What is the best program for cloning all contents of my current hard drive to the new one I just bought? I have read a few articles on disk imaging software, and also saw some mentions of programs that will transfer the contents directly. Also, is it possible to get an exact clone of the drive (i.e. not reinstalling everything)?
Acronis True Image also can do a complete clone operation. It does lots of other useful things, too.
Who made your new HDD? I ask because Seagate will let you download for free from their website their customized version of Acronis True Imaging under the name Disk Wizard. You then install it on your old HDD and run it from there to make the clone to the new unit. HOWEVER, this version will only work to make a clone To a SEAGATE HDD - it's an inducement to buy from Seagate, and they do not care whose OLD HDD you are moving away from.
Now, if your new HDD is from WD, they have the same kind of deal, but they call theirs Acronis True Image WD Edition, and it only makes a clone TO a WD drive, surprise!
One hint I'll point out to you on using these cloning utilities. The first steps in setting up any new HDD are to Create one or more Partitions on it and to Format the Partition(s). The cloning utilities do these steps for you. BUT some of them make a default assumption that you want the NEW HDD's first bootable Partition to be the same size as the one on the OLD HDD, and that often is NOT what you want. After all, often you are doing this to move to a much larger new HDD, but you want ALL of that new drive to be ONE Partition that uses the whole drive. So, watch for the default settings it proposes to use. If they are not what you want, check through the menus to find how to change the settings to your liking. I suggest you pay attention to the size of the Partition, the type of File System it will install (NTFS is almost always the best choice), and whether to do a Full Format or a Quick Format.
There's a further note about this Partition size issue. IF your old HDD has more than one Partition on it, the cloning utility often offers by default to create on the new HDD the same number of Partitions using Proportional Sizing. So, for example, if you old HDD had Partitions of 60, 200 and 300 GB on it and the new HDD has 1,800 GB available, the default offered may be Partitions of 193, 643 and 965 GB. You may prefer a very different layout of sizes, so again, intervene and set them the way you want.
The cloning utility will ensure that the new drive has a fully bootable Primary Partition at its start containing an exact copy of your old HDD's bootable primary partition with everything exactly where it needs to be. If there were other Partitions on the old HDD, it can make exact clones of them, too. When it is done, the new HDD can completely replace the old HDD and your machine will work just like it did before, except that there will be more empty drive space available.
I suggest that, after making the clone, you shut down, disconnect the power cord, open your case, and disconnect the power and data cables to your old HDD. You might leave it inside the case, or you might remove it. Treat it as a perfect system backup at that time, and keep it safe. I suggest further that you connect to your new HDD the data cable from the old HDD's mobo port. That way the BIOS will still go looking to the same port it already has set in BIOS for a boot device, find it, and proceed with no trouble. Close the case, reconnect main power, and go! AFTER you are sure the new clone is working perfectly, you can come back to the question of what to do with the old HDD - maybe wipe it clean, re-Partition and Format, etc., etc.