[Cybertalk logo] Copyright (c) 1998 by Timothy C. Barmann. This article is intended for personal viewing only and may not be re-distributed in any form. Please e-mail link requests.

June 7, 1998

Replacing your hard drive:
Windows is not much help

By Timothy C. Barmann

If you're thinking about upgrading to Windows 98, you might also be thinking about making another upgrade -- getting a larger hard disk.

The new version of Microsoft's operating system, due in stores before June 25, takes up a lot of real estate -- some 200 megabytes of disk space for a typical installation.

My beta copy of Windows 98 was lying around for a few weeks because my three-year-old hard disk was too full to load it.

So, tempted by one of those rebate offers from CompUSA, I bought a 4.3-gigabyte hard drive to replace my 1.2-gigabyte drive. I thought the changeover would be relatively painless, since I had installed hard drives before. But I didn't know what I was in for.

First, my plan was to replace the new drive with my current one, make sure it was working properly, and then upgrade to Windows 98. But the directions that came with the hard drive presented the first roadblock. It said my version of Windows 95 did not support disk drives over 2.1 gigabytes.

I had installed one of the first versions of Windows 95, amid all the hype surrounding that product launch nearly three years ago. But a few months after its initial release, Microsoft quietly issued a newer version of Windows 95, often referred to as "OSR 2," only to computer manufacturers. It corrected a lot of bugs and made other improvements, including support for drives like my new one. Microsoft didn't offer an upgrade to OSR 2.

There were two options. One was to "partition" the drive. That is, divide it into two or more sections, and the computer would pretend each one was a separate hard drive. In other words, a single disk drive could have three partitions, and the computer would treat them as three different disk drives, called C, D and E. But my system already had a second drive called D, so that option would screw up all the references in Windows to programs already stored on the D drive.

(Later in my Web travels, I discovered a free utility from PC Magazine that addresses the reference problem. More information is below.)

The other option was to upgrade to Windows 98 first, and then install the new hard drive, since that operating system does support hard drives over 2.1 gigabytes. That seemed to be the way to go.

Then of course there was the chicken-and-egg problem. My current hard drive was full so I had to delete and transfer files to make enough space for Windows 98.

Fortunately, the upgrade was simpler and less eventful than that of Windows 95. But it wasn't without pain. The video driver didn't get installed properly, but that was rectified by reinstalling the software that came with the video card.

Next the new hard drive was plugged in to the computer and formatted according to the instructions that came with it.

Now the challenge: make a mirror image of everything on the current C drive and copy it to the new one. It seemed like a simple task, not much more difficult than duplicating a floppy disk, I figured.

Wrong. It seems you can't simply copy all the files from one hard disk to another using Explorer because Windows won't let you copy system files that are in use.

What next? I found an interesting program that sounded perfect: it's called "Ghost" and it makes a mirror copy of one hard drive onto another. After an hour of trying that, another glitch. The program did work as advertised. However, it divided the hard drive into two partitions -- just what I was trying to avoid.

Finally, a search through various Internet news groups yielded the solution. It wasn't pretty.

It came from Microsoft's Web site in the form of Article ID: Q166172, "Duplicating Windows 95 Installation to a New Hard Disk." The eight pages of instructions came with plenty of scary disclaimers: "The WARNING designation is placed before procedures in which a mistake in following instructions can cause serious data loss."

The instructions were convoluted and jumped back and forth between sections. Basically, the procedure Microsoft recommended was to back up your current hard drive, replace it with the new hard drive (which would still be empty), then reinstall Windows all over again. That detail was mentioned almost in passing in the instructions, but it requires an hour or more of sitting in front of the computer and answering silly questions like, What time zone are you in? This was ridiculous since I had already installed Windows 98.

After backing everything up, I plugged in the new drive. But before I could reinstall Windows, my CD-ROM drive no longer worked. I had to locate the original disk that came with the drive and reinstall that before the CD-ROM would function.

After Windows was once again installed, I restored the old data onto the new drive. Finally, success. After several hours of studying, formatting, partitioning, backing up and reinstalling, I had finally ended up pretty much where I started, except I had a whole lot more disk space.

After that experience, I have to scratch my head and wonder whether Microsoft could have dreamed up a better way. With hard drive prices lower than they've ever been and dropping, along with disk space-hungry Windows 98 coming out, more and more people are sure to be upgrading hard drives.

Microsoft likes to point out that its products have gotten better and cheaper over the past few years. That is true in many cases, but this is one example of a gaping hole in its flagship product.

Hard Disk upgrade help:

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.