Never a bad time to get a bigger drive

It seems I’m in just an upgrade sort of mood, however, there is never a bad time to get a bigger hard drive. 1TB drives are basically the standard now and I had a mere 160GB as my main drive. Zune’s and iPods were overshadowing my storage capacity so it was time to make a change. And I didn’t just go with a minor update. I went with a drive with so much capacity as to instill fear and jealousy. A manly drive!

Replacing the main drive is always filled with excitement and frustration. Soon, there will be tons of space to play around in and a place to store everything, but you have to wipe the slate clean and reinstall everything. It’s the reinstall part that is the drudgery; making sure you have everything you need so when the old drive comes out you don’t smack yourself in the forehead because you forgot the serial number to your graphics program or you forgot to grab the password to one of your online accounts.

So what do you need to do in order to go into summer with more space than you know what do with – at least for the first couple of months? First off, buy the biggest drive you can get your hands on. With today’s prices and the size of tomorrow applications I wouldn’t get anything less than 1TB. In fact, I bought 1.5TB just to give myself some room to work. 2TB drives are falling in price, at a little over $250 that is plenty of space to work with and you shouldn’t need to worry about any more drive upgrades until you get a new machine.

Getting Started

Before you buy the new drive you need to prep your old one. In the excitement of getting the new drive installed and putting on the OS and new apps we can sometimes forget the simple things – make backups.

You need to take the time to make note of what applications you have installed, and of those, which ones are you really using. I know I install dozens of apps just to check them out and then never go back and remove them. Now is a good time to take stock of what’s really important. If you have applications that need to be deactivated, like Photoshop, you should go through that process so you can install them on your new drive without error or making calls to technical support.

Make Backups

Next, you need to backup the important data. And not just the files in My Documents, but other important files like your PST or other mail database file, your banking files, Firefox and Internet Explorer bookmarks, passwords to your online accounts, blog posts, etc. This stuff is stored all over your drive so you need to spend some time gathering it all up so that when the new OS comes up you are reading to reinstall and get back to work. I was completely lost without my Outlook PST file and nickname cache. I had no email and no email addresses. It was a scary time to be sure.

But here is the dilemma, where do you store all this data since you don’t have the new drive yet? A couple of choices come to mind depending on how much information we’re talking about. You can always write to a DVD until the new drive is in. 8GB thumbdrives are quite cheap and can store your backup. Or you might need to invest in an external drive to hold your worldly possessions until the upgrade is complete. I already have a couple of external drives which I use for storing my photos so I simply made an image of the entire drive and stored it there until the new drive was in.

Now would be a good time to talk about disk cloning. Unlike a backup, a clone of a drive is an exact duplicate of the entire drive. This includes the OS, the registry, and other system related files. You can use programs like O&O DiskImage or Acronis True Image to make an exact duplicate of the drive which you can then mount as though it were still installed and get access to all your files. My personal recommendation is to get two external hard drives since you should use them for storing your photos anyway and clone the original system drive to one of them. Then after you have the new OS installed you can mount that image and act like the original drive never left.

Time to Download

You will also need to take the time to download your device drivers. If you skip this part, things can get really ugly. Make sure you get the drivers for your network card, video, audio, scanner, printer and anything else you may need. It’s best to do this while everything is still connected so you can get the exact model number. Plus, there is nothing worse than starting a new OS and not having the network drivers at hand and forgetting what card is in there.

It would also be wise to download the latest service pack so you can update the machine as soon as the install is done. For the adventurous types you could use Nlite and slipstream the latest service pack into the install. Either way, make sure to have it handy.

With the prep work done and CD keys and serial numbers copied it’s time to satisfy that hard drive lust and get a brand new install of Windows in place. Take the old hard drive and replace it with the new one. I already had a large secondary drive so I didn’t use the old drive as storage. Depending on the size it might make a useful backup drive.

A Clean Slate

Of course the first thing to do is to install the OS. I still prefer Windows XP so that’s the route I went. If you have a card reader in your machine Windows may try and install itself as drive F: or later. If this happens (and it did to me), disconnect the card reader and start the install over again. Windows should be on drive C:\, it’s just better that way.

Whenever I get a new drive I format it completely the first time, this way Windows can map out any bad sectors on the drive. It can take a few hours for a 1.5TB drive to complete, but I would rather get it out of the way.

Patch and Update

Get Windows installed and apply your service pack. For the sake of security you may want to keep the machine disconnected from the network until the latest service pack is installed. Once that update is finished you will want to install your network drivers and head to the Windows Update site. Depending on how things stand it could take quite a while to download and install the latest updates. But go ahead and do it now.

Once your machine is patched it’s time to install the other drivers. Get your video set to the right resolution and get your other devices online. Before you install your other applications I would recommend installing your anti-virus and firewall software. Make sure you have the latest updates for those as well.

Now you have a clean and fast install of Windows (embrace it because it’s all downhill from here). If you followed my previous advice about cloning software, this is the point where I would make a baseline image of my machine. This way if anything bad happens going forward you always have a clean image to go back to. And it takes a lot less time.

All new apps

This is where the fun begins and you reinstall all the apps you use the most. This will probably be the longest part of the process. As I mentioned I only installed about half my apps since I realized I wasn’t actually using all of them anymore. What gets installed will be different for each person, but since you wrote down all your CD keys and serials it should go pretty smoothly. Once all the apps are installed then it’s time to copy over all their respective date files, like PST files for Outlook, bookmarks, and other documents you will need in order to use your software. You can use the original drive if you made it a backup drive, you can use the image if you went that route or you can use the DVD or thumbdrive which holds all your data files.

Final Cleaup

You should now have a ton of room to work with an faster running apps since you don’t have tons of things running when it starts up. Since you have been installing software and extracting files you probably should take the time to clean out the Windows temp directory since it is probably loaded with setup files.

With everything clean and new it’s probably a good time to defrag the drive for the first time just to get everything aligned.

Again, since I’m using the cloning software, I make another image of my drive after I have all my apps installed. This is my baseline with applications. If something goes wrong I can at least get back to a useable OS in no time at all. This is just my personal preference, your mileage may vary.

In reality it may take a full day just to get Windows installed and updated, especially if you do a complete format of the drive. It may take another day or so to reinstall your apps and put everything back in place. And you may also find you need install an program here and there as you begin using your machine and get back into your routine. While that may make you hedge at replacing the drive, the thrill of having a faster running Windows and vast amounts of hard drive space are all worth it! It may seem like a lot but with just a little planning it will go very smoothly and at the end of the weekend you will have a new machine that is performing better than it has in years.

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