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I have used my laptop, I have already bought with Windows 10, for many years. I want to change the hard drive because, over time, it got slower and slower. But my problem is: How can I transfer my old Windows to the new hard disk drive?

  • As I said, Windows was originally included to this laptop, which means I don't have product keys or digital licenses
  • I want to transfer the whole OS with all my files without having to buy a new product key

I have read tutorials which recommend using third-party software like that from Paragon. How safe is this solution and does the migration work without having to activate Windows a second time?

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    You probably don't want to hear this, but: No, hard drives don't slow down with age, so replacing the hard drive with another hard drive probably won't do any good. Of course, replacing the hard drive with a solid state drive will open a whole new world of performance to you. – Heinzi Apr 27 at 8:27
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    Also, contributing to @Heinzi 's comment, even if you don't replace your hard drive, you can get a boost on your Windows performance by doing a full backup of your data and then a clean install of Windows 10. You'll have to restore your data and configure again all your software, but it is worth the pain. – Henrique Apr 27 at 19:10
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    I'd recommend installing an SSD AND a clean install (instead of HD cloning). – Henrique Apr 27 at 19:11
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    When I clean install my Windows on the new disk (e.g. with Windows Media Creation Tool), does it activate automatically? What if I have to enter a product key? – Totemi1324 Apr 27 at 20:54
  • It should activate automatically. Just skip entering an activation code, during install. Once done installing it should be activated. – Philip Tinney Apr 27 at 21:29
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The license is usually tied to the motherboard, not the hard drive.

So you can reinstall Windows 10 and it should automatically activated.

If it is not activated automatically, refer to the following fix: Windows 10 Activation Lost After Hardware Change

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    I can confirm that it's the case, as I do it daily at work. If you replace the hard drive but it's the same motherboard and processor, your Windows will activate automagically. If you're doing a clean install, just choose the option "I don't have a product key", Windows will take care of everything as soon as the installation is finished. – Henrique Apr 27 at 19:15
  • Afaik windows 10 detects the install device by the id of its motherboard and HDD controller. The ID of the HDD drive is probably no-issue (I am not sure for this week). – peterh - Reinstate Monica May 22 at 10:15
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Do it properly: recover the key then install Windows 10.

To recover the key from your existing Windows installation you can use tools like KeyFinder (https://www.magicaljellybean.com/keyfinder/). This is a legitimate tool to use since you own the Windows 10 licence as you purchased that with your laptop.

Then download Windows 10 from Microsoft's official site. https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/software-download/windows10

This will let you do a clean install of Windows 10 to the new hard drive.

You'll need to make a backup of the "old" drive before proceeding with any of this. After Windows 10 has installed on the new drive, copy back any files you want to keep from the backup (whilst ignoring any files you no longer want).

This is the cleanest solution because you're installing a fresh copy of Windows on to a new drive, whilst being able to keep any data you still want afterwards. The advantage of this is it will clean out any stuff you no longer need, which is quite likely to be the case depending on how long you'd had the previous installation. Generally speaking there will be a performance improvement due to this, although the specification of the new versus old drive (e.g SSD vs spinning platter HDD) will be the biggest factor.

This is also one of the most traditional methods when upgrading a drive (clean install of the OS using an existing licence key). People have been doing it since Windows 3.x days. The only difference is that they would typically have a printed copy of the licence key; you're using software to recover it from your current installation. But the end result is much the same.

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    Is it really necessary to recover the key? Windows 10 will activate without the key if the machine is the same. You only need the key if you are replacing the motherboard or the processor - because, as Microsoft sees it, you will be transferring the license to a new computer. – Henrique Apr 27 at 19:20
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    I'd say it's best practice to do this. Sure, you might not need it but having it certainly doesn't put you at a disadvantage. In the old days of Windows 3.x these were printed on paper and given with the installation media. You had situations where people lost them and couldn't re-install their OS. Having a backup copy of a licence is never a bad thing, in my opinion. – Andy Apr 28 at 8:43
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    In that case I'd recommend ProduKey from Nirsoft, it's completely free without the weird "free and full version" stuff. – htmlcoderexe Apr 28 at 11:06
  • @Andy yeah, fail-safe. I agree with you on that. – Henrique Apr 28 at 17:34
  • @Henrique It works most of the time without key recovering, yes. It's those times that for some reason it didn't work that you recover the key for. – Mast Apr 29 at 5:53
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GNU coreutils.

You need to copy the whole hard disk drive onto the new one, from byte to byte. It is called a "sector-level copy" or "cloning".

Most tools of the Microsoft world are incapable of making it, because it is a too simple thing for them, and their complex thought processes are incapable of handling it.

The command

dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb

does the task. Coreutils is available on any Linux live USB image. If following this option, be very careful about what you are doing - setting an incorrect drive path may result a bad data transfer direction (irrecoverable data loss on the target drive). Best if you already have some experience with command line things.

