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.)


  1. Holger HoffstätteAugust 29, 2009 at 10:12 PM

    Brian, this is actually easy to do - all you need is a working network connection and enough file storage space for a full dump of the drive. Instead of bothering with all sorts of workarounds, simply spend the $50 bucks on Acronis TrueImage, create a full snapshot of the old drive to the network storage, swap drives, boot from the Acronis CD and restore from the network volume. Even though it's a block-level restore, the new volume can be larger or smaller. I've transplanted Windows several times this way (only recently when switching to an SSD myself) and it works very well. And to top it off you then have a great backup app.

  2. This may not help, but I've used Acronis True Image to do the same thing on laptops using SATA drives.

    1) Connect a larger drive via USB (I use a 1TB drive, fairly cheap)
    2) Boot from the Acronis cd
    3) Make an image of the laptop drive
    4) Replace the laptop drive
    5) Boot from the Acronis cd
    6) Copy the image from the USB drive to the laptop drive

    You now have a backup just in case you need some file you later delete.

    I have no idea if True Image has issues with SSDs.


  3. If you boot off the TrueImage CD, will it let you browse to network shares as a place to dump the intermediate image? That would work for me.

  4. I don't know why I didn't notice the first comment when I made mine, weird.

    I recall having the network active when I was hard-wired, but never noticed it when I was wireless. I'll check it out tonight.

  5. Thanks for the tip on TrueImage -- did the job on the laptop drive.

    Still searching for an easy "convert this bootable ISO to a bootable USB key" utility.

  6. BTW, I tried TrueImage for upgrading my desktop drive to a larger drive, and it failed on me. I ended up using Ghost to clone the drive instead. (Once you start upgrading drives, you can't stop...)