Posted by
new york city
Member since Mar 2005
2574 posts

replacing hard drive on old workstation
If anyone has good guidance on the following task I'd appreciate it...

I have two identical, old Dell workstations running Windows 7 Pro on a network. One just had the hard drive die. Critical data is on the server's RAID, so no terrible data loss. But, I am trying to squeeze more life out of these if at all possible (small company with small budget) and not looking to upgrade to Windows 10 yet as there is a specialized work related software we run on the server & workstations which is stable on Windows 7 pro & I don't know if there would be issues on 10.

So, I want to see if I can get the old workstation back up by replacing the dead drive with a spare drive I have handy. As I see it, there's three options, none of which I have experience with:

Option 1)

Throw the dead drive in the freezer for a day or so and see if I can bring it back long enough to attempt doing a backup / restore from the old drive to a new one.

* This seems to me ideal as settings and licenses for both Windows 7 and MS Office licenses might just instantly work on a new drive restored from old drive in the same machine.
* Also would be nice, though not necessary, to recover a few documents off the old drive, and even though it's identical to the other desktop, this one strangely did some things a little better/easier than it's twin... not sure if that's a bug or setting issue.)

Option 2)

See if I can create a working backup from the other Dell workstation (pretty much identical) which is fine at the moment. Then, plug the new drive into the dead desktop.

* If option #2 (use Windows backup from Desktop1 on Desktop 2), would I have an issue with Windows 7 pro license key? The key is on a sticker affixed to both computer cases). Just don't know if it would work without issue, prompt me for correct key, or just not work?
* Same concern with MS Office. I think I have the license key around but haven't seen it since we moved our office a couple years ago. Otherwise, no concerns with other software.

I'm assuming those are the better way to go about this to minimize having to play with settings, etc. Not having done either of the above options, I'd appreciate if someone could either point me to a good online guide for the exact steps of going through option 1 or 2, and/or provide guidance / any other supplementary info that might help me.

Also, for either option 1 or 2, my old SATA docking station appears to have died... Without that, I see I have space to add a 2nd drive internally to the 2 Dells and a power connector cable is already there. I have a spare SATA cable which looks like it would work fine... just want to confirm this is an okay way to pop the new drive in and try to set it up?

Option 3)

I understand I can also download Windows 7 from microsoft and create upload media. Not having done this before, I don't know if this is more complicated in some ways (downloading Windows & create media on machine 1 and starting from scratch with a new SATA drive straight out the package sitting in a dead machine 2.

* Downside is having to remember how to add the computer to the network using a static ip which I haven't done in a long time.
* Again, I'd have to hopefully find old license key for MS Office.

Sincerest thanks to anyone who reads this & replies. Any help is appreciated.

Smoking crack at Hunter's house
Member since Nov 2007
15142 posts

re: replacing hard drive on old workstation
Windows 7 goes end of life on Jan 14, 2020. That means you basically have a little over a month left before your Windows 7 Pro workstations no longer receive security patches and thus are no longer considered secure machines.

I highly recommend you take this opportunity to migrate to Windows 10 now.

However, regarding your post, if you were to proceed with this (highly recommend you go Win10 instead)...

You don't need SATA docks. You can just plug in the new drive internally, transfer the data, then remove the old drive.

Your Dell Workstation may have come with a restore DVD with no need to use a key, if not, Dell may be able to send you one if you call them and give them your service tag.
You may use a generic Windows DVD + the key on the sticker. But, you will need to hunt down and manually install all the drivers necessary for the computer to work properly if you use a generic Windows DVD. Luckily, for Dells that is usually pretty easy because you can put the service tag in on their support/drivers page to retrieve them. You'll be missing any Dell OEM software, which you may see as a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view.
Once you get the new installation of Windows set up, you can put the bad drive in as a second drive (dock would be more convenient, but this will work since your dock is bad), boot into your new drive, try to mount the drive, and use a keyfinder program to retrieve the old MS Office key from the secondary drive. You can then use that key to download Office from Microsoft's site.
At that time while the drive is mounted you could try to copy as many documents as you can.
Afterwards, when you've done what you can, remove the bad drive from the computer.

new york city
Member since Mar 2005
2574 posts

re: replacing hard drive on old workstation
Thank you very much! Very helpful reply... Especially for clarifying the need for tracking down drivers and how to do so. I incorrectly phrased it as settings vs drivers but that was part of my worry if I attempted a generic Windows install.

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