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"Restoring" a hard-disk image to an SSD

by Alan German

A friend was thinking of buying a new laptop and really wanted it to have a solid state drive; however, the manufacturer's pricing for this option was considerably more than it ought to have been, especially given today's prices for SSD's. My suggestion was to buy the off-the-shelf machine, with a 1 TB HDD, and simply replace the hard drive with an SSD. The 1 TB drive could then be dropped into a USB drive enclosure and used as backup/extra storage. "Fine,..." my friend said "...go right ahead!"

Before doing anything drastic, a few preliminary steps were necessary. Firstly, I used Macrium Reflect to make a disk image of the original hard drive in the "as-received" condition. I used an external USB disk to store this image in order that it would be available for restoration should any of the subsequent operations go south.

Secondly, I made a rescue disk, in the form of a bootable USB drive, using the Windows Preinstallation Environment (PE) option. The latter is a mini-version of Windows that runs Macrium Reflect directly from the bootable USB and, most importantly, provides access to backup disk images stored on the external USB drive.

It should be obvious that a 1 TB disk image isn't going to fit onto a 250 GB SSD. Even though the 1 TB drive has much less than 250 GB of space in use, we still can't simply restore the disk image to the new SSD. At least, we can't do this easily.

Previously, I have worked around this issue using a bootable version of Clonezilla (see ("Cloning" a hard drive to a smaller SSD; Ottawa PC News, November, 2013) but, this time, I decided to see if I could use Macrium Reflect to both make an image of and transfer the hard drive's contents.

The web has mixed messaging about such a task. Some people simply say it can't be done, others insist that the Professional version of Macrium Reflect is required, while a third group suggests that the Free Edition can indeed be pressed into service to perform the task. I chose to take a run at the latter.

While I wouldn't have been able to restore the original 824 GB Windows partition onto the 250 GB SSD, the Windows partition was only using 64 GB of the assigned disk space. Consequently, it was necessary to shrink the partition (by simply reducing the amount of free space). I decided to shrink the partition to 120 GB, thus leaving lots of space for future software installation. The Disk Management utility (Control Panel - System and Security - Administrative Tools - Disk Management), when run as an administrator, made this process simple. Right-click on drive C:, select Shrink Volume, and choose by how much to shrink the partition.

In determining the final size for the Windows partition, it was also necessary to consider the other partitions present on the disk. In particular, the disk was set up as a GPT (GUID Partition Table) volume and had several hidden partitions in addition to that used by the operating system. These are essentially recovery partitions, containing the information used to reset the machine to its original (factory) settings should this become necessary. These data required a total of 26 GB of disk space. A further 16 GB was assigned to a dedicated data partition (drive D:). Thus, by reducing drive C: to 120 GB, even with these additional space requirements, there was still about 100 GB of available disk space on the SSD - left for future expansion (think Linux!)

The final backup step was to make a new disk image of the resized hard drive. This image would be used to copy the now-smaller hard disk partitions onto the SSD once the latter had been installed.

Now it was time to get serious about switching the drives. Replacing the HDD with the SSD was quite simple, if a little nerve wracking. A YouTube video showed how to remove the screws from the back of the laptop in order to access the internal components. What the video didn't show was the "touchy" part where, once the screws were out, one has to pull the base away from the retaining clips. The base flexes as moderate force is applied, accompanied by unnerving snapping sounds as the clips release, until the base is fully detached. A few more screws; the HDD is removed, and the SSD inserted.

With the SSD installed, and the large Windows partition resized, you would think that restoring this smaller image to the new SSD would be child's play - wouldn't you? If so, think again! Macrium immediately indicates that it is unable to perform the restore operation with the error message "Not all partitions copied. Insufficient space".

In our case, this isn't really because there isn't enough free space. The error message is telling us (or trying to!) that one of the source partitions starts at an offset greater than the size of the destination disk. This results from reducing the size of the Windows partition, but leaving the data partition (drive D:), and a "PBR Image" (recovery) partition, after the free space that we created, and near to the end of the disk. An article from Macrium's Knowledgebase indicates the specific problem: "The 'Copy selected partition' option will always attempt to place the restored partition at exactly the same offset as source." Clearly, if one of the partitions would end up beyond the last sector of the SSD, this won't be possible, and the error results.

However, the fix is very simple - if somewhat non-intuitive. Select just the initial partitions, up to and including the resized drive C:, and restore these to the SSD. Next, select the drive D: partition, and drag-and-drop this partition onto the unallocated space on the SSD. Finally, do the same for the PBR Image partition (I didn't try doing both of the latter operations at once.)

So, take special note of the drag-and-drop "trick" noted above, This can be the key to "cloning" a large hard disk to a smaller drive even after the larger disk has been "resized" to fit.

Bottom Line:

Macrium Reflect Free Edition (Freeware)
Version 5.3.7256
Paramount Software UK Limited

Originally published: March, 2015

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