It’s called fdisk because…

In days of yore —

“When was Yore, Daddy?”

“It was the age before we had terabyte hard drives. Really, it was before we had any hard drives at all.”

“Is that old, Daddy?”

“You bet your sweet bippy, it was.”

— when rocks were young and you could count the number of megabytes on your computer on one of your hands — honestly, you didn’t even need all of a hand, or even a whole finger — I was chatting with some friends at school about how long a disk copy took.

“Just a few seconds, right?” I was a little starry-eyed. Okay, utterly naïve.

“Oh no. I’ve heard it takes a couple of minutes.”

That was unbelievable to me. Disks (eight inch floppy disks in those days, if you must have the truth) were supposed to be fast. Definitely faster than the audio cassette tape I was planning to store my programs on, when I got my own computer, which would be soon.

“I don’t believe you,” I said.

And we tromped off to the computer store, where they had a microcomputer named SWTPC, and we implored the owner of the computer store (Poor Richard’s Calculator Shoppe, in a town in northern Colorado and yes we had paved streets) to copy a disk. And since it was a slow day and nobody [in their right mind] was buying SWTPCs, Richard took pity upon our curiosity and loaded up two disks and did a copy, and lo, we saw it copy a disk in four minutes, accompanied by a crapload of seeking and other grinding noises (because this was a SWTPC, and they had issues).

I was pretty disappointed. Not so disappointed that I didn’t want a pair of floppy disks for my own computer, which I would have soon, somehow, but that interminable four minutes definitely knocked floppies off of the performance pedestal I’d put them on.

“What’s a pedestal, Daddy?”

“A pre-prepared disappointment.”


“It’s like you expected Band class to be tons of fun, with everyone jamming away on their instruments and the Band teacher grooving on the podium with his baton, but what was it really like?”

“Awful blatting noises.”

“Yeah. None of you could play a note in tune, much less play anything together, and you’ve gotta practice scales and simple tunes that are really boring, and I happen to know that the band teacher is borderline suicidal, not from any specific knowledge but because they all are, teaching fifth graders to squawk and go hornck! in close synchrony will drive anyone to the brink. See? Onward.”

Let’s go forward a few decades and visit the scene of the actual rant now.

Problem: Wife has a laptop with an SSD that is nearly full.

No problem! I have a spare SSD that is larger. We’ll just clone that disk. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. It’ll be glorious.

Three weekends later I have admitted defeat. The dragons have done me in. I have written file systems and that shit is hard, but copying the sectors containing a file system? School kids do that. But what I have encountered is serial madness. This is one of those problems that is not supposed to be hard, but somehow it is. When we were not being vigilant, while we were playing in the sunny afternoon chasing butterflies and filling-up terabytes without a worry, complexity was doing push-ups.

Tool A claims, no matter how I instruct it, that the file system on the source drive wasn’t shut down properly. There’s an option to have it not do this check, but it’s a damned lie and the tool keeps checking and failing anyway. It has another mode, a “raw” mode, that appears to work, but after several hours of blinking activity lights the clone does not boot.

Tool B — which I paid dear money for, and which has an excellent reputation in the disk copying industry — makes a clone without any fuss. In fact, the tool sports a fancy user interface and makes important-looking animations and pronouncements during the copy. It does everything but strut. I am impressed, this is quality stuff and I’m happy to have spent the money on this quality tool. Naturally, the copy does not boot.

Tool C, provided by the drive manufacturer, makes some sincere promises, but the FAQ has some scary looking workarounds for things that shouldn’t need workarounds. The copy it makes doesn’t get high enough to crash.

Tool D says that the copy will finish in 24 days. Also, its UI makes my eyes bleed.

My malware scanner vaporizes tool E milliseconds after it is downloaded. Memento mori, I guess.

Well, there’s always booting into Linux and doing the old DD if=something of=something bs=somethingbig and then maybe hex-edit the partition tables after it runs off the end of the source drive. This is my wife’s computer and she’s worth it. For kicks, I look at what partition tables have mutated into. They were a miserable hack back in the early 80s, and time has not improved them. I wince and close that web page.

I consider writing something. How hard can it —

I do a clean install of the OS on the new drive, hand the laptop back to her and say, “Sorry, nothing worked, you’ll have to reinstall all that stuff. Here’s the old drive, you can copy your old files off of it.”

It’s really for the best.

“But Daddy, why didn’t you just edit the GPT entries to–“

“Have you practiced your instrument yet today?

Author: landon

My mom thinks I'm in high tech.

