Situation: You’re going to upgrade your primary hard drive to something bigger, better and faster – however the primary hard drive is obviously what holds your operating system.

So now you’re faced with a choice.

  1. Reinstall the operating system on the new drive and reinstall all your apps.
  2. Use drive imaging software to copy everything from the old drive to the new one.

Hardware-HardDrive-256x256As most people who use computers know, you can’t just copy/paste an operating system from one drive to another. It would be really cool if you could do that, but at present we can’t and most likely never will be able to.

There and disadvantages to both methods.

OS Reinstall

It’s most likely true that the OS you’ll be reinstalling is Windows XP.

The advantages of this OS reinstall are:

  1. Your system will be super-fast because any “leftovers” from all the software you uninstalled over the years won’t be there. Your system registry will be “clean”.
  2. If there were any viruses, malware or spyware you couldn’t get rid of in your previous installation, that stuff definitely won’t be there on the fresh install.
  3. Device driver “leftovers” from the stuff you used to have (old printers, old digital cameras, etc.) won’t be there.

The disadvantages are:

  1. You have to reinstall all your device drivers for the stuff you have. This could be a long list including everything from video drivers to printer drivers, etc.
  2. You have to reinstall all your apps. This is also a long list and will take time.
  3. Two words: Windows Update.

Things you can do to make an OS reinstall a whole lot easier (and faster):

  • If you have a brand-name PC like Dell, write down the service tag number (physically printed on the box), head to support.dell.com, punch that tag in, download all your drivers and burn them to CD. When you reinstall the OS you’ll have all the necessary system drivers at the ready without the need to connect to the internet (which may not work until you get the drivers installed).
  • For custom-build boxes, download the drivers you need and burn to CD before OS reinstall. For example, if you have an nVidia video card, head over to www.nvidia.com and download the latest driver set installation file.
  • For all the apps that you use that were downloaded, burn all those to CD or DVD.
  • For all the software you have that is on CD/DVD, get all these together and have them ready before you do your OS install.
  • Make sure the software/drivers you need are on CD/DVD and not USB stick. The reason is because your computer on OS reinstall may not have your USB ports working until you install the drivers you need first. Being that your CD/DVD drive is auto-detected by Windows it doesn’t require any external driver installation 99% of the time.

Drive Imaging

In order to push the data on a hard drive that has a complete OS install to a new one to make an exact copy, you need drive imaging software to do it.

My first experience with drive imaging software was with Norton Ghost and it worked well. However some think TrueImage by Acronis is much better. And then there are others who think the free way is the only way to do things. The choice of how you image a drive is up to you.

Here are the advantages to drive imaging:

  1. Everything is copied exactly as it was, exactly as you left it.
  2. No driver reinstalls and no updates necessary.
  3. It’s faster than doing an OS reinstall.

The disadvantages are:

  1. Everything is copied exactly as it was, exactly the way you left it – including all the “leftovers” from the software you uninstalled over the years, registry anomalies.. etc.
  2. There is no speed advantage even if the drive is faster because the OS still has a bunch of crap on it.
  3. You need to copy the image of the drive somewhere – and you simply may not have the space – or the copy may fail.

Things you can do to make drive imaging easier and faster:

  • If there’s anything on your existing installation you can get rid of via Add/Remove that you don’t mind losing, do it.
  • Defrag the drive.
  • Close everything (or as much as you can) before starting the imaging process.

Which one sounds better to you?

Given the choice, which would you pick? OS reinstall or drive image?