: 298GB NTFS Healthy Primary Partition (in the disk management pane.)

Step 3 complete.

STEP 4 Make a drive-to-drive image copy of the old C: drive on the new drive in the external case using XML.

We have already downloaded and installed Drive Image XML. Click on the XML icon and start XML. In this step we make an image copy of the laptop drive C: to the new formatted external drive E: and prepare for drive switch-out.

I believe this will be very straightforward using XML . I will try to record each step no matter how obvious it seems at the moment. I may have missed something along the way, but XML has good prompts during the image copy procedure.

 We now have a formatted, MBR Initialized, and Primary partitioned the new drive in the external USB case. We need to create a boot-able image of the old C: drive.

Here are the steps I went through using XML.

Open XML and select drive-to-drive image.
XML asks “Select one drive to copy to another drive.” Select C: then click Next

Some where along here, you may also be asked to "change user permissions." Do this as instructed by XML Drive Image after selecting drive-to-drive copy from the XML menu.

Next is the XML window and some choices.  

" Welcome to drive to drive copy wizard."  Choices: (1) Raw Mode, (2) Try Volume Locking First,  (3) Try Volume Shadow Service first. Don't pick Raw Mode. Raw Mode is “over-kill,” i.e. it copies even unused bits to the target drive and takes a long time. 

Under Hot Imaging Strategy select Try Volume Locking First. XML tries Volume Locking, and if it fails it reverts to Volume Shadow copy.

So I will Pick:  Try Volume Locking First. (also it worked the last time I did this.)

Next Select Disk and Partition you want for the copy. This will be your externally mounted new SATA drive. 

Selecting Disk 1#1 E: Local Disk NTFS 298GB  

Your drive letter and name may be different of course.
Click next and XML asks to begin copy operation... click next to do so.

Some where in this procedure XML will warn you that all data will be destroyed on the "Target" drive. Just approve the procedure using the text permission box as instructed by XML and start image copy. Image copy should start.

Image copy process takes several hours.  Take a break or let it run over night. Here's the log entries I made during Image Copy:

10:15pm starting 0%

2:10am 57% complete est. remaining time 3hrs.

3:07 am 73% complete est. remaining time 1 hr 47min

4:00am 88% complete est. remaining time 47 min.

4:30 am 97% complete est remaining 12 min.

4:45 am 100% complete. 

Close XML and check My Computer.

Here's a screen shot from Drive Image XML


With this process complete, the new hard drive contains bootable image of the old C: drive. 

Elapsed time 6 hours 45 minutes.

Exiting Drive Image XML.

Now check that the drive can be detected by Vista. To do this make sure the new drive is connected via USB cable and re-boot the laptop.

After boot-up Right-click on My computer and bring up Computer Management. In Computer Management select Disk Management and examine the display for the new hard drive and confirm that the boot sector is the primary sector. Click on the rectangle under the blue bar which will highlight the drive graphic in grey shading. Then, in the right Actions pane, activate the new drive under More Actions All Tasks. 
Each step is easy, just follow the menus.

Now the new drive shows up in My Computer as E: and all my files from the old C: drive have been copied onto the new E: drive and are accessible in Vista.  Cool!

One more thing to do for Vista image drives. 
You must "Fix Vista Boot Problem."  Don't worry, it's automated in XML.

To fix the Vista Boot Problem do these actions:
Start Drive Image XML and go to Tools and select fix Vista boot problem.
It will give the option to update the BCD store. Do that. 

What's the BCD store? Shut up and follow orders!

XML will then update several files and show a list of them and indicate update was successful. 

XML explains on its FAQ page:

XML claims that the disk will now Boot up with Vista. (and they were right.)

Step 4 complete. Now we can install the new hard drive. Yes!


Swap the old C drive and install the new laptop hard drive.

After XML completed making a drive-to-drive image copy of C: to the new hard drive, there is one more step, namely, to remove the old C: drive from the laptop drive bay and install the new one. 

How long does it take and does it really work ? Not to long, just a few turns of the screwdriver.

Here's how I did it.

Disconnect power supply and all other cable connections. Remove battery. Take off the drive bay cover on the bottom of the laptop (screw driver may be required.) Remove old drive by sliding it out of the connector and lifting it out of the drive bay. There may be a handy plastic tab to help lift the drive out. 

