Over the last few years, solid state drives have overtaken mechanical hard drives as the default choice for operating system volumes. Their super-fast data transfer speeds greatly accelerate boot up and shutdown times, allow apps to open more quickly and, of course, support rapid file and folder transfers.
While the price of solid state drives (SSDs) is dropping rapidly, wind the clock back and that wasn’t necessarily the case. The first PCs I upgraded with solid state storage used a 60 GB drive that cost a couple of hundred dollars. Alongside those 2.5″ SATA-connected SSDs, I have PCs on the test bench that use quite low capacity mSATA and M.2 modules. They’re still working really well, but I could really do with upgrading them with higher capacity drives.
Of course, I could simply start from scratch. Install the drive into the PC, install a clean copy of Windows, spend a couple of hours installing drivers, apps and configuring the PC with my preferred settings, then copy my data over from the old drive. There’s a day I’ll never get back!
The smarter approach is to clone the existing SSD (using a special software application), write an exact copy of the entire drive to a new, higher capacity drive then simply swap out the storage. Job done in less than an hour.
Let’s talk through what’s required.
Tools for the Job
In this walkthrough, I’ll be replacing an old 250 GB mSATA storage module that I have installed in an Intel NUC mini PC. I love these little PCs to death and have a few of them scattered around the home. This particular NUC is working well on the test bench, but I am now regularly hitting storage capacity warnings. It also provides an interesting challenge as far as upgrades are concerned as I’ll need to find a way of connecting old and new mSATA modules during the cloning process. More on that shortly.
With regard to storage, I won’t be going crazy on capacity. I’ve selected the Samsung 850 EVO mSATA internal SSD for the job. It offers twice the capacity than the old module – a 240 GB Crucial M500 module – and at around $160 doesn’t break the bank in terms of cost. As an additional bonus, the 850 EVO also offers faster write speeds than the Crucial module – 520 MB/s vs 250 MB/s – so this looks to be a valuable upgrade.
In the image below, you can see the existing Crucial mSATA storage module as currently fitted in the NUC.
Obviously, if we wish to connect the two storage modules to the same PC simultaneously, we’ll need some kind of adapter for the new storage module. Here the trusty USB 3.0 port will come in very handy. In the past, the USB interface was too slow for this kind of job, so we’d have been looking for some kind of complicated mSATA to SATA configuration.
However, newer USB standards such as USB 3.0 (or rather, USB 3.1 Rev 1 to give it its proper name) can transfer data at 5 Gbps – not much slower than a SATA port. If you have a new PC, it may be equipped with one or more USB 3.1 Rev 2 ports, offering 10 Gbps speeds. Either way, USB is the way to go for this job.
There are a couple of good inexpensive options available that I’d recommend. The ORICO Aluminum mSATA to USB3.1 Type-C/USB-C SSD Enclosure Adapter Case is what I’ll be using on this job. It’s a metal enclosure that is designed to allow you to use an mSATA module as an external hard drive. You simply plug in the module, connect a USB-C to USB-A cable between the enclosure and your PC and off you go. It’s priced at just $13.99.
Alternatively, if you preferred to connect the mSATA module directly to your PC’s internals, this $11.49 SYBA 2.5-Inch SATA to mSATA SSD Adapter would fit the bill.
You’d need to connect a SATA and power cable to the adapter, but once the mSATA module was fitted and everything was hooked up, you’d be good to go. However, I think the Orico USB solution is neater.
While we’re specifically using an mSATA module in this walkthrough, the same process applies to standard 2.5″ SSDs that are connected to a PC via a SATA cable. If you’re seeking to upgrade one of these drives, be sure to check out the Sabrent USB-DSC9 USB 3.0 to SATA/ Hard Drive Converter, which would do the job. It’s priced at $22.99.
That takes care of the hardware. You’ll also need to source a cloning application that is able to copy the contents of your existing SSD over to your new SSD – a process known as cloning. Long time readers will be aware of operating systems such as Windows Home Server and Windows Server 2016 Essentials that include image based backup and restore features. These are excellent options for those that have already invested in a home or small business server platform, but they’re pricey for a one-off job.
Acronis True Image 2017 is perhaps the most famous imaging application that is typically used for this kind of task. It offers full image-based backup and restore features as well as file and folder backup. It’s priced from $39.99 for a single PC.
If you’re looking for a free solution (or rather, one that you’ve already paid for) then Windows offers a system image backup and restore feature. It’s hidden away and, to be honest, hasn’t been updated in some time but importantly, it works and it’s free. You’ll find the feature in the File History applet of the Control Panel desktop app. Just look at the bottom of the window for the System Image Backup link.
There are also third-party apps which offer free trials or, better still, free editions which can be used to clone your drives. In this walkthrough, we’ll be using one of those apps – Macrium Reflect Personal Edition.
