Congratulations! You just bought a new computer. It’s faster than your old one, has a larger hard drive, and maybe gives you your first taste of USB 2.0 or Microsoft Windows XP.
Now what? How are you going to move everything from your old PC to your new one? I’m not just talking about your Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. What about your browser Favorites? Your passwords? Those countless settings stored in the Windows Registry? Your e-mail account? Your e-mail address book? Heck, your e-mail client itself?
Migrating to a new computer is an unbelievable hassle. But I’m here to help. Follow my advice, and you should have your new PC up and running–and your old system ready for retirement–with only a few new gray hairs.
Ready for Transfer
I’m starting off with two assumptions. First, that your new PC came with Windows XP installed, which is almost a given these days. And second, that your old PC has Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, or XP, which would cover computers sold over nearly a decade.
The first thing you need to do is set up your new PC. It probably came with directions–but those directions probably didn’t tell you that it should be plugged in as close to the old one as possible. You should assume that for the next few days you’re going to have two computers up and running while you go back and forth between them. And, for the time being, you should still use the old computer for any regular work you do, such as reading e-mail or cataloging your photos.
Next, you’ll need a way to transfer data from one computer to the other.
Via Network: The best and easiest way to copy the data is over a network, assuming you already have one. If you’ve got a network, plug your new computer into it and get it up and running.
The new computer will need to have a different name on the network than the old one, at least temporarily. To change the new computer’s name in XP, select Start, right-click My Computer, and select Properties. Click the Computer Name tab, then the Change button. Type the new name in the Computer Name field, then click OK to close the dialog box and save the change.
Via Cable: If you don’t have a network, the next best solution is a cable connection. This involves plugging a special data-transfer cable–parallel or, better yet, USB–into both PCs. But it will cost you, not only for the cable, but also for a third-party migration program. I’ll discuss a couple in the “Third-Party Tools” section.
Via Sneakernet: The final option is sneakernet, which entails physically moving a storage medium from one computer to another. (I don’t want to belabor the obvious, but maybe you’ve never heard the term. Sneakernet gets its name from the fact that people used to walk floppy disks from one system to another in order to share files.) Sneakernet requires movable media, such as an external hard drive or a writable DVD drive. A CD-RW will also work if you don’t have a lot of data to move.
Sneakernet can be a hassle; you’ll find yourself moving the media back and forth quite a bit. But if you bought your new computer without a monitor, and you don’t have a spare, sneakernet may be your best option, since you can get away without having both computers running at the same time. Even under those circumstances, you’ll want them next to each other so you can turn one off, reconnect the monitor, and then turn on the other.
Once both computers are up and running, and are ready to share files, it’s time to use that old computer one last time–at least for what you bought it for. Check your e-mail. Finish all of your business that can’t wait. It’s a safe bet that you won’t be able to use either computer again until tomorrow morning.
Do Computers Migrate?
The next step is the big one: migrating your data and settings from the old computer to the new. Unless you want to spend days figuring out the complexities of Windows and half a dozen applications, use a migration program. There are several, and they all work pretty much the same way. You run a wizard on both PCs, preferably simultaneously, while the program compares both computers and asks you what you want moved.
When the wizards are done, the transfer begins. This can take hours. My advice: Start the transfer, turn off the monitors, and don’t come back until the next morning.
One good migration tool comes with Windows XP: the File and Settings Transfer Wizard. If you’re using a network or sneakernet, it’s all you really need. (If you’re using a cable connection, skip to the next section.)
You can launch the Transfer Wizard by selecting Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. If both computers are running XP, launch it on both of them. If the old PC has another version of Windows, launch the Wizard on the new PC first. Early in the process you’ll be given options for launching the Wizard on your old computer. Of these options, I suggest either putting the Wizard onto a floppy disk or using the Windows XP CD.
Soon after you start running the Wizard on both PCs, you should see a list of programs that are on the old computer but not on the new one. Keep this page open on the old PC so you can refer to it, but close the Wizard on your new PC. At this point you’ll use your program CDs to install your applications (the ones you see in the list) on your new PC. There may also be some old programs you forgot you had and don’t want to install. Once you’re done, launch the Wizard on the new computer and get back to what you were doing.
Reinstalling all your old programs on a new machine isn’t a difficult job, but it is time consuming. And it’s one that you can avoid by using a third-party migration program instead of XP’s File and Settings Transfer Wizard. At least two of these tools transfer programs as well as files and settings.
There’s another reason to shell out money for a third-party migration tool: cable connections. XP’s Wizard is fine for network or sneakernet migrations, but the only cable interface that it supports is serial, which is painfully slow. In theory, you can use parallel cables with Windows’ Direct Cable Connection feature. But if you don’t enjoy hacking your way through needlessly complex settings, you don’t want to touch DCC.
One third-party program you might consider is Spearit Software’s $40
Move Me. It’s easy to use, handles programs well, and works very smoothly with a parallel cable. You’ll have to buy the cable separately, but you can get one at any computer store for about $10. But Move Me does not support the faster USB interface.
Alohabob PC Relocator supports USB. In fact, the $70 Ultra Control version comes with a USB cable. The $30 basic version comes with a parallel cable. Both versions also work over a network, through parallel cables, and via sneakernet.
Eisenworld is now updating both versions of PC Relocator. The new versions, due out in September, weren’t available for this article. Judging from Eisenworld’s description, the $70 product appears to be far more complete than its less-expensive sibling.
Whatever migration program you use, when it’s done, your new computer is ready for use. