- Make sure I have a good backup of all the documents on the old hard drive. By "documents," I mean my photos, databases, client invoices and contracts, etc.
- Make sure I can recover important settings from the old hard drive - installation licensing codes, passwords, preferences where they're really important, etc. Note that I don't care about having actual backups of these things.
- Make sure I have the installation disks or master installation files so I can reinstall the operating system and all my applications later. Exception: Don't need master disks for items that can be downloaded on the Internet (like Google Chrome and Picasa).
- Remove the old hard disk and set it aside in a safe place.
- Put the new hard disk into the computer.
- Boot computer from the operating system CD, format the new disk, and install the operating system fresh.
- When I'm able to boot the computer from the operating system on the internal hard disk, add necessary drivers.
- Reinstall applications and reconfigure as necessary.
- Copy the documents from the backup source to the new hard disk.
Had I done this in the first place, I would have spared myself at least half of the grief I've suffered in the last two days.