Preparing the New Drive
Our first job is to assemble our enclosure and populate it with the new storage module.
The Orico Enclosure Adapter Case is very easy to put together – it even ships with a small mini-screwdriver allowing you to open up the case.
Remove the two screws from one end of the enclosure, take off the side plate and you can slide out the internal board, exposing the mSATA connector.
Now we can open up the Samsung EVO 850 mSATA box and take a look at the module itself.
The mSATA module is keyed asymmetrically so it can only fit into the connector one way. Slide it into the connector at a 45 degree angle.
Now, lightly press the module down (placing a finger on the label or the very edge of the board) and use the screws that ship with the enclosure to hold the module in place.
Reassemble the enclosure and, congratulations, you just built yourself a high-capacity USB thumb drive!
Initializing the SSD
Connect the supplied USB cable to the enclosure and slot the connector into a spare USB port on your PC. You should find that the enclosure hardware is recognised, but it won’t be accessible in File Explorer. Before we can use the storage module, it has to be initialized by Windows’ Disk Manager.
Open Disk Manager (search for it using the Windows search bar) and you’ll immediately be presented with a dialog box asking you to prepare the drive.
The GPT partition style is selected by default, which works fine for us (as we’ll be overwriting the drive anyway once we get to the cloning stage).
Click OK and your storage module will be partitioned, ready for formatting.
You’ll notice that while the disk has been initialised, Disk Management states that its capacity is Unallocated. Head to File Explorer and you’ll see that the drive still remains unlisted. That’s because we have yet to format the disk.
Right click on the disk in Disk Management and select New Simple Volume.
Walk through the wizard that pops up. You can accept the defaults to allocate the disk size, drive letter and label.
In a minute or so, your new storage module will be formatted and ready for the next step.
Cloning Your Existing SSD
As mentioned, there are a variety of methods for cloning your existing SSD using an image-based backup. The cheapest method is to use Windows’ native System Image Backup, which can be found in the File History applet of your Control Panel (the desktop app, not the modern app).
Click Create a system image and you’ll be invited to save a copy of your existing Windows image to a hard drive or network location.
Once saved, you can then swap over the storage modules and use Windows installation media to “recover” your PC using the system image backup. Here, you’ll need to boot your PC from a USB drive holding your Windows installation files, select the Repair your computer option, then select the System Image Recovery feature.
It’s a little cumbersome, right? Alternatively, use a dedicated application to clone your hard drive and copy it to your new storage module. There are free apps, such as Macrium Reflect which can be used for the task – that’s what we’ll be using in this walkthrough.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the app, you’ll be able to get on with the task of cloning your hard drive. Open up the Reflect app and you’ll see your installed disks presented.
Click your existing hard drive and select the Clone this disk… option. Note that cloning and imaging are two different processes with different results. Imaging a drive results in a single, large image file being copied to your disk. This is not bootable. Cloning a drive is the way to go – it provides an exact copy of the hard disk contents which is bootable when you swap your existing storage module for the new one.
OK – look carefully at the screenshot above. It’s the C: volume that we really need to clone, but its fine that the other partitions come along for the ride too. However, you can see I’ve deselected partition 4 to the right of the C: volume. The reason for this is that when I clone the drive, I need the spare capacity of the new storage module to sit adjacent to the C: volume. If any other partition sits between the C: volume and the Unallocated space on the module, you won’t be able to expand the C: volume to incorporate that new space. It’s just the way it works.
So, deselect any partitions to the right of the C: volume and then select your new storage module as the destination drive.
Click Next to continue. You’ll be asked if you want to create a cloning schedule but ans this is a one-off, just click Next again then Finish to begin the clone.
Expect the job to take some time – mine took around 40 minutes.
Before you swap out the storage modules, open up Disk Management once again and take a look at your cloned disk. In the screenshot below, Disk 0 is the existing module while Disk 1, with an additional 242 GB storage space available, is the new.
You can now shut down your PC, swap out the storage modules and reboot! But, we’re not done just yet! The additional storage capacity we have on the drive is not yet usable. We’ll need to expand the C: volume on the new disk to incorporate that Unallocated space.
For this job, I used another free application – EaseUS Partition Master. This provides as easy to understand view of the partitions on your hard disk, along with some handy management tools. The Resize/Move Partition feature allows us to expand the C: volume and gobble up that unused space. Just drag the slider to the right to set the partition size.
Once you’re ready to expand, click Apply. Your PC will need to reboot so the partitions can be resized. Leave Partition Master to do its thing and in a short while, your PC will be ready for action.
Open up Disk Management one last time and take a look at your hard disk. Congratulations, you just cloned and expanded your solid state drive!