How do I copy C drive to another drive?

Why You May Want to Copy Your C Drive

There are several common reasons why you may want to copy your C drive to another drive:

Backups – Copying your C drive is a way to create a full backup of your operating system, programs, settings, and files. Having a current backup allows you to restore your entire system if needed due to drive failure, malware, or other issues. Backups are essential for protecting your data and productivity (Wikipedia, 2022).

Migrating to a new drive – If you want to upgrade to a larger or faster hard drive, cloning your original C drive to the new drive allows you to easily transfer your system without having to reinstall Windows and programs. Disk cloning migrates everything to the new drive (EaseUS, 2022).

Cloning boot drive – You may want an identical copy of your bootable C drive that you can swap in as needed, allowing you to quickly restore your system to a previous state.

What You’ll Need

To copy your C drive to an external drive, you’ll need the following:

External drive: This will be the destination drive where you copy your C drive to. The external drive needs to have enough storage capacity to hold the contents of your C drive. Popular options include external HDDs or SSDs connected via USB, Thunderbolt, or eSATA.

Enough storage space: Your external drive needs to have at least the same amount of storage space as the data on your C drive you want to copy. If your C drive is 1TB, you’ll want an external drive with 1TB or more. Check the used and free space on your C drive first.

Admin access: To copy system files and installed programs from your C drive, you’ll need admin access to your computer.

Cables/adapters: Have the necessary cables, dongles or adapters ready to connect your external drive to your computer. This could be a USB, Thunderbolt, eSATA cable or adapter if your external drive uses a different interface than your computer.

Prepare the Destination Drive

Before copying your C drive, you’ll need to prepare the destination drive properly. The most important step is to format the drive. Formatting erases all existing data on the drive and prepares it to store the copied data from your C drive.

To format the drive on Windows 10 or 11:
1. Connect the external drive to your computer via USB, Thunderbolt, or other connection.
2. Open File Explorer and right-click the external drive.
3. Click “Format…”
4. In the Format dialog, choose NTFS as the file system.
5. Check the Quick Format box to format the drive more quickly.
6. Click Start to begin formatting.

After formatting, you may also need to create partitions on the destination drive to match your original C drive setup. Use the Disk Management utility to create and resize partitions as needed. Make sure to leave enough unallocated space for copying all the data from the C drive.

With the external drive properly formatted and partitioned, you are now ready to begin copying your C drive.


Use Backup Software

Backup software provides a straightforward way to clone your C drive to another drive. Popular options include:

Acronis True Image – This disk cloning software allows you to create an exact copy of your C drive and transfer it to another drive. Key benefits include scheduled backups, disk imaging, and the ability to clone an entire drive or just partitions. Acronis is known for its reliability and ease of use (url).

EaseUS Todo Backup – With its simple interface, EaseUS makes it easy to clone your C drive or specific partitions. It can clone drives while Windows is running and supports incremental backups. Reviewers praise it as one of the best free drive cloning tools (url).

Macrium Reflect – This affordable software offers drive cloning and imaging for both Windows and Linux systems. You can verify images for integrity and restore full systems or individual files. Users like its intuitive workflow and reliability for regular backups (url).

Overall, trusted backup software gives you an automated way to duplicate your C drive to another location for redundancy or when upgrading your hard drive. Look for features like scheduling, compression, verification, and ease of use when selecting software.

Use Disk Imaging Software

Disk imaging software allows you to make an exact sector-by-sector copy of a disk or partition, including the operating system, installed programs, settings, and files, and compress it into a single image file. This image file can then be restored or cloned to another drive.

Disk imaging is useful for creating backups or migrating your system to a new drive. The entire disk contents are copied in one step with minimal user intervention. Popular free disk imaging tools include Clonezilla and Macrium Reflect.

To use disk imaging software to copy your C drive:

  • Download and install the disk imaging software.
  • Attach the destination drive to copy the image to.
  • Boot into the disk imaging software or open the tool.
  • Select the C drive partition as the source.
  • Select the destination drive as the target.
  • Click clone or copy to start the process.
  • The software will create an image file of the C drive and copy it to the destination drive.

Disk imaging enables cloning drives rapidly. However, the destination drive needs enough storage capacity for the full image file. Overall, disk imaging is an efficient way to duplicate your C drive contents.

Copy Files Manually

If you just need to copy specific files or folders from your C drive to the external drive, you can do it manually without any special software.

Here are the steps to copy files manually in Windows:

  1. Open File Explorer and navigate to the files or folders you want to copy on your C drive.
  2. Select the files/folders, right-click and choose Copy.
  3. Open the external drive in File Explorer.
  4. Right-click in an empty space and choose Paste to copy the files/folders to the external drive.
  5. You can also drag and drop files/folders from one drive to another instead of using copy/paste.

This manual method works well for copying specific files, but can be tedious if you need to transfer the entire contents of your C drive.

For a full C drive clone, specialized disk cloning software is recommended instead.

Transfer Installed Programs

When copying your C drive to a new drive, one challenge is dealing with the installed programs. Many programs store data in the Windows registry during installation, so simply copying the program files may not be enough.

One option is to reinstall all your programs on the new drive. However, this can be time consuming and you may lose custom settings. A better option is to try transferring the installed programs directly.

To transfer installed programs between drives on Windows 10 or 11:[1]

  1. Press the Windows key and click on Settings.
  2. Click on System, then Apps & Features to view all installed apps and their installation size.
  3. For each app you want to move, click the “Move” button and select the new drive.
  4. Windows will move the program files to the new drive and update the registry with the new file paths.

Some programs may not transfer properly or may require reactivation. Do some testing after moving programs to ensure they still function correctly. You may need to reinstall some programs or contact the software vendor for assistance.

Overall, transferring installed programs directly can save a lot of time compared to clean installs on the new drive. Just be prepared to troubleshoot issues for programs that don’t transfer smoothly.


Transfer User Accounts

When copying your C drive to a new drive, you’ll want to properly transfer over user accounts and their associated files and settings. This ensures each user on the computer retains their custom configurations.

To transfer a user profile from one Windows installation to another, use the User State Migration Tool (USMT). This utility captures user accounts along with files, settings, and permissions and allows them to be restored on the new drive.

Run the USMT scanstate command on the original drive to gather user profiles and files. Then run the loadstate command on the new drive to import them. This will recreate each user account with their documents, desktop layout, browser favorites, and other customizations intact. Permissions for accessing files and folders will be preserved as well.

See this Microsoft guide for details on utilizing the User State Migration Tool to properly transfer user accounts and profiles when migrating or copying your Windows system drive.

Tweak Windows Settings

After copying your C drive, you may need to tweak some Windows settings to reflect the new drive location. Here are some things to check:

Update drive letter, default locations, permissions

One of the most important things is to make sure the new drive has the correct drive letter assigned in Disk Management. Typically, your Windows C drive is drive letter C. If the new drive shows up as something else, you can change it in Disk Management.

You’ll also want to verify that folders like My Documents point to the correct drive. To check, open File Explorer and right-click on My Documents. Select Properties and check the location path.

Finally, make sure you have full admin permissions to access the new drive contents. Go to the Security tab in the drive Properties dialog and confirm your user account has full control.

Making these simple tweaks can prevent issues down the road when using the copied drive as your new system drive.

Verify the Copy

After completing the copy process, it’s crucial to thoroughly test and validate the cloned drive before relying on it. Here are some recommended steps:

First, check for any errors or warnings reported by your cloning software. Many programs like Macrium Reflect provide verification to check for bad sectors or other issues with the cloned drive. Carefully review any logs.

Next, try booting your computer directly from the cloned drive, without the original connected. This will validate that the clone is bootable and has all the necessary components transferred over. If booting is successful, proceed to validate files and programs.

Browse through the file explorer and spot check folders to ensure your personal files and data copied over properly without corruption or errors. Also open and test any installed programs to see they run correctly.

Finally, you can use a disk checking utility like Chkdsk to scan the cloned drive and validate the integrity of the file system and structure. Running chkdsk /f can help identify and repair any problems if found.

Following these verification steps will ensure your cloned drive is working properly before relying on it as your main system drive.