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Upgrading your hard drive? Don't bother with cloning, just do a clean Windows 10 install

Inspiron 15 7559
Inspiron 15 7559

Since I've had this issue myself recently, I'm probably not the only one to experience it. Upon delivery of my new Dell Inspiron 15 7559 (opens in new tab) the first thing I did was pop in an extra stick of RAM and install an m.2 SSD in the vacant slot. This laptop is generally superb but can suffer from some serious slow downs thanks to the slow 5200rpm HDD installed as standard equipment.

I was able to easily upgrade the RAM and HDD and install an SSD, but issues presented around the time the Windows 10 Anniversary Update dropped. Here's what went wrong and why I recommend doing a clean install over a clone.

Inspiron 15 7559

Everything seemed to work just fine. Windows 10 was on the new SSD, everything was booting very fast, no drama. That is, until I tried to install a Windows Update. Every time the update would download, reboot to install and nothing happened. The laptop just booted straight back to Windows. No error messages, nothing. Just as though I'd turned it on for the first time.

In the end, resetting the laptop resulted in an endless boot loop and so it came to pass that a clean install was required. Upon completion and booting, being presented with a choice of drive to boot from sounded alarm bells, and then it became clear what had happened.

During the cloning process the partitions had become a total mess. The formatting of the HDD now destined to be mass storage hadn't cleared the drive properly (which was probably my fault) but as I discovered during the install process, the SSD had too many partitions for Windows on it. Best guess is that the laptop didn't know where to install Windows updates or something like that.

So, the conclusion is pretty simple. Even though cloning is quick and easy, with a lot of very user friendly software, a clean install of Windows 10 on any new drive is going to give you the best, most reliable results.

