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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Logical Structures and File Systems | Disk Partitioning and Formatting Programs ]

Partition Copying Utilities (Drive Copy, etc.)

One of the major weaknesses of the Microsoft operating systems is the lack of a reliable, efficient mechanism for copying the entire contents of a hard disk volume   from one disk to another. This is an essential requirement for those who are upgrading to a new hard disk, or perhaps replacing a disk that is in the process of failing.  Back in the "good old days" of DOS, it was possible to just copy an entire disk volume file-by-file, using a simple utility. If you did this correctly, there was every reason to expect that the new disk would function properly. Today, however, with long file names, the use of swap files and the Windows registry, it is no longer possible to safely copy a partition from one disk to another file-by-file. I discuss the problems with this in my article entitled Xcopy Xposed. You can copy data files one at a time, but to properly move an entire operating system installation from one hard disk to another, you must copy the entire partition sector by sector, at a low level.

One way to accomplish this task is to use a third-party partitioning program such as Partition Magic. However, such a utility is rather expensive, and if you are just doing a one-time hard disk upgrade, you don't really need all the facilities it provides. Instead, you can purchase a partition copying utility, such as the Drive Copy product by PowerQuest (the makers of Partition Magic). This program is basically Partition Magic greatly stripped down in capability. It will let you make a sector-by-sector copy of one or more hard disk partitions from one hard disk to another. It also automatically resizes partitions if the source and target hard disks are of different sizes. With the reduced capabilities comes a reduced price, of course, which is how this product can co-exist with its "big brother", Partition Magic, in the utility software market.

These copying utilities are fairly simple, and pretty easy to use. Most of the warnings that relate to partitioning utilities don't really apply to these programs, as they don't generally change any existing data, just copy it to a new location. The only caveat I would give about something like Drive Copy is this: make sure you really need it before you make your purchase. Many hard disk manufacturers now include a program with their hard disks that will do what Drive Copy does--they include it as a courtesy to their customers. It may be more limited, but it might just do the job for you and save you a few dollars over buying another piece of software.

Note: You can also use drive imaging utilities to copy partitions, though this is generally going to be less efficient due to it being a two-step process: you must create the image on one disk, and then restore it on the other.

Next: Drive Imaging Utilities (Drive Image, Norton Ghost, etc.)

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