Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

When replacing a motherboard you can almost certainly use your hard disks, the question is how much additional work and configuration you might need.

If I get a new motherboard for my computer, can I use the hard drives that I have with it? From what I've read, I expect the current C drive operating system won't work with a new motherboard, but if I installed the operating system on my current D drive, and used that as the new C drive, would it work, or would I be risking the information on the drive? (I really don't want to lose all my pictures!) I would then want to put my current C drive in as my new D drive, and delete the old OS off that. Also would the programs get confused as to what drive they are on?

The short answer is yes you can probably do what you're suggesting. In fact, it's one way I'd probably approach the problem myself.

But we also need to set some expectations about what it is you'll have when you're done.

First, if you get the exact same motherboard as a replacement you can probably just avoid the issue complete. Chance are you can just plug C: into C:, D: into D: and things will likely just work.

If you have a different motherboard (replacement is always a good time for an upgrade :-), or you just want to play it safe, then plugging your new drive in as C: and your old C: drive in as D: makes a lot of sense, and will in all probability work just fine.

You'll install Windows onto your new drive, and once done everything that was on your old C: drive will appear on your new D:. Very handy, and you should be able to copy those pictures off with no problem.

But you raise a good issue: everything may not be what you expect.

Yes, your programs will be very confused. For one thing, since you've installed Windows from scratch onto your new drive, the programs will no longer be "installed". They'll be present on the D: drive, but they'll no longer appear in the Start menu. If you do manage to locate and run one of the programs, it's likely that it'll fail since all of its settings that were kept in the Windows registry are no longer in the registry of the newly installed Windows. Temporary locations or other support files that are part of setting up a program are, effectively, wiped out with a clean install of Windows.

"... since you've installed Windows from scratch onto your new drive, the programs will no longer be 'installed'."

The files will still be on the D: drive, but Windows, and the application, will have lost track of them.

Now, there are applications out there that you can purchase that claim to be able to "move" installed programs from one computer to another, or from one hard disk to another. Because of the complexity involved in doing so reliably, I'm somewhat skeptical - but it's skepticism born of ignorance, as I've not tried such a utility. Yet. I do have a copy of one of the more reputable programs on my shelf for evaluation later this year.

Without such a utility, the solution is to reinstall all of your applications from their initial install CDs. In my opinion that's one of the most reliable approaches you can take. It is a bit of work - but once done, you have not only a fresh, clean install of Windows, but the same for all of the applications you chose to reinstall.

Once the applications have been reinstalled, you can copy over data files from your old drive and be on your way.

We're not done! I can't let this go without this comment: You're not backing up, and you should be.

If you have important things on your hard drive that you don't want to lose and they're only on that hard drive - you're taking a huge risk. Some day that hard disk might die - without warning, and without recovery. You could easily lose everything that's on it. I strongly recommend you take this opportunity to invest in a backup strategy that will cover your assets in case of a disaster scenario.

Article C2814 - October 18, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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16 Comments
Ken
October 19, 2006 7:23 AM

I have replaced motherboards and kept the hard drive many times over the years without any problems.

Well, one "minor" problem with an easy workaround. The first time you boot to Windows (assuming this is a Windows system, given the references to "C:" and "D:"), it will probably detect new hardware and will want to install new drivers off the Windows CD. Unfortunately, I have had motherboard upgrades where this "insert the Windows CD" prompt occurs _before_ the CD drivers are loaded, causing a nice Catch 22 situation.

To get around this, I make a "\windows.cd" directory on the hard drive, and copy the Windows install CD there _before_ installing the new motherboard. Then, simply tell the new hardware wizard to look there, rather than the CD drive itself.

Vic
October 22, 2006 7:20 PM

Well, some days before I have read something about copying windows registry, specially "\...\WAB", and "\system32" directory. After that I supposed was told to get some "merge program", and run it including these two situations. The issue was making ourselves a new computer and tranfer the windows serial to the new one, including hard disks and keep them ok. Might be good discoussing these options ? Something good to keep from this?
Vic

pammii
October 31, 2006 5:42 PM

I've got a client that has had their mobo and cpu fried, so ive replaced both those, but here is where the problem lies, they did not back up their system and would like to keep everything the way it was on the old hdd without reformatting and losing all data and programs installed (as they do not have the original install files for these programs). My question is (as i know the old xp pro hdd will not boot with new system) i've already run the repair install and recovery console, but to no avail, it gets stuck un the boot loop like many others. But, i have built my own machine with the same system (mobo and cpu) with a clean xp pro install which does not have any programs or devices installed.... could i swap the start up files to the old hdd with the same mobo and cpu to get it started to detect all the new drivers and keep programs and data etc. and if so, what files would i need to replace on the old hdd from my clean hdd? (ive already tried everything i can think of and this popped into mind) btw, i cannot boot into safe mode on the old hdd to remove the drivers so windows will pick them up on repair for the new mobo. and the system when boots in safe mode will hang on 'gagp30kx.sys' which i assume is the video card? or failing that, how would i go about deleting the drivers that try to boot using recovery console. sorry for the long question, im just at that stage where ive been over and over with this thing for days and becoming a zombie. cheers and thanks in advance, pammii.

