Upgrade to an SSD: The best way to make your computer feel like new

Editors' note: This post was originally published on March 13, 2012, and is periodically updated.

If your new Windows 10 computer takes a long time to boot up, that's likely because it runs on a regular hard drive. This is also the case of most older computers. Do you know that replacing that hard drive with a solid-state drive (SSD) will make the machine run much faster? It's true, a 5-year-old computer with an SSD boots much faster than even a brand new rig running on a regular hard drive. The good news is that swapping out the drives is quite easy to do and not too expensive either, thanks to the fact that SSDs are now much more affordable than they were a few years ago.

(A standard SSD looks like a traditional 2.5-inch laptop hard drive, but it's much faster. You can find out more about the differences between traditional hard drives and SSDs here.)

In this post, I'll walk you through how to replace a Windows computer's internal hard drive with an SSD while keeping the software, data and settings exactly the same. The computer needs to be running Windows 7, 8 or 10. Previous versions of Windows don't support SSDs very well. The steps on this post are done with Windows 10, which you should upgrade to soon, since the free upgrade offer ends July 29. Mac owners should check out this guide.


With a new Samsung SSD, this old Dell Laptop will soon be much faster than it has ever been.

Dong Ngo/CNET

General direction: The replacement process basically involves cloning the entire existing hard drive's content to an SSD, then physically taking the hard drive out of the computer and putting the SSD in its place. It's a similar process for both desktop and laptops computers though it's much easier to work with a desktop, thanks to its larger chassis.

Depending on how much data you have on the computer's main hard drive, this project will take from 20 minutes to a couple of hours. You won't need to be actively involved most of this time, however.

A. Getting ready

There are a few things you need for this job.

First, you'll obviously need an SSD. While not all SSDs are created equal, all SSDs are so much faster than any regular hard drive that the differences between the SSDs themselves are insignificant to someone moving up from a hard drive. That said, you should get a drive that offers the most capacity for the least money. To quickly find out the best options, check out my current list of best SSDs.

One important thing to keep in mind: make sure you get an SSD with a higher capacity than the total amount of data you currently have on the hard drive you're replacing. That means, for example, if your computer's main hard drive's capacity is 1TB but you have just used up about 200GB, then you just need an SSD that's 240GB. It never hurts to get a large SSD of the same or even larger capacity as the existing hard drive, though, if you can afford it.

The second thing you need is cloning software. There are many of them on the market and most of them work well (some SSDs come with this software installed) but my favorite for the job is the free version of Macrium Reflect. This software allows you to clone the existing drive to a new one without even restarting the computer. It also supports all types of hard drive formats.

The third thing you need is a USB-to-SATA adapter. These adapters can be found online for around $15 or so. If you have a Seagate GoFlex external hard drive (a portable or desktop version), you can use the adapter part of the drive for the job. Note that for a desktop, as an option, you can skip this adapter and install the SSD as a secondary internal drive for the cloning process, which works much faster than connecting via USB.

And finally, you'll need a small screwdriver. Pick one that works with the screws on your computer. Generally, a standard small Phillips-head one will do.

Extra preparation

This step is only necessary if you want to use a hand-me-down SSD (one that's been formatted before) to replace your existing hard drive on your computer. If you're using a brand new SSD, you can skip this step and move straight to the cloning process.

There are two types of drive formats, including Master Boot Record (MBR), which is used in Windows 7 and earlier, and GUID Partition Table (GPT), adopted by Windows 8 and later. (Note that Windows 8 and Windows 10 work with MBR, too.) If you want to use a pre-used SSD for your computer, you need to first make its drive format type the same as that of the existing hard drive, prior to the cloning process. If not, the system won't boot at the end.

https://cnet1.cbsistatic.com/img/OgKvgfr9rVqWvofWnGkuShXx57c=/770x578/2013/07/03/697f3047-fdb7-11e2-8c7c-d4ae52e62bcc/diskpart.jpg" height="578" width="770">

If you upgrade the hard drive of a relatively new computer, one that comes with Windows 8 or 10 factory installed, it's highly likely that GPT is used.

Dong Ngo/CNET

It's quite easy to find out if your computer's existing hard drive uses GPT or MBR. Here's how.

1. Run the command prompt. (Search for it on the Start Menu. In Windows 8, just type cmd directly into the Metro Start interface).

2. At the command prompt window, type in diskpart then press Enter. (Answer affirmatively to the User Account Control question if prompted.)

3. At the DiskPart prompt, type in list disk then press Enter.

You will see a list of drives currently installed in the system. If a drive is listed with an asterisk (*) under the GPT column, then it's using GPT. Otherwise, it's an MBR drive.

It's easy to convert a drive from MBR to GPT and vice versa.

Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET
And here's how to make sure the SSD has the same drive format type:

1. Run the command prompt.

2. At the command prompt window, type in diskmgmt then press Enter. This will open up Disk Management.

3. In Disk Management window, find the SSD which will be shown as Disk 1 (or Disk 2 etc. depending on the amount of drives you have on the machine.) Right click on the SSD then choose "Convert to GPT" (if it's currently uses MBR), or "Convert to MBR" (if it's currently uses GPT.) Just make sure it shares the same drive format type as the existing hard drive.

B. Cloning the drive

Now that you have everything you need, let's get the process started. Plug the SSD into a USB port of the computer using the USB-to-SATA cable.

(Note that the steps given below are for Macrium Reflect. With other versions or other cloning software, the steps will be slightly different, so follow the software's instructions, but it should be easy enough to understand. The idea is that you clone the existing hard drive into the SSD, retaining all settings.)

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