Saturday, August 29, 2009

Laptop upgrade annoyances

We've got an old Dell C400 laptop. Its seven or eight years old, but its still going strong, and it just fine for an around-the-house laptop (similar in performance to a modern netbook, but with bigger screen/keyboard, and still nice and light). The limiting performance factor right now seems to be the hard drive; many Windows operations (booting, shutdown, sleep, wake) are disk-seek-bound, so I bought an IDE SSD to replace the existing IDE drive. Hopefully that will also improve battery life and thermal characteristics. 

What I'd like is a simple way to move all the data from the existing drive to the new drive, and then just toss the old drive. But this isn't as simple as it might appear. Laptop IDE cables generally only support one drive, so I can't use (say) PartitionMagic to do a partition copy the way I would on a desktop system.

A lot of people have suggested various tricks, like:

  • Get an IDE-USB adapter, put the old disk on that, put the new disk in the machine, boot from a Linux CD, and use dd to copy the data;

  • Get a pair of 40 pin to 44 pin IDE adapters, put them in a desktop system, and copy using PartitionMagic (Windows) or dd (Linux);

  • Find a dual-drive 44 pin IDE cable, plug both drives in, and hope that the OS / BIOS recognizes both disks;

  • Just reinstall Windows and whatever apps I have on the new drive (including chasing down all the device drivers, such as the touch pad, speakers, etc)

Why is this so difficult?  A hard-drive-swap should be a simple, common upgrade operation, that shouldn't require using tools from another operating system, transplanting the drives into another system, or rebuilding the world from scratch. 

On a similar note, I just bought a Samsung NC10 netbook, and was going to wipe the disk and reinstall OSes.  I have all the software I want ripped to ISO images, many of them bootable.  Why is it so hard to take a bootable ISO and turn it into a bootable USB key?  (I tried "unetbootin" but it didn't work on the PartitionMagic ISO, which is usually my first step in installing onto a new PC.)