How to perform a clean install of Windows 10

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

76 Comments
  • I think when I've cloned I've been fine (since the old hard drive I cloned from didn't stay in the computer after the clone process) but I have had to clean install after I got a virus on my computer by mistake trying to find drivers for a device I later found was plug and play. Muppet of the century award goes to...
  • You win.
  • ☺☺☺☺☺☺☺☺☺☺☺☺☺☺☺
  • 5400 rpm drives should be banned.
  • Doing this means you will lose your windows licence though, you should try Todo - EaseUS great free cloning tool, been using it to moves tons of devices from spinning disk to SSD, not had a single problem yet
  • You won't lose your licence. I installed the Anniversary Update as a fresh copy on my new Samsung Evo SSD. I just gave the genuine Windows 7 key that I was previously using on my other machine. It got accepted and Windows is fully activated.
  • Windows 10 license isn't stored on the hard drive, so it won't be lost.
  • Right, its a "cloud" verification. If you have the digital entitlement no problem. As a side note with the way you only have to do a number of CU's and not start with say 10240 and download all the way to 14393... it almost makes no sense to me to NOT just do a clean install. It takes nearly ZERO time compared with older version of Windows.
  • Do you know where we check for the current didgital Keys we have assigned to our devices?
  • Use a tool like magical jellybean
  • The last Windows 10 laptop I bought, I swapped the spinner for an SSD. After figuring out how to get my USB install drive to boot, Windows 10 clean installed perfectly. It was the easiest install of a Windows OS ever. I was never prompted for a key, and I didn't have to manually handle any drivers, not even hotkeys. I believe the COA resides on the BIOS, so the license is forever tied to the device.
  • On the Anniversary update, it saves your windows 10 licence to your Microsoft account. There was WC article about it for hardware changes not long ago. If it doesn't activate after hardware change, go to the Activation settings an press "I have recently changed hardware" (or something like that) and it'll use the digital entitlement on your MS account. So no you won't lose your Win10 licence :p
  • Hey Shadow, I'm on the insider program, but at the time I was using someone else's laptop with Windows 10. My laptop with Windows 7 is being repaired now. I wanted to know how do I go about installing the latest build of windows 10 on that machine. I assume I can still get it for free, since I was an insider from last year. Or am I missing something? Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Depends. On your friends laptop, was it running on your MS account? Or theirs?
    (if their's, had you once used Win10 on your laptop that's being repaired?) If yours, you should hopefully be able to use the media creation tool on MS website (just search Win10 Media creation tool), install Win10, when it asks for a product key, press "Skip for now" and log into your MS account in the settings. Then, if it's not activated, go to the activation settings and press the hardware change option ^ and it should talk you through it. If your friends laptop was running on their MS account, you will need to buy your own Win10 copy now as the free upgrade from Win7 + 8 has ended. (I do believe I read though that non-activated/genuine copies of Win10 are locked to insider builds. So thats also an option, as a last resort) Hope that helps :p
  • Well, thank God it was under my account. Lol.... Thanks. So I can just sign in after I use the media creation tool and I'll continue to get insider builds? By the way, it's an Acer aspire 5534, running on an amd Athlon and 3gb of ram. U think it'll handle it? Lol Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Yeah it should activate then :) and I think it should work well on Win10 :D
  • Thanks man. Wish me luck, cuz it needs a motherboard. But do you know by any chance if I can put a more powerful Athlon in there? Or such website can tell me if I can. I don't want to use processor again. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I cant answer that, but you should be able to google your laptop model and see if there's any available upgrades' for it. If you're replacing the motherboard, I'd assume you'd be able to(?) but you'd have to do your research and find out for sure and how
  • This indeed could be headache on older versions of Windows, but nowandays it's tied to your Microsoft account. Just boot up Windows 10, skip entering a license key and log in. Windows will automatically pull the activation from Microsoft's servers and your all set.
  • Hey richard. I also want to upgrade my hdd to ssd but mine one is budget laptop and it only has one 2.5 inch hdd sata connector. I want to clean install. Just tell me will my windows 10 would be activated after installing it on the new drive? I have upgraded from windows 7 during the free upgrade period so windows 10 get automatically activated under digital entitlement. So, just tell me would I be able to activate it on my new ssd after clean install?
  • If you've already activated Windows 10, it will activate on your new SSD. With the Anniversary Update, the digital entitlement license is tied to your Microsoft account.
  • The digital entitlement is tired to Microsoft account only if you have anniversary update was installed.
  • You lose license by changing motherboard or flashing bios, not by changing drives.
  • Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but more specifically I think the license is stored in the TPM chip, no? So that's why a new motherboard or flashing bios clears the license. Can anyone verify?
  • The key is stored in the MSDM table of UEFI firmware. For most devices, it's a generic OEM key that will activate so long as the MSDM table is on a firmware signed by that OEM - for example, a generic Lenovo Windows 8.1 Pro key will work so long as the UEFI is signed by Lenovo. Trying to use that key on another firmware will break the signature and prevent the key working for activation. Flashing your UEFI should *not* destroy your license, since these keys are generic (not hardware-specific like retail keys are) and the key is stored in the firmware you download. You'll only lose your access to the OEM key and activation if you use a modified 3rd-party UEFI. Changing motherboards obviously breaks activation, unless it's an OEM repair and they replace the board with the exact same one. The TPM is a hardware enclave that stores cryptographic keys securely and has nothing to do with Windows Activation.   Hope that helps!
  • you won't lose your Windows license when flashing the bios.
  • So it is possible to "Clone" Harddrive? I been wondering this because my PC has really old HDD, and I'm afraid it will someday just crack. this happened to my friend, his HDD just stopped working and he lost a lot stuff with it. So it is possible to just clone everything like OS and other stuff to new HDD or SDD (which is probably going to be).
  • Yeah I've had to do it a couple of times
  • >  this happened to my friend, his HDD just stopped working and he lost a lot stuff with it And the moral of that story is....
  • It is possible I know people suggest some tools I use hddclone it works wonders even when changing disk size I went from spinning disk to ssd with this software and my computer had no issues it was literally just like I turned my computer off and turned it back on again. If your swapping to and ssd just make sure windows 10 sees it as an ssd so it does its ssd maintenance stuff there's an article on wc about it.
  • Thanks, I'll look it up, probably getting SDD. :D Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Unless you don't know your product key
  • I guess you don't know how Windows 10 handles the license..
  • Sure, performing a clean install should always lead to a better experience due to the fresh installation. However, you also need all the drivers and software plus an big amount of extra time to rearrange everything. If you actually CLONE the disk and keep the same layout (resize just the data or system partition using the right tool, e.g. Acronis True Image), the device should run exactly like before - or better if you upgraded the hardware. I did this to several machines already and never had a single problem. Of course you may keep the original HDD untouched first in case something goes wrong.
  • License isn't an issue if you login and register before upgrading your HDD, did the same with my zbook 15 - ripped out the HDD and put in 2x NVMe M.2 (sm951 & sm950) and 1x 480 SSD for weekly image backup (windows built in tool) - if you really need to clone to a smaller SSD the "Macrium Reflect Free" can accomodate the reduction in free space during cloning.. well most of the time..
  • Never cloned because SSD has always been slightly smaller than HDD.
  • No problem if you use a cloning tool that is able to resize partitions.
  • See my comment above "Macrium Reflect Free" handles resizing - 90% of the time..
  • Yep, exactly what I used when I replaced my mechanical HDD with a smaller but faster SDD.  Macrium Reflect Free had no problem at all.
  • Going from SATA HDD to m.2 or PCIe SSD is likely to cause problems.  However - i believe if you simply went from 2.5" SATA HDD to 2.5" SATA SSD the upgrade probably would have gone smoothly. The different interface of m.2/PCIe/SATA seems to cause issues wiht the UEFI bootloader.  I experienced this recently and was able to recover the install moving from a 3.5" SATA HDD to a NVMe Samsung PRO 950. Recovery was possible with much patience and testing but it was NOT easy.         
  • Right, one problem could arise from the different controller driver in Windows. Should be fine if the new controller/drive is introduced before cloning. For the UEFI part: This might indeed be somewhat mysterious. However, it it fails there you may still start over with the new disk and did not loose much time before.
  • I've been using disk imaging tools since the late 90s when Ghost and Drive Image were released.  I like the free version of AOMEI Backupper better than the other cloning software mentioned in the thread, and it not only supports universal restores onto different hardware and drive interfaces\modes, it also will automatically convert GPT to MBR, if switching UEFI to legacy (or vice-versa I suppose).  It even does email alerting for free, and the new 3.5 version looks as if they've added even more features, though the latest I've used is 3.2 and not a single issue since that version came out last year.  Not sure how well it resizes via cloning (I generally make a backup then restore that onto a new disk instead).  I also like that AOMEI is built on WinPE, so the Windows command prompt and diskpart are available.
  • That may just be due to driver issues. Those types of drives can't use generic drivers that sata drives use.
  • I had a problem with update to Win 10 Anniversary, because I left the the old HDD that was recently used to clone to a new SSD in the PC. The update always failed (even on every Fast Insider update release) with an error during installation. Temporary deactivation of the SATA port connected to the old HDD in BIOS helped.
  • Cloning should work fine if done properly. I think you had a situation of OBE--Overcome By Event. A clean install fixes a lot of things. You just associated it with the cloning issue you had.
  • A better title would be: "Don't want to take the time to properly manage your partititions?  Don't bother cloning your hard drive, do a clean install."
  • So this was really a bug in the cloning software you used. But yes clean install is always preferred when you have time for it.
  • This is stupid advice. Cloning is essential in business environment. Is it bug in Windows 10 or elsewhere?
  • It's a dumb idea to clone from a disk drive to a SSD. Solid state drives *must* be partition boundary aligned, otherwise you get substantial performance degradation and a substantial increase in data writes (NAND wear). Hard disks, for the most part, don't need any kind of alignment because data is read in stripes of arbitrary sizes in multiples of 512 bytes regardless of where the boundary is. SSD's have no such luxury due to the way cells are written and erased. However! The basic premise in this article is incorrect. So long as you're cloning from a SSD to another SSD (or a hard disk to another hard disk), and you're using a proper cloning tool that will update the disk UUID to prevent hardware conflicts (for example - Macrium Reflect), there is no problem doing so.  Obviously, most people would recommend a clean install anyway - which is easy now thanks to the way Windows 10 licenses are stored and used - but disk cloning is still perfectly valid,  and also the only way to get a functional factory restore image to boot and work correctly on another drive.
  • Re: Omoronovo,
    So you say that no one should clone from a Hard Disk (spinner) to an SSD because the "partition boundaries won't be aligned"? People have been replacing spinning Hard Disks with SSDs since SSDs became available. There must be a way to address your concerns.
  • Yes, intelligent tools can realign the partition boundaries. Increased chance of data loss depending on the tool used - Macrium Reflect is one of the best I've used, and it has a very well-rounded free edition. People installing SSD's way back when used to just fresh install Windows when they added an SSD to their system. Windows versions before Windows 7 wouldn't even recognise a difference between spinning and solid state storage.  Please note that I didn't say cloning without boundary alignment wouldn't work... you're just murdering your SSD by doing it.
