My son’s hard drive is having serious problems. I was wondering how hard it is to install a new hard drive and copy files from the old hard drive. My husband is an electrical engineer and has installed a hard drive on one of our computers before. The main thing I don’t know about is if we will be able to copy his files from the old hard drive. He has a lot of music files that he has recorded and doesn’t want to lose them.

Replacing a hard drive isn’t terribly difficult, and I’ll point you at a couple of articles I’ve found on line with step-by-step instructions.

But your question raises a couple of important issues that I want to touch on first, that I think everyone needs to be aware of.

You haven’t been backing up, have you?

It actually frightens me how many people – or even businesses – use their computer(s) and simply assume it’ll always work. Or that data will always be recoverable.

As someone who’s spent many, many years working with this technology, please trust me when I say: it doesn’t always work, and data is not always recoverable. And that’s as true today as it was 25 years ago. Perhaps even more so.

So why do I jump on you about backing up?

Because if you had been backing up, you wouldn’t have needed to ask the question.

Besides not having to worry about losing files in general, a good, up-to-date backup is one way to transfer data from one drive to another.

So let’s kill two birds with one stone.

Go out and purchase a USB external hard drive. They’re big, they’re not particularly expensive, and they often come with really good backup software included. I happen to have three Maxtor drives that I’m very happy with.


  1. Plug that drive in to your computer as it exists today, still with its old failing hard drive, and copy everything you want to save to the external drive.
  2. Now, unplug that external drive, and set it aside.
  3. Go ahead and replace the internal hard drive with a new one.
  4. Build out your machine once again using your new internal hard drive. That means installing Windows, and your other applications, as needed.
  5. Plug in the external drive once again, and copy over whatever files you wanted to retain. In your case, copy back all those music files.

You’re Not Done
Now, install that backup software that came with the drive (or get a good backup package, see the links below), and set up a daily or weekly backup of your computer to your external hard drive. Once that’s in place, your computer could die completely, and without warning, and you’d still have all your data.

Regardless of exactly how you do it, though, please start backing up. You won’t regret it.

Note: I should also mention that one could leave the old failing drive installed, and move it to be the secondary drive. Then you could copy directly from it to the new drive without requiring the external drive. I avoid that here because the drive is failing – I don’t want to risk messing around inside the computer until the data has been copied off and safe on the external drive. And of course the failing drive is no good as a backup drive after we’re done, because it’s failing. Getting that external drive is an important step to staying backed up in the future.

Ask Leo! – What backup program should I use? – A guide to installing an IDE hard drive
PCMechanic – Installing A Hard Drive – Step by Step