Is it possible to just copy my Windows installation from the old hdd to the new hdd and all go well?
How would you go about this procedure?
If you have an external hard drive or something of that sort and a dvd burner you should be able to back up an image (using windows 7 or another program) then a burn a windows repair disk, then recover that image onto your new HDD.
However you need an external HDD and dvd burner for this method, and I know it works on Windows 7 but I'm unsure with other versions how you would go about it.
There's a much easier way, called cloning. The need to upgrade to a larger hard drive for more space by copying absolutely EVERYTHING to the new unit so that it can completely replace the old C: drive is VERY common. Several HDD manufacturers will give you free software to do this, as a bonus for buying your new HDD from them. For example, Seagate has a free download called Disk Wizard that will make a clone to ONLY a new Seagate HDD. Western Digital has one called Acronis True Image WD Edition, but it only makes a clone copy TO a WD drive. Other makers may have similar utilities on their websites. In those two cases it turns out that each is a customized version of a third-party package called Acronis True Image, and each does a LOT beyond cloning, so make sure to get and read the manual.
BEFORE you proceed, check an important thing. If your computer is old and you are using an IDE drive, you need to check whether it can use a HDD over 137 GB. If you already are using a drive larger than this, forget this. If you are already using a SATA drive, forget it also - ALL SATA systems have this ability. But if you have an IDE drive under 137 GB, check the documentation for whether the BIOS has something called "48-bit LBA Support". Plain "LBA support" or "Support for large hard disks" may not be the same.
ALSO check what Operating System you already have installed on your old HDD. If you have the original version of Windows XP with NO Service Packs installed, or any earlier Windows, your do NOT have 48-bit LBA support in that OS. You MUST update your OS to at least Service Pack 1 of Win XP. If you have XP, going all the way to SP3 is the best option. You must do this BEFORE trying to install a new HDD larger than 137 GB.
OK, assuming you've done that, here is the process.
1. Download the utility package from the HDD maker's website and install it on your current old HDD.
2. Shut down, unplug the power cable, open the case. Mount the new HDD physically inside. Then connect the power supply and data cables to it. I'm going to assume here that the new drive is SATA, so there are NO jumpers to change - leave them alone. (Well, check item 3 below.) If, however, you are installing an IDE HDD, you will have to set jumpers properly.
3. Uncommon but could be your situation: If you are adding a new SATA II (3.0 Gb/s) HDD unit to an older machine that has original SATA controllers (1.5 Gb/s), there is a possibility the new drive will not communicate properly with the slower old controller. If that is your situation look on the HDD maker's website for instructions how to force it to slow down to the older speed. Seagate, WD and some others do that by installing a jumper on pins on the back edge - in fact, some drives arrive with the jumper already in place. This is the only jumper adjustment you MIGHT need to make on a SATA drive unit.
4. Close up and reconnect power. Boot up and go immediately into BIOS Setup. Check that your new HDD's port is Enabled. If it is a SATA unit you should make sure its SATA Port Mode is set right. Two ways, depending on your old drive. IF your old drive is also SATA, check its Port Mode, and make the new one the same. IF your old drive is IDE and you're doing SATA now, then set the SATA Port Mode to IDE Emulation. Check the Boot Priority Sequence - it should try the optical drive first, then your OLD drive second, and NOT the new drive. Save and Exit.
5. This boots you into Windows. Now run the software utility you downloaded, and use menus to go to the Cloning part. VERY IMPORTANT: make SURE you set the old drive as the SOURCE, and the new drive as the DESTINATION. The data on the destination (there is none on the new HDD) will be wiped out and replaced!
6. I think the usual defaults are wrong in a couple places, so be prepared to look around for ways to change. The most important is size. By default many of these tools will offer to make a Partition on the new drive to accept the clone copy of the SAME SIZE as your old drive. But the whole point here is to make a MUCH larger new "drive". You will want to manually set the size, and most commonly you want it to be ALL of the new HDD. Change that. Other settings probably are OK. It will propose making a Primary Partition that is Active and Bootable, and it will propose to install the NTFS File System, all good. You may have a choice of Format processes. A Quick Format takes about 10 to 15 minutes to work, and then the copying can start. This is sufficient for most new empty HDD's. But the other option is a Full Format. This will do the Quick thing and then do a complete test of the entire disk surface for any bad sectors. Most new HDD's have none, but this can be a good extra precaution. Just realize that this process takes MANY HOURS before the copying can begin. Once you've set you options, run the process. It will take a long time, so don't wait impatiently.
7. When it is all done, exit from the software and shut down. Unplug the power cord and open the case. DISconnect the power supply and data cables from the old drive, but you can leave it inside the case for now if you want. IF your old drive was SATA, take the data cable for it and plug it into the new drive. That way the new drive will be on exactly the same SATA port the old one was on. Close up, reconnect power, and boot into BIOS Setup again.
8. In BIOS Setup, go to Boot Priority Sequence and make sure that the HDD it will use is now the NEW drive you just set up, and there is no reference to the old unit. Save and Exit, and it will boot up just like it always did. Everything will look completely normal, except that My Computer will show LOTS of Free Space on your C: drive!
9. AFTER you are sure everything is working well you can decide what to do with your old HDD unit. Until you do, it is sitting there disconnected and containing a perfect backup of your system right up to the moment you made your clone copy.
@Paperdoc, Mighty good my friend! I had forgotten all about the LBA with older systems. Mine's totally new hardware, built it myself and basically it runs itself, no configurations required. Which has obviously spoiled me. I was just making sure I didn't miss anything when I go to clone this drive for a friend. Come to find out I would have missed the LBA and I'm sure it has at least SP1 on it. Those damn updates are what gobbled up the whole 37GB's they do (did) have! Thanks!