Switching to an SSD by replacing a traditional hard disk is the most sensible operation that can be done to give new life to a system that, for example, begins to suffer the “weight” of time that passes.

Installing an SSD instead of a hard disk is a rather simple operation because it involves the removal of the case of the desktop PC or the panel (usually plastic) that on the notebook protects the area where there are the internal storage units and their connectors.

To highlight how much the installation of an SSD is affordable for everyone, regardless of the budget available, we have deliberately used – for the procedure described in this article – a Netac N530S 120 GB SSD that Gearbest offers for just 30-35 euros (now is on sale at 30.93 euros).

Today, SSDs have become increasingly performing, capacious and, at the same time, much cheaper than in the past. Even on an SSD of only 120 GB it is possible to install the operating system, provided that it is combined with a traditional hard disk (for example the replaced one for storing documents and personal files).

Installing an SSD Instead of an Old Hard Disk

After purchasing the SSD, if you want to install the SSD instead of the old hard disk and perform an installation from scratch of the operating system, just do it:

1) Write down the Windows Product Key for reinstalling the operating system. In the case of Windows 10, if the operating system was activated with a digital right (you can check this by typing Activation in the search box), you will not have to write down any code. If you reinstall Windows 10, the operating system will automatically appear activated after a few minutes.

The Windows 10 indication is activated with a digital license (linked or not to the Microsoft account), meaning that the operating system can be reinstalled from scratch, on the same machine, without problems of activation or typing Product Key codes.

2) Download the contents of the latest version of the Windows installation media. The procedure officially supported by Microsoft is the one accessible from this page.

For Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 users, we suggest that you click on the box for your operating system, select Download the tool now or Download the tool now and start the Media Creation Tool executable.

By clicking on Create an installation medium for another PC and then clicking on Next, you can download the edition and version of Windows corresponding to the one currently installed on the PC.

You can take the opportunity:

  1. If the system architecture is 64 bit but the version of Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 in use is 32 bit, to install the corresponding 64 bit edition (How to switch from Windows 32 bit to 64 bit).
  2. Switch from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 by entering the Product Key of one of the first two operating systems. You can then install Windows 10 on the new SSD without updating the current installation of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 (see the article Free Upgrade to Windows 10 is still possible with the Product Key).

The Media Creation Tool allows you to create an ISO file or insert everything you need for proper installation of Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 into a USB drive (which will automatically be bootable when you boot the machine):

To create a bootable USB stick from the ISO file of the Windows installation media, regardless of its version and edition, you can use for example the free Rufus utility: bootable USB stick, how to prepare it or the good WinSetupFromUSB (How to install Windows from USB).

3) At this point, you can turn off your computer, disconnect it from the mains and remove the battery (in the case of notebooks).

On notebooks you will have to identify and remove the “cover” that protects the housing of hard drives and SSD’s; for desktop PCs, just open the case.

4) On notebooks you will need to remove the old hard disk and connect the new SSD (in our case, Gearbest’s Netac) as the main drive. The other storage unit can be connected to the second connector (if present) so that you can retrieve any files that may be of interest.

Some slots are 7 mm high, while others are 9.5 mm high: before proceeding, it is necessary to compare the specifications of the SSD and those of the notebook.

If your notebook has only one hard disk or SSD slot, the old hard disk can be used as an external drive by purchasing a box/adapter (see these products) and using a USB cable.

In the case of desktop PCs, however, simply attach the SSD to housing that can accommodate the corresponding form factor (typically 2.5 inches).

You will then need to connect the SATA data cable by connecting the SSD and motherboard. To do this, disconnect the old hard drive from the first SATA port on the motherboard and use it for the new SSD instead (in order to possibly take advantage of the 6 Gbps peak speed of the SATA III standard).

The other connector (old hard disk) can be connected to the second SATA port on the motherboard.

Obviously, an exception is made for the M.2 type SSDs, which generally have a free PCIe slot on the motherboard: SSD M.2 PCIe NVMe, a guide to the new terms.

Remember, of course, in the case of desktop systems, to also connect the power cable (from the power supply on the back of the PC) to the SSD.

To connect a second hard disk or SSD, for example, HP notebooks use cables like these. Often, unless stocks last, they are also available for purchase at Amazon.

5) At this point, you can boot from the bootable USB drive by installing Windows into the SSD you just connected to the machine.

Make sure, when installing the operating system, to choose the SSD without overwriting the data in the old hard drive.

6) On the next restart, check that the boot is from the SSD (check the boot sequence at BIOS/UEFI level).

Transferring operating system and programs to the new SSD

To date, there is no software capable of transferring only Windows and the installed programs from the old hard disk to the new SSD. To switch to an SSD and replace the hard disk (or rather, make the SSD the main drive and the old hard disk the secondary one), there are now several free utilities that clone the contents of the old drive to the SSD and proceed with an alignment and optimization of the latter.

To move the operating system and programs to the SSD, therefore without the need to reinstall anything, you can follow some steps:

1) Check that the space occupied on the hard disk is less than the capacity of the new SSD.

2) For added security, create a backup of the contents of your old hard drive by saving the image file, for example, to a NAS or a shared location on your local network. Data backup can also be done using the good AOMEI Backupper which, starting from release 3.5, supports storing files on shared drives mapped in Windows as network drives: Hard disk and SSD backup with the new Backupper 3.5.

3) If the situation in point 1) does not recur, you must necessarily make room and reduce the space occupied on the hard disk by the operating system, applications and data.

The article How to free up disk space offers some useful tips to make space on the old hard disk so as not to exceed the capacity of the SSD.

4) Following the above instructions, you should connect the SSD as a secondary drive. In the case of SATA drives, you can use the SATA2 port, remembering to connect the power connector. The old hard drive will remain connected to SATA1.

On notebooks with a single hard disk slot or SSD, a USB adapter like this allows you to clone the contents of the old hard disk to the SSD connected externally via the adapter (see How to replace a notebook’s hard disk with an SSD).

As soon as the data from the old hard disk has been moved to the SSD, you can turn off the notebook, disconnect the hard disk and connect the SSD in its place.

On larger notebooks, capable of accommodating two disks or SSDs at the same time (think 17 inches), just connect the SSD as a secondary drive and then start cloning with AOMEI Backupper.

When the operation is finished, you simply have to turn off the system and invert the two storage units.

5) After turning on the machine and starting Windows as always, you can follow the instructions in the article Replace hard disk with SSD, how to do without reinstalling everything to clone the move of data contained in the hard disk within the new SSD automatically performing also an alignment operation of the drive.

6) Finally, depending on the type of system, you must turn off the computer and then connect the SSD to the main SATA connector, checking that the correct boot sequence is set at BIOS/UEFI level.

The Netac N530S SSD sent to us by Gearbest is certainly cheap, even though it is one of the slowest units tested so far. Compared to a traditional 7,200 RPM hard disk, the Netac is on average about 5 times faster. It is however a good purchase for those who want to spend little and upgrade old systems on which the investment must be necessarily very limited things.

When choosing the SSD capacity, do we suggest to keep in mind also the indications, little known, reported in the article SSD are slower if they are less capacious?

As soon as the correct functioning of the SSD, of the operating system and of all the installed applications has been verified, you can eventually delete Windows and programs from the old hard disk, continuing to use the unit only for data storage (see also Best SSDs, purchase guide).

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