There are many userfriendly ways to identify the correct drive, for example by using their ID in /dev/disks/by-id, or checking them by size in /proc/mounts. There are also many GUI tools in most linux ditributions, for example gparted in Ubuntu Live.

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    If following this option, be very careful about what you are doing. And read the manual. – JohnEye Apr 27 at 9:04
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    @JohnEye That is right, I inserted it into the post. – peterh - Reinstate Monica Apr 27 at 9:10
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    Perhaps add two more important things - how to identify the right input and output device and the fact that the target disk must be of equal or larger size for this to work and if it's larger, to use some partitioning tool to expand the partition to the unclaimed space. (Maybe I should have just written my own answer, huh? :-)) – JohnEye Apr 27 at 10:20
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    This is closest of the answers to what I recommend, so +1. Not writing any new answers myself for a bunch of reasons. But I would suggest someone could expand on this to the world of Clonezilla and other Linux USB image based tools that do the job very well and very safely. In any case, any cloning is going to be hugely easier/faster than any Windows reinstall. – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Apr 27 at 13:56
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    The problem with the cloning approach is that you will be carrying all the performance problems to the new hard drive. The best option would be a clean install - even Microsoft suggests that on many of their support documents. – Henrique Apr 27 at 19:17
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Macrium Reflect is an excellent piece of software which will do this for you. Download & install Macrium Reflect to your current system. It doesn't hurt to clean up temporary files to reduce the size of the backup at this point.

A - Backup procedure:

  1. Preferably connect an external hard drive, via USB, to the laptop as the backup target.
  2. Run "Reflect" (expect a UAC prompt). In the Disk Image tab at top left, choose Create an image of the partitions required to backup and restore Windows.
  3. Choose your external hard drive in the Destination folder, and follow the prompts.

B - Create restore media boot disc:

  1. In Reflect, choose Other Tasks (top menu) and Create Rescue Media
  2. Burn it to a CD or DVD
  3. Reboot laptop and ensure you can boot from the disc
  4. While there, in the Rescue boot, why not also confirm you can access the backup image via Restore (don't actually restore it yet)

C - Replace hard drive with SSD

D - Boot from Reflect rescue media disc and restore

I recall being confused, in Restore, on how to assign backed-up partitions to the new disk partitions. It is a drag-and-drop operation. Everything else was intuitive.

If you have a separate data partitoon on your laptop, e.g. an E: drive, deal with that also. I don't use Reflect for data partition backups (SyncBack Free is good for that)

I have done the above on more than one laptop. The restore operation makes the new disc bootable, and Windows carries on without any activation or any glitches.

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why not make a bootable usb with Hiren's boot and clone your disk?

Or use Hiren's boot to get your windows key and activate it on your new hard drive, you can download windows free from Microsoft

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I don't think third-party software is required here. This is how I did all my HDD/SSD system drive replacements in the past. It requires:

  • An external hard drive of sufficient size.
  • A new internal drive which is at least as large as the old one. Do yourself a favor and get yourself an SSD as the new drive!
  • Bootable Windows 10 installation media on a DVD or USB stick.

Here's the process:

  1. Windows 10 still includes the old "Windows 7 Backup and Restore" program: Start/Control Panel/View by: Large Icons/Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

  2. Attach an external hard drive and "Create a system image".

  3. Replace the internal drive.

  4. Boot from the Windows 10 installation media and choose the option to restore a system image.

  5. Restore the system image from the external hard drive.

So far, I have not had any activation problems with this method. As an added bonus, you now have a full system backup of your external hard drive (which you should regularly create anyways).

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I would recommend: use macrium reflect to image the drive, make a rescue USB, and use it to restore all your data on the new drive. It's a perfect mirror image.

macrium reflect is the only recovery software I recommend

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You COULD image the entire drive and restore it to a new drive.

But you don't want to. The slowdown is probably mostly due to an old, cruft-filled Windows. Install a clean one, re-install your programs (you don't WANT to transfer the old installations, along with their cruft-filled Registry information). You've got all your data backed up already, of course. But you're not throwing away the old drive just yet. Stick it in an external USB enclosure, all your data is still available.

Windows will auto-register. It can tell it's the same computer. If it doesn't, you have a valid case for Microsoft Support to sort it out, and they will. The only problem I've ever had is when I replaced a motherboard with one that wasn't the exact same one as the original. They insisted that counted as a new computer.

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  • They insisted that counted as a new computer. and? they stopped insisting after some time or you had to buy a new license? – WoJ Apr 29 at 17:42
  • I sourced an OEM license at a very moderate price. – Laurence Payne Apr 29 at 18:56
  • Have to disagree with the assumption in "slowdown is probably mostly due to an old, cruft-filled Windows". I reinstalled Windows on a laptop and that made no effective difference to performance. On the other hand, replacing the 5400rpm with an SSD made a huge difference to performance. – David Pierson Apr 30 at 12:14
  • A SSD will certainly make Windows start up faster and programs load faster. It may not improve actual performance once a program IS running, unless that program shifts lots of data on and off disk, – Laurence Payne Apr 30 at 12:35

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