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Swapping MacBook hard drives, including Boot Camp partition

Sigh. I use Parallels and Boot Camp because I like having options. Unfortunately, wanting options means that my life is quite complicated. Today’s problem: swap out the failing hard drive in my MacBook for a new one without losing any of my Mac OS or Windows XP data. Well, it’s actually this month’s problem, but whatever. Judging by the amount of search results I get when looking for help online, lots of people want to move their Boot Camp partition to a new drive or to back it up. This should solve both those problems. Here’s my setup:

  • MacBook 2.0 GHz Core Duo
  • 160GB internal drive (brand new; Leopard cloned my Mac OS disk partition from the old drive to the new one)
    • 145GB Mac OS X partition (running fine)
    • 15GB Boot Camp partition (formatted FAT32 by Boot Camp Assistant; empty)
  • 160GB external drive (used to be internal, now in a case and attached via USB)
    • 130GB Mac OS X partition
    • 30GB Boot Camp partition (formatted FAT32 by BCA; runs fine)
  • Parallels 3.0
  • Winclone
  • Windows XP SP2

And here’s what I did:

Convert the external drive’s Windows partition from FAT32 to NTFS:

  1. On the external Windows drive, go to Start – Run – and type cmd to get the command line
  2. At the prompt type convert c: /fs:ntfs where “c:” is the drive you want to convert to NTFS
  3. Answer “No” to the first question – forcefully unmount the drive
  4. Answer “Yes” to the second question – convert on restart
  5. Restart your drive

I did all of that using Parallels so I could work on other stuff at the same time. When you restart, diskcheck will run a few times to convert the drive, and then it will restart in NTFS.

Once you’ve successfully converted your Windows drive to NTFS, you can clone it using Winclone. Winclone’s site has good instructions, but here they are just in case:

  1. Make an image of the Windows partition you want to clone
  2. Store that image on your internal Mac OS partition (where you have Winclone installed)
  3. Restore the Winclone image to the empty Boot Camp partition

1. Why convert from FAT32 to NTFS?
I tried a number of ways of migrating my FAT32 drive (dd, Acronis True Image), and they all failed. Winclone works for NTFS drives and is a snap.

2. Won’t converting from FAT32 to NTFS mean I can’t write from my Mac to my Boot Camp drive or cause other problems?
Nope. The conversion happens without harming your data, so that’s not a problem. As far as writing from Mac OS to NTFS, you can do so through Parallels. That’s good enough for me, and NTFS adds protections and features that FAT32 can’t offer. See Microsoft’s site for more information about FAT32 vs. NTFS

3. How long does this take?
About two and a half hours from start to finish (18GB partition)

4. Winclone warned me about something happening to my partition; what should I do?
Winclone’s just making sure you know that if you disconnect any of the partitions it’s using while it’s working, bad things will happen. As long as you leave everything connected while Winclone runs, you’ll be fine.

5. Winclone thinks my Windows drive is FAT32, but I converted it to NTFS. What do I do?
Restart Winclone or click “Refresh” next to the Source drop down in the Backup tab. It should recognize your drive as NTFS then.

6. Will this work with Vista?
I have no idea. I bet, but I don’t use Vista so can’t be sure.

7. Where can I get a good deal on an external hard drive?
Try Amazon!


  • libbyh |

    Thanks! I wish I’d learned sooner that convert to NTFS would not, in fact, ruin my life. I had my greedy little paws on Winclone last week and was cursing it for not working with FAT32. Stupid blinders; they wouldn’t let me see the other solution until today. I can tell you this though, I’m glad Mac OS is my home OS. It took what, 3 clicks, to get my OS X drive cloned to the new one? That’s how it ought to be.

  • Jim |

    Thank you!

    When I upgraded my hard drive on my MacBook, Mac OS X took about 3 clicks to clone. I battled with my Windows XP partition for the better part of a day before stumbling upon your site.

  • Mauro Zanderigo |

    Using Winclone can someone point me to instruction manual on how to restore a winclone backed image of Vista on my new imac 20 – On selecting “restore” it tells me that there is not enough room ???
    Thanks Mauro

  • libbyh |

    Mauro – how big is your Winclone image and how big is your new partition? You can try right-clicking on the image and selecting “Show Package Contents.” In the window that opens, try deleting the size file and trying to restore again. If you still have access to the old drive and can make a new clone, try one without compression and see if that works. That’s about all the troubleshooting I can do, but the twocanoes forum might have answers: http://twocanoes.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=4

  • Nick |

    It’s possible to mount an NTFS partition in OSX without Paralells or VMware. There’s a NTFS driver called NTFS-3g that uses FUSE, a generic filesystem driver for a variety of Unix-like operating systems. It’s pretty stable and supports writing. There’s a nice Mac installer for both these days:

    Mac FUSE: http://code.google.com/p/macfuse/
    Mac NTFS-3g installer: http://macntfs-3g.blogspot.com/

    You might need to unmount the partition before running Winclone. There are a bunch of other useful filesystems on the Mac FUSE page, too — SSH as a filesystem, GMail as a filesystem, Spotlight searches as a filesystem, etc. It’s pretty handy.

  • Mauro Zanderigo |

    When restorig a vista backup to its partition in Imac does it overwrite vista or do you have to delete vista in the partition first ?


  • Mauro Zanderigo |

    Just to be clear – When restoring a vista backup to its partition in Imac does it overwrite the resident vista or do you have to delete resident vista in the partition first ?


  • Greg |

    Thanks – excellent help! BTW, Winclone now claims to support FAT32. Being old school I’m going to try that first and will do the NTFS conversion if it fails.


  • Chris P. |

    Thank you for this super easy to understand and follow tutorial. 1 hour of searching on twocanoes.com and their forums left me giving up. I’m sure this answer was there some where.

    Thanks again for posting this.

So, what do you think ?

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