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Restoring to a smaller drive is, unfortunately, difficult to do with most backup software. I list the steps necessary to get the job done.

Hi, Leo, I recently broke my hard drive. A 750 GB drive. I made a full system image using the Windows backup utility. The data on the drive was about 150 GB. I would like to recover the image to an SSD drive 250 GB but Windows says that the target drive is too small. Is there any way to do this?

In this excerpt from Answercast #30, I look at the difficulties involved in getting a large boot drive restored to a smaller drive.

Restoring to a smaller drive

Not easily. And apparently, this is the place where a number of different backup utilities actually stumble.

I had this exact same scenario; this exact same problem with Acronis several years ago. Windows backup, unfortunately, is not particularly flexible; so it doesn't really surprise me that this kind of scenario would happen.

Disk size matters

Even though you only have 150 GB of data in your backup: the fact that the partition is a different size and the fact that the partition is a smaller size, will often prevent backup software from restoring to that smaller partition.

Here's, unfortunately, what I suggest you do instead:

  • Get another hard drive;

  • Get one that is a regular hard drive;

  • Set that up on your system somehow (it can be an external drive; that's fine);

  • Make sure it's at least 750 GB or bigger;

  • Restore the data to that.

  • In fact, restore it as if that were going to be the boot drive (it's not going to be, but restore as if it were.)

  • Then using Windows partition management tools, resize that partition down to something smaller than 250 GB (you only have 150 GB of data.)

Partition management

The Windows partition management tools should be able to resize that partition to something less than 250 GB.

  • Then you can back it up again.

  • Now, you should be able to restore to your target SSD.

I go through all of these machinations using the backup software because it's a system drive. Because, it's probably the drive you're gonna want to boot from. Unfortunately, simply copying the files (which is something that you might be tempted to do) isn't going to copy all of the files necessary for the system to actually be bootable.

So that's why we step through this with a backup program.

Reliable backup

Finally, I'm going to strongly recommend that you not do that backup and restore that I suggested using Windows backup.

  • I strongly suggest that you go out and get a copy of Macrium Reflect and use it to do the additional backup and restore.

In other words:

  • Restore what you have now to a larger drive using Windows backup;

  • Then, resize that drive or resize that partition;

  • Then, back it up using Macrium Reflect;

  • And restore it to your SSD using Macrium Reflect.

Macrium is going to be much more flexible, much more forgiving, and to be honest has much better support than Windows backup, when you go through this process.

That's what I would do.

If this were anything other than a system drive, I would simply restore the image somewhere else that had enough room (that was big enough for the Windows backup to work) and then I'd copy the files. But, because this is a system drive, and because it does have things like boot sectors, and probably a hidden partition or two, I recommend you go through this extra step of backing it up and restoring it again.

Article C5527 - June 28, 2012 « »

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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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2 Comments
ddbrownell
June 29, 2012 7:49 PM

Leo,
I struggled with the same scenario for 2 weeks before I was able to successfully clone my Windows 7 installation. My 640 GB hard drive has 4 partitions: PQservice (9.7 GB, hidden, recovery for Vista), Windows 7 boot partition (100 MB, no-letter, system, boot), C: partition 40GB active, non-boot (Windows 7, programs, etc.), and D: data partition, approx 545 GB. This drive is actually a third generation clone from my original 160 GB laptop hard drive. I finally succeeded by following a guide by GroverH which uses TrueImage Home 2012 to do a partition by partition restore. I only wanted the 100MB system boot partition and C: drive partitions cloned to my 120 GB SSD. After cloning, I had to do a Windows 7 repair to get the SSD to boot. Then I used GParted Live to realign the first partition to the 1 MB boundary and extend the C: partition to fill the entire drive. All of this to clone only about 25GB of files! It was definitely a learning experience!

My advice to anyone else attempting to do this: Do a fresh Windows 7 install, which will automatically align the partition boundary. Restore from backup any needed programs and data.

Regards, Don

Vatsal Goswami
July 3, 2012 10:43 AM

Leo that (reply article) was really bold of you and it actually makes me cry out of happiness to know that I trust such an honest and awesome guy!

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