Skandi Franksen
November 3, 2006 8:45 PM

Linux. Many distributions available, free for the price of downloading and burning it.
I swapped a SATA HD and Grafx card into a fully functional system. Windows would not go. Linux go'ed. Writing this while hunting down a way to make Windows go (for one game only, once I'm done with it I reformat and say goodbye to Windows on my personal boxes).
Why is it so easy to--and get this, hot plug a hard drive into your mobo--change hardware on other OSs while the leading OS supplier's software costs so many man-hours to change? Motherboards' lifespans are finite--not that they die, always, but c'mon, the technology changes.

dave
November 8, 2006 4:21 AM

Hi Leo, My, Motherboard has failed me, and I have important data on my HDD(which has windowsxp installed), when I put it in another computer, it just makes a blinking sound and I get the message 'Cannot read HDD'. Is there anything I can do to use this HDD again?

arlie
July 2, 2007 10:05 AM

A local competent builder is assembling a new machine for me. New: motherboard; new boxed version XPpro; new HD. Old: XPpro; 2 HD; several Autocad,Catia & Solidworks programs. How to transfer to the new machine? I realize this is already partially answered in your column but the "devil" is in the details! Specific questions are best when all details are given. Some friends advise Magic Mover. That seems to out of date. I am in no hurry to lose programs. This seems to be a common task, as 2 other of this builder's customer's are attempting to do the same task. Also I have no agreement on partitioning of the new HD. How many partitions of what size? I have about 20 gig of cad type programs now.

Rkidkool3
November 28, 2008 8:52 AM

If all you have is the hdd that already has windows installed, and no cd or new hdd can this be done

David
May 1, 2009 1:12 AM

I have a related question and comment:

I agree - many times, if you just move your hard drive from one machine to another and boot up, it may likely fail.

My question is this: could it be done if all drives for the NEW machine are installed prior to moving the hard drive, will it work? And if it works, can you dual boot?

Aravind
December 1, 2009 5:58 AM

hi leo,
I am baout to replace my motherboard. At present I have windows7 installed in C and many other imp info
in the other hard disks. will all the information get erased when i replace my existing motherboard with a new one? if so is there any chance in which i can keep all my information as well as the OS intact?

thanks.

Backup everything first. It's possible that you will need to reinstall Windows.
Leo
01-Dec-2009

Sage
December 2, 2009 8:30 AM

ATTENTION!!! I just bought (Dec 1, 09) a brand new HP Pavillion and opened it up (was no warranty tape on it) to move my E drive from my old computer over (has all my pictures and music) and the new Hard Drive and Motherbord have a completely NEW setup! New style of cables, power and data for HDD, and no place on the motherboard to plug in the ribbon connector from my old HDD! Has a place for a floppy ribbon (34 pin block - FDD) but NOT a 40 pin IDE block! Don't understand their mentality (industry forcing everyone to buy new hard drives =$$$$ I suppose). My old Motherboard has a physical problem and wont run. I guess I can plug my old HDD into a friends computer and tranfer it all to a newly bought new style HDD(like to keep this data off the same HDD as my OS). Any way of using the 34 pin Floppy block? Is there a card I can plug into a PCI slot and connect to? Can my HDD be converted to an external drive that uses a USB or other connector? ***ANY thoughts or suggestion wouid be greatly appreciated***

Get yourself an external USB enclosure for the IDE drive - they're available at most places like Fry's or even Amazon. Cheap, and very flexible. New computers these days are using SATA drives, which are typically faster, though a different interface.
Leo
03-Dec-2009

Roger
February 14, 2010 2:53 PM

My problem is slightly different. I have new motherboard not as the same as my dead motherboard. I don't have OS CD just the recovery CD because the OS is pre-installed in my pc. Thus the old HDD has the Windows XP MCE. Will the Windows work with the new motherboard if I install it and start the pc with this configuration? Please help, I don't have a pc now.

steven
June 30, 2010 11:04 AM

If you can't buy online, your only choice seems to be Best Buy. By the way, if you try to replace an IDE with a SATA, be prepared to buy a cable, too. That bumped the $34.99 drive to $54.99. To Roger, you were required to burn your own windows recovery disk before the computer died. Product activation prevents you from moving it to a new computer. Note, the recovery took hours on my HP. It read the info at 1X speed.

Steve Campbell
November 8, 2010 3:03 PM

My mobo has failed and I will need a new one with different CPU and RAM.

I have 3 hard disks, all SATA ll drives.:
C – System OS and programs only
D – Data
F – a 1.5 GB disk I use for multiple drive images and data backups. All my data is safe….

My CD drive has a full retail edition of Windows 7 Home 32 bit installed.

1/. Surely the Win7 installation should work, although reactivation would be necessary? What could there be on the hard disk (a WD Raptor) that would be so mobo specific?

2/. If I have to reinstall can I reinstall with the 64 bit disk supplied in the retail Win7 box rather than using the 32 bit one I did last time? Or will I fall foul of some arcane MS licensing stricture?

Thanks.

David
October 3, 2011 3:29 PM

I've put the OLD drive in as D: in the new computer, and since it was the system drive before it has /program files and /windows directories that I want to delete. It also has a directory named with a random number inside of which is are /AMD and /386i directories. I can't delete these! I cannot change their properties to remove the "read only" attribute. How best to free up these disk areas?
Thanks in advance.

Mark J
October 3, 2011 10:40 PM

@David
Here's an article on Ask Leo which explains how to get access to files which windows had blocked you from accessing.
http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_gain_access_to_files_that_windows_says_i_dont_have_permission_to_access.html

answerbykamrul
October 17, 2011 7:52 PM

BY Using your old hard drives will not harm your new computer at all. According to me you need not to inc rease your computer hard disk as 320GB is a lot. But i would recommend you to format your windows after renewing your computer and get another OS.......

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE VISIT: http://www.techyv.com/questions/use-old-hard-drives-new-motherboard#comment-33612

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