21 thoughts on “It’s called fdisk because…”

  1. I recently had good luck with using parted to copy the partitions from one disk to another, and then booting Win10 install and telling it to repair the boot (this was a win7 system). I’m not sure exactly why the “repair” was needed, but I was tired and didn’t investigate further. 🙂

  2. I had luck by “converting” the partition table to MBR, really erasing the first and leas (who in his right mind could think on storing the gpt in the last sector, making the disk uncopyable???), and recreating and MBR with the correct offsets.

    Then, you use “repair boot” to make win booting again, and you have a disk that you can copy to a bigger one and will boot. Because old MBR is not tied to the size of the disk, like GPT is….

  3. I’ve found the easiest is to clean install on the newly installed SSD and use the Migration Assistant and a HD enclosure for the old SSD. Of course this only works if this is a Mac setup you’re describing. If so, it’s a pretty painless process.

    1. Not a Mac. I can deal with a Mac. It’s Windows 10 (with previous attempts using Win 8).

      Clean installs are good for you. They’re the colon flush of the software industry.

      1. Windows Image Backup
        Boot from Install CD.
        Boot to Rescue Mode.
        Restore Backup on new drive.

        Has always worked for me.

  4. My wife would keep the old hard disk plugged in as an external for all eternity and never get around to moving files over. In 10 years, her next laptop purchase would be based upon finding one that can work with the now obsolete external hard drive with all her vital files.

  5. I completely agree – all the SSD migration tools for Windows, commercial or otherwise, are rubbish, and presumably, if they do work at all, only work in specific fixed configurations with particular Windows versions on a restricted set of hardware. I’ve had similar experiences over the past five years – given up and as you say, just did a clean re-install in the end. Complete madness – there’s no reason why this should be a difficult task. Fine, if you’re moving to new hardware, then you might have other issues, but simply trying to clone onto a different disk for the same hardware, aught to be really straightforward.

  6. I just migrated a legacy Vista box to an SSD last week. I downloaded the CloneZilla ISO, burned the CD, plugged the SSD in, booted off the CD, accepted the defaults after making double sure it knew which drive was which, waited about an hour for the slow old hard disk to give up its data, shut down, and booted off the SSD.

    Maybe I got lucky; I’ll find out next week when I upgrade a few more ancient boxes.

  7. Well,
    in case of windoze i suggest a reinstall if you are already in the step of buying a new harddisk.
    Sometimes these tools *may* work, but in a lot of cases you will end up with a system partition that is not working.
    And, as all of us know: re-installing windows as a fresh install is sometimes really necessary 😀

  8. I’ve done exactly what you’re describing several times for Windows partitions without a problem. It sounds like you’re tools that do a file-level clone, when if you’re cloning to a larger drive, a block-level clone is much easier and safer.

    The steps I have taken:

    – Shutdown the PC, install the new disk
    – Put the old disk in an external enclosure
    – Boot using a Linux rescue or install disk
    – Use dd to clone the raw disk (partition tables and all to the new one), SSD to SSD, this should be 10-20 minutes
    – Boot up using the new disk
    – Use Window’s Disk Management to resize the partition to fill the rest of the new disk
    – Enjoy the new disk

  9. Why didn’t you just edit the GPT entry, though? 🙂
    Good ol’ GParted is always an option if hex editors are too low level.

  10. Dunno, I had arch-linux on a hdd, bought an ssd, used dd to copy the / from the hdd on the ssd, worked fine. Maybe I am too young to have these problems? 🙂

  11. In cases like this i use ‘DriveSnapShot’. It’s just 370KB, does a drive image where ever you want it, even mounts that image as a virtual disk later on. And for single backups you don’t even need to buy it (which i still did, just to show how much i liked it). And yes, it’s fast too.

  12. My first computer had a pair of 8″ floppies. Rather than using stepper motors that moved from track to track like an old person with a walker, this brand (Persci) used the voice coil positioner from a hard disk. The only problem – a single voice coil was shared between two drives for cost cutting purposes, and it was still horrendously expensive.

    When I built my last PC, I didn’t put in SSD but I planned ahead for it. I split the HD into two partitions, a small one that could be replaced by the SSD and a large one for the rest. I finally did get around to upgrading, and I don’t remember it being painful at all. All I remember doing was setting up a partition on the SSD that was the same size as the old partition, copying it, then telling Windows to expand the partition into the unused space on the drive.

    Sorry for the late reply, but it’s been far too long since my last drive-by to your site.

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