  • Seems this page/tool (free) can address the alignment issue after cloning; https://www.partitionwizard.com/partitionmanager/how-to-get-best-perform...
    Thanks for bring it up though, totally forgot about this.. Page has some nice initial tips for SSD newbies too.
  • Most cloning tools know that the partition need to be aligned and have a selection for it. A clean install is no fun when you bought a Windows 8, upgraded to Windows 10 and don't have key that will work and you have to call Redmond to get the OS activated. Nothing DUMB about cloning otherwise no one would develop all of that software that comes with new drives, and elsewhere.
  • Something to note is...try to get at least your network card drivers before doing this. When I installed Windows 8, it had no drivers to neither the network card or wifi chip. I had to use someone else's PC to acquire them and then get the rest. Most of them Windows 10 will get by itself.
  • I had a problem with cloning Windows 10 too but this was last year. I thought it was Samsung's OEM tool that came with the SSD but maybe it was just Windows.
  • I've cloned a few times, never had a problem...
  • Same here. Almost never. The only problems I've had are:
    1. Disk partition alignment as I didn't select the option to "align for SSD performance" because I was cloning from SSD to HDD and wasn't sure if I should. But performance was so pure and I figured it out.
    2. I used a cloning tool that was just terrible. I think it was something called EaseDo or close to that.
    3. After cloning an OS I might have to do a repair of the partition.
    4. And finally, when cloning a partition and not the entire disk, the choice of software is much more limited as the good stuff that comes with new drives only supports cloning an entire drive. :(
  • Yep.. I prefer clean installation. Sometimes registry is a mess even if some are uninstall
  • What cloning utility did you use? It appears that you used a subpar one!
  • I upgraded my xps13 from stock Sata SSD to hyperx predator pcie SSD. and now I'm not able to turn on secure boot. windows doesn't boot at all if I enable it from BIOS.
    Any ideas?
  • Did you clone? What utility did you use?
  • Nope, i did clean install.
  • Clone the old ssd to the new ssd making sure all the partitions are cloned. Use a top grade app like Macrium Reflect. Once cloning is done boot into the new ssd and either upgrade or clean install the win 10 AU into the old win 10 partition.
  • I don't think that's possible because my old ssd is SATA but new is PCIE one, and there is no external pcie to usb connector available yet.
  • Nonetheless I was fiddling around with BIOS and finally made it work. Secure boot is enabled now.
    Only thing is in system configuration BIOS doesn't show ssd. Next to pcie and sata it says 0.
    Thanks for your help though.
  • Nonetheless I was fiddling around with BIOS and finally made it work. Secure boot is enabled now.
    Only thing is in system configuration BIOS doesn't show ssd. Next to pcie and sata it says 0.
    Thanks for your help though.
  • Adapters are in deed available...
  • Hello there, I just read this article. Definitely I understand why clone from an oem disk as those usually contain the recovery partition's for a reinstall.
    However, (maybe I read it wrong) why would he use an SSD as a storage drive and leave the slow SSD as primary? That makes no sense.
    In the past I have used Acronis to clone disks, a great tool.
    There are many ways to go about cloning a disk successfully and it all depends on your hardware configuration. I personally like to remove the disks of the device plug them via eSATA if possible to my desktop and do the closing there. When the cloning is done, I wipe the old disk, partition it if I'm going to reuse it. Insert the new cloned disk (with the old disk reformatted) in to the device and viola!
    Also you need those extra partitions that win10 makes when initializing a disk, it's where it stores many information that makes your device boot properly ("and faster").3
    That process gives me 99% success rate. If later you want to reformat using the oem recovery partition to work out any bugs, you can.
    Also doing a fresh install using a disk/usb of win10 is a great idea to avoid all the bloatware that comes with oem devices (my personal recommendation).
    Hope this helps!
  • Don't know what went wrong with your machine, but that should not have happend. Clean installs are a pain in the neck and kills a lot of quality time.  MS should make clean installs easier by automatically reinstalling all Modern apps 
    (and give the user a chance to tick some off) 
    and MS also should reinstall MS Office, re-use Outlook settings and files etc.    
  • This is what I noticed as I had a similar problem. I have 2 copies of the OS. The SSD and the HDD clone. When I did the anniversary update is when I noticed the problem. Starting sometimes in Windows 10 or the anniversary windows is somehow finding all versions of the OS that are installed on all drives and running programs willy-nilly from the first x:\windows\ or x:\program data, etc folder that it finds. The order probably being how the disks are installed on the motherboard. Now, I keep the HDD offline ( do not assign a drive letter to the drive) to keep the SSD OS from runing the OS on the HDD. :( Yea, MS sucks.
  • Screws up cloning, writes article telling everyone how bad cloning is...
  • No dude, w10 is just buggy like that, I cloned on 8.1 and upgraded to 10 and it was fine then it was buggy and then redstone fixed it
  • Windows identifies hard drives by their GUID, which is why you must never leave both hard drives in the computer after cloning as it completely confuses windows. Even formatting will not help. You must use linux or any other tool to create a new dos mbr to wipe out the guid. Here is what happened to me. I got a brand new laptop with a 5400 drive like the OP. Clones it to a SSD, took out the 5400 drive and made the SSD the only drive. Everything worked perfectly, Windows worked without a hitch from the cloned drive. Then I plugged in the original 5400 drive on a usb caddy and warning bells went off on Windows saying duplicate driveID found. I tried to shut down the pc and it would not shut down. Forced power off, removed usb hdd, rebooted and it refused to boot with an invalid bootrec error. Had to fix it with system recovery and /fixbootrec option.
  • If there had been a disk identification error the machine wouldn't have booted and the error indicated a duplicate ID would have appeared as you stated. The tool that you used to clone was not properly designed to clone. Using a Linux "DD" command might cause this but that is a straight copy tool and not designed to do a proper windows clone.
  • Just read Omoronovo's post about using an intelligent cloning tool that will pretend UUID clash. +1
  • Good to know!!