The Macrium Reflect dialog for creating an image of your boot disk

How to upgrade an M.2 SSD and not lose your operating system

Nico How To, Technique Leave a Comment

Many computer systems nowadays come with SSD (Solid State Disk) drives for the operating system to ensure quick start up times and fast read/write times for the operating system and applications.

The only problem with this superfast technology – particularly the small on-motherboard M.2 drives – is that it is relatively expensive compared to larger format SSD technology and you don’t get much disk space as standard. My Dell XPS came with a 256GB NVMe M.2 disk which has served me well up to now, but hasn’t got much space left on it.

One of the major factors in the performance of Lightroom is the amount of free disk space on the catalog/previews drive, which should always be your quickest disk. Adobe recommend at least 20%, and mine is down to 10%. Time to retire this drive to my Son’s gaming machine and upgrade to a bigger M.2.


You will need:

  • A USB stick with at least 4GB of free space on it
  • Old M.2 drive (source)
  • New M.2 drive (target)
  • Software which will clone/image your source disk and create a bootable USB drive. I used Macrium Reflect (free).
  • An external or internal Hard Drive
  • A small screwdriver.

I opted for this 500GB NVMe M.2 from Samsung for my new disk. It comes with a 5 year warranty and I really don’t need anything any bigger, even with a large Lightroom cache (see below).

I need to make an image of my current M.2, my boot disk, so I’m using an external hard drive for this. Make sure it has plenty of space on it too.

I’m using Macrium Reflect to make the disk image. It will also help me to create a bootable USB stick later on.

Creating the image

Open Macrium Reflect and make sure the Backup tab is selected in the top right of the screen.

Choose Image selected disks on this computer under Backup Tasks

A dialog will open showing a list of all the physical hard disks available to the software at the time. Normally the boot disk – the one we want to change – will be the first of these, GPT 1.

macrium disk image 1600x1138 - How to upgrade an M.2 SSD and not lose your operating system
The Macrium Reflect dialog for creating an image of your disk. Note only the first disk is selected.

Make sure there is a check mark beside this source disk and no other. This should select all the partitions on this disk but make sure that there is a check mark under each of them before starting the image.

The second part of the dialog is where we select the destination for the source disk image we are about to create. I used an external desktop drive and created a sub folder on it for disk images.

Click Next, skip the next screen where you can set up a plan for regular backups by clicking Next again, then click Finish.

The disk image will now be created. Put the kettle on!

Create a bootable USB drive

My PC boots from the disk I am about to remove so we need to create a bootable USB drive so that when the machine boots after the disk change it will boot from that.

Under the Other Tasks section in Macrium, choose the option to Create bootable Rescue Media.

Select your USB drive from the list of available drives in the dialog and choose Build.

bootable - How to upgrade an M.2 SSD and not lose your operating system
The Create bootable Rescue media dialog

This one won’t take very long.

Before we switch the computer off you may need to change the BIOS boot settings so that the computer tries to boot from a USB first in the boot sequence. This can normally be done by rebooting and pressing F2 or F12 when prompted by the BIOS.

When that is done, power down the computer again. Remove the power cable.

Replacing the M.2 Drive

The next steps will vary depending on your hardware, but in my case, to get at the M.2 drive on the motherboard, I have to remove the side panel of my tower, swing the power supply out of the way and remove the GPU (graphics card) and its power cables.

This done, I can now unscrew the retaining screw at the end of the current M.2 drive, slide it out of its socket and replace it with the new one. Note in most cases the M.2 must be inserted at 45 degrees and then flattened and secured using the retaining screw.

Tip: the retaining screw is tiny, and can be hard to get back into its hole, especially with fat fingers like mine. Put a tiny bit of Blu Tack on the head of the screw and then stick it to the screwdriver. This makes it much easier to insert through the M.2 and into the hole before tightening.

Replace the elements of the computer you moved out of the way and power it back up, making sure the USB drive you recently created is in a USB socket.

Reboot should now open the Rescue media we created earlier, which uses a version of Windows called Windows PE.

When Windows PE has loaded, select Restore.

To find the backup image we would like to use, select Browse for an image file… on the menu at the top and navigate to the disk drive you stored the source drive image on. Note: the drive letters may change to reflect that there is no “C:” drive at the moment, so be careful to select the correct drive if you have several connected.

Select the disk image you wish to restore and click Restore Image. Then select your new blank M.2 disk as the target disk.

This gives you the ability to edit partitions prior to the restore. By default, partitions restore to their original locations. However, it’s also possible to select a different target disk and to drag partitions to different locations and resize them to use the available space. 

Simply drag the source partition to any available partition or free space on the target disk. You can also delete partitions on the target disk to make space.

Note: If you wish to extend the C: drive from the source disk and make it bigger on the target disk then the partition containing C: has to be next to the empty space. move the partitions on the target disk if necessary. On my install there were four partitions on the source disk and I copied them to the target disk as they were using the default settings and then extended the C: drive to fill the available empty space later, using a free utility called Minitool Partition Wizard.

Click Next to move on to the summary page. Once you have looked over the summary and you are happy with your restore settings you can click Finish and begin the operation.

Again, this will take some time. Take a nap.

When the restore has finished it is important to remove the USB Rescue media from the USB port in case the computer boots from it when we restart.

Restart the computer and this time it should reboot from your new M.2 drive and you are cooking with gas.

Lightroom Users: It is important to make the most of the newest fastest drive you have. To do this you should store your active Lightroom catalog on the C: drive and use the C: drive for storing previews and the Lightroom cache. These setting are all available in the Preferences dialog in Lightroom.

Now that I have a lot more empty space on my C: drive I am also going to expand my Camera Raw cache too. The size will vary depending on the number of images in your catalog, but I store a whole year’s worth of images in my catalog so I give it 50GB of cache space.

I hope this helps. Let me have any feedback via the comments section below.

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