After removing the drive you will notice some mounting rails and stuff attached to the drive unit by screws. Here you need a tool. A screwdriver.  Unscrew the mounting hardware on the drive and install the mounting hardware on the new drive. Be careful to put the rails on the same way they were on the old drive. Note this mounting hardware may be different on your laptop.

Install the new drive in the laptop drive bay and replace the cover. Put the battery back in, and connect the power supply.

We are ready to try to boot up Vista with the new drive installed. Will it work? Probably. At least it worked when I tried it this week.  A few things to watch out for along the way....

Started the system and began booting up. Yes!

However, after a few minutes it started asking for a reboot to fix disk errors with CHKDSK. Concerning but Vista probably know's what it's doing.  Microsoft would never do anything bad to your new drive would they?  Don't answer, just do as Vista asks.

I approved the reboot and CHKDSK executed a 15 minute process where CHKDSK did its checking and “fixed” several files...didn't get an exact count but it completed and automatically rebooted. This reboot took a long time maybe 10 minutes or more but finally boot up was successful and we got to the desk top, and all the icons I had before. Yea!

All installed all working all checked and now we have a new fast big Vista boot-able drive on the laptop!

Laptop now working, running IBM Lotus Symphony, Chrome, etc. and definitely seems applications open faster, but no objective measure of this. Also rebooting was faster than before and no more CHKDSK operations or Shadow Copy processes on bootup.  

I ran Windows Update with the new drive installed, and it seems to have found something to update, not sure what. Seems to have no problems after several days in routine use including shutdown, power off, power on, reboot cycles.


Completed replacement of laptop hdd using Drive Image XML and a lot of patient work.
Quieter and faster hard drive now. Also more disk space is nice at 300 GB. Also, the old drive can be mounted in the USB case and used as a portable USB drive.

Good work and happy computing...


Back up the old C drive before creating the new bootable image drive.

BACKUP the C drive to my FreeAgent External USB hard drive before setting up the new laptop hard drive.

More useful information: It turns out XML likes to copy to a new partition on the back-up drive.
So we had to create a new partition on the external physical drive that was large enough to accommodate the old C: drive.

STEP 1  Create a new partition on the external physical drive.

This was done by opening Computer Management in Vista and setting up a new partition on the external drive. I named the new partition is F: and I asked for 232GB. Plenty of space to hold all the files on the laptop hard drive.

The steps are given in the helpful article:

After the partition is created it must be formatted. That is also accomplished in Computer Management. Takes a few hours. Take a break while formatting.

When formatting of the new partition was complete the new partition appears as a new drive, F: in the My Computer folder.

STEP 2 Make an image copy of the C: onto the new F: drive.

Next step is the backup of C: onto F: I again used XML disk-to-disk backup copy.  Just open the XML program and chose disk-to-disk copy.  The menu and prompts are very clear and easy to follow.  

Under Hot Imaging Strategy select Try Volume Locking First. XML tries volume locking hot image strategy and if it fails it reverts to Volume Shadow copy.  

Copying takes longer than formatting. Easily 3-4 hours.  I would say that it's  better not to use the computer during the copy process. Also advise other users who might try to use the computer while it's copying, Not To.

When the process is complete close XML and go to My Computer and open the backup drive.  Check the size and content of some selected critical files.  I suppose you could also use a verify utility to confirm the accuracy of the copy, if needed.

Backup of laptop internal hard drive complete..... Congratulations.

Here are some screen shots of the process.  Computer Management and XML displays concerned with a straight file back-up copy of the C: drive on an external Free Agent back-up drive. 

Similar displays will show up during the formatting and cloning to the new laptop drive.

        Screen shot here:

Computer Management display after selecting Disk Management 
under Storage in the left pane. 
Notice Disk 0 (internal HDD) and Disk 1 (external physical drive) rectangles. 
You can right click on the display rectangles for menu options.

Drive Image XML display during Drive to Drive Copy
showing Computer Management window.
XML walks you through the Computer Management steps.

My Computer display after partitioning and backing up the C: drive 
to an external "physical" drive having partitions E: and F: