Disk and PC Swap Without Reinstalling Windows

The objectives

I wanted to move my Windows and all other software m my old PC to a new one, with new motherboard and everything else. I just did not want to reinstall Windows, and all of other software, so there began my quest. I wanted also to move to a larger hard disk, since I was buying a new PC with all entailing new hardware, and also because my old hard drive would breakdown one day very soon so was I thinking.

My first hurdle

How to go about it? Well, my first approach was to just clone my hard disk and move it to new PC. I am from the era of Windows 95/98, when one could just get way with cloning a hard disk. With Windows 98 and earlier, at start up Windows would ask for hardware drivers, and one would just update these drivers. To my disgust, I found that one cannot do it anymore with Windows XP, upwards. Windows XP, upwards, would not start, i.e. it crashes in new environment!

Why Windows crashes?

In my quest for solution/solutions, I read lots of junk on the Web, like partially reinstall Windows, play with the registry, format your hard disk, reinstall everything, and God knows what else. Nobody seemed to know something that is obvious, and that is if hard disk (e.g. cloned hard disk) moves to another system, the Windows operating system is in fact at a loss, it just does not know where it is, and when it finally controls the disk from BIOS, it crashes.

Making the Windows install platform-agnostic

The following is totally copy-and-paste from the solution on Internet that worked. Source:http://wp.me/p114TB-1P

To begin with, we need to move the system to a more generic set of platform drivers. The first place to start is in the XP control panel Add and Remove Programs, or on Vista, Programs and Features, where we’ll remove the relevant motherboard drivers. For example, those on nForce-based boards will be removing “NVIDIA Drivers”, those on ATI, can use ATI’s handy “ATI Software Uninstaller” (which will also try to get rid of anything else with a name starting with ‘ATI’, including third party utilities), while Intel and VIA users get their own platform software entries, assuming the vendor software is installed of course.

Once that reboot is out of the way (oh, you’ll be doing a fair amount of rebooting) launch Device Manager (devmgmt.msc), and replace your onboard storage controller with “Standard Dual Channel PCI IDE Controller,” or similar, as shown in Figure 1 below. If it is not listed with the Show compatible hardware checkbox filled, your system may not survive this process unless the new motherboard is from the same chipset vendor.

Figure 1

If you’re still on an AGP system, you’ll want to knock out your AGP drivers in the same manner, but this time the driver to install is “PCI standard PCI-to-PCI bridge”.

Now if you’re on an Intel board, you’ll need to enable Show Hidden Devices from the menu, and have a look in the new tree which appeared: “Non-Plug and Play Devices”. There are two drivers known to cause problems, ‘IntelIDE’ and ‘IntelPPM’, so you will need to uninstall them.

At this stage you may also want to remove your video drivers, since they’ll likely need reinstalling anyway.

Reboot your system for the driver changes to take effect. Now your system is platform agnostic, you could take the hard disk out and put it pretty much anywhere. The one caveat is that you can’t change where the HD logically is, so if you take a HD from the Primary channel (Yes, SATA can still appear to have Secondary and Primary, so check which one your HD is on) to the Secondary, it still won’t work. Most will have it as SATA0 or Primary Master/ Transfer this placement exactly to the new motherboard. If you get a boot problem after performing your motherboard swap, this is the very first place to look.

Now power down and do what needs doing, namely the hardware installation.

Bringing Windows up on the new hardware

Still with us? System booting into Windows? Good, it should be, but if it isn’t, you should boot your Knoppix Live or whatever you use for hardware diagnostics, and check your CPU and RAM. If it still won’t boot, run the repair from your OS CD. If your problem is specifically with a 0x7B blue screen (and only a 0x7B), then it likely isn’t a hardware fault.

After logging on, Windows will complain about drivers, and it will install some automatically. Cancel every one you get the opportunity to cancel. There’s no technical reason to, but it will make this next part a bit cleaner and simpler for you. You’ll next need to be in a special mode of Device Manager, where devices that aren’t installed but do have drivers installed can be shown. From a command prompt, enter the text exactly as shown:


set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1
start devmgmt.msc

In Device Manager, enable Show Hidden Devices as before, and have a look in the various trees. You may be surprised at how much stuff is faded or ghosted out. Delete everything you recognize as a hardware device which is either faded or ghosted out, but leave USB devices alone (see note). Don’t touch anything under “Non-Plug and Play Devices.” There are also some media drivers in “Sound, video and game controllers” that you should leave alone in there. Be very sure that all you’re removing is an actual ghosted hardware device, that you either have or have had, and not a Windows internal driver. The same applies to System Devices, though these are usually branded, so very easy to tell apart.

Note: USB devices are reinstalled on a per-root basis, so it is perfectly normal to see them more than once in any list with Device Manager in this mode.

After yet another reboot, start hitting vendor websites for your latest drivers. You may, of course, need to take the Ethernet drivers off the motherboard’s software disc to get online. You know how to install drivers by now; install what you need.

That’s all you need to do.

In closing, let me stress that with the coming of AHCI based SATA devices, this procedure will become far more system-specific. The reason is that XP doesn’t have generic AHCI drivers, though such drivers are possible. For such systems, we recommend you use the Microsoft method. Though this method will still leave you with all the ghosted items in Device Manager, can still be interrupted by drivers which need to be uninstalled, and will remove all your service packs and hotfixes beyond what is on the OS media, it is quite a bit more reliable, and will tolerate more esoteric system setups.

Obligatory disclaimers

There’s also the stock disclaimer to take into mind. While at Ars (ote from me: the source of this part of this post) we take great measures to make sure we’re not spewing drivel, your particular system may not react predictably, and we can’t accept any blame for that. For the love of all you consider holy, at least have an up-to-date backup to rely on. We will also assume you know the ins and outs of installing, changing, and removing device drivers from the Device Manager. And don’t forget to do all the other things you’d normally do when performing a rebuild, such as updating your Knoppix Live CD, in case you need to do emergency diagnostics. If you’re not comfortable with this at any stage, use the Microsoft link above (it’s safer), but remove the platform drivers first, as they have been shown to interrupt an OS reinstall across motherboards on at least VIA systems.

It also should be pointed out that this brief how-to is Windows XP-centric. So Vista users, your mileage may vary.

The conclusions

I’ve followed the above guidelines, kindness of John Stokes and have worked in very diverse, and different system changes. The solution is obvious: when one installs a fresh Windows, it asks for hardware drivers, as it comes in close touch with them. One install drivers, and Windows should operate smoothly. Most of problems we face are, in fact, incompatibilities, i.e. bad programming of softwares we install, though Windows and Mr Bill Gates are, in my opinion, no innocent bystanders.

I hope this brief post will help those who want to do what I ended up doing, i.e. move to a bigger hard disk and a new PC containing new motherboard, and all other new hardware.

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About Tayeb

Electronics engineer, part-time webmaster and owner of "Aliatron", a tech-oriented company registered in Portugal and Mozambique.
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