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Problems swapping hard drives between computers of the same model

Hello! I work for a school system and we were having some issues swapping hard drives between identical machines. What we have been doing is swapping the hard drives from one computer, putting them into another computer, and finally renaming them and moving in active directory.

A handful of machines we have swapped drives with, however, are failing to boot to Windows. At first, we thought the machines may have been shut down improperly or in the middle of a Windows update, however I believe I have ruled that out.

If we put the drives back into the original machine, they will run perfectly fine. When we put the drives in the new machines, however, they refuse to boot -- even in safe mode. This fact makes me believe its not a driver-related issue. Remember, all of the machines (to the best of my knowledge) have the exact same components.

Do you think you could offer any possible causes for this problem? Any and all advice is appreciated. I was possibly thinking that the drives in the machines may have different bios revisions or drive firmwares. Other than that, I can't think of anything else. We are hoping we don't have to re-image the machines to get them up-and-running again.

Thanks in advance, guys!
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  1. Motherboard version or BIOS version are the only two things I could think of.
  2. Best answer
    This actually sounds a lot like there IS a difference in the hardware you are not aware of, so that there IS a driver mis-match issue. You could test that by trying to resolve the hypothesized driver issue in the usual way.

    To do this you need a Windows Install CD for the same Windows version already installed on the HDD. This is being done on an HDD that HAS been installed in another machine and is not booting. With the HDD installed, set the machine's boot priority sequence to use the optical drive first, then the HDD. Place the Install CD in the optical drive, SAVE and EXIT from BIOS setup (if you made any change there) and let it boot from the Install CD. Do NOT do a normal Install Choose a Repair Install which will likely repair any driver mis-matches. When it is finished, remove the Install CD and reboot.

    If this solves the problem you have fixed one system, and have a good indication that the process will solve similar issues on other machine / HDD combos. If it does NOT, you will know the problem is elsewhere, and you MAY have to replace the HDD in its original machine and repeat the Repair Install to ensure that it has the correct drivers for that original machine.

    One other possibility comes to mind. In Windows versions beginning with Win 7 (maybe Vista, I'm not sure), the Install process will normally place some key backup files on a SECOND HDD in the system if there is one. After that those files MUST be present for it to boot. If you then took the boot drive ONLY from that machine to another that did NOT have those files on a second drive, it would fail to boot. If you think that is your situation, post back here for a hint on how to resolve.
  3. I've seen this happen a few times. On the system it boots from, run driver updates from the laptop vendor, you did not say if you were doing that already or not. Then swap the drives again.

    I have worked on several Lenovo T430s systems with the exact same model number that crashed when I swapped drives between them, in several cases running driver updates fixed that.
  4. A third possibility has struck me. In many systems the SATA port(s) can have their Mode switched between a few options, most notably "IDE Emulation" and "SATA" or "AHCI". If the HDD is in an original machine where it works and its port mode is "IDE Emulation", then it is moved to a machine with its port set to another mode, it probably can't be read. Similar if the mis-match of settings is the other way. So check that detail.
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