I have an old 250gb hard drive thats kinda slow and i am looking to replace it for a bigger one, at least 500gb. I want to move everything (including OS,-vista-) to my new drive and was wondering the easiest way to do this. Seagate has a program, discwizard(http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/support/downloads/discwizard), you can download that makes an "image " of your current hard drive and transfers it to your new one(has to be a seagate drive though, i think). I would do this but it im not sure how reliable this is and it would mean i have to buy a seagate drive. So if anyone has any input on this program or just another way to transfer all my stuff to the new hard drive, it would be appreciated.
Western Digital has a utility to do this also, their "Data Lifeguard Tools." The new drive generally needs to be by the same manufacturer as the utility, but the old can be anything.
I just used the WD program to transfer my primary drive to a new Velociraptor, and it worked perfectly.
I've used the seagate software that came with the new drive. It's the acronis program and it works amazingly well. I was leery at first and went out and bought a copy of Acronis true image prior to buying the new drive just to make sure I didn't lose my data. After buying the drive, I discovered that the CD that came with the drive was in fact a version of what I had purchased. I had absolutely no problem except that it doesn't clone partitions to the exact same size if the new drive is larger.
Some say that a fresh install of OS and programs is the best bet but you be the judge of your situation.
edit: I realized that I didn't actually answer your question about the downloaded version. The times I've used the downloaded version, it had to be transferred to a bootable disk. but I saw no difference from that one and the version that came with the drive. I've only used it on seagate drives so don't know if it works for other brands.
Buying the "retail version" of a new HDD usually gets you three things more than the "OEM version": maybe some cables, an installation booklet and a CD of software utilities. Those latter usually include something specifically for this situation - you want to migrate absolutely everything from old drive to new and set the new drive to take over as the boot device.
However, you don't have to go that route. As others have said, Acronis can do this, and their trial freebie is available. But both Seagate and WD make their software available for download from their websites for FREE anyway - you just have to load it onto something. And, they set it up so the utilities will only make the copy TO one of their drives, don't care where it comes from. I am sure other HDD makers have similar utility packages for free, too, on their websites.
I've used Seagate's Disk Wizard, works flawlessly and easy. If you have a brand new system it must be installed on some bootable removable medium like a floppy or CD. Warning, though, for one special situation. To use HDD's over 128 GB you need 48-bit LBA support, and that means having the right OS version. Since a bootable CD version of Disk Wizard cannot know what your OS WILL be after it is installed to your blank new HDD, it will assume you do NOT have this ability and refuse to make a Parition over 128 GB.
However, in your case you already have an OS installed and running preoperly on the old HDD, and you are migrating to a new one. In that case the best idea is to install the downloaded utility package to your existing hard drive. Then it knows all about your OS. You run it from there - see, no need for a floppy - and it will make your clone to the new drive. Just make sure you tell it you want the new drive to be bootable. When that's done you shut down, swap some HDD cables around so the new one is connected to the port designated in BIOS for the boot device, and away you go!
Hint: in Seagate Disk Wizard (and maybe others), at the first stage of setting up your new drive with a boot partition, somewhere in the menus you can make a choice about its size. By default it will offer to make one volume using the whole disk, but you can choose a smaller partition to create for the clone. Later you can come back and allocate the unused space to another partion if you want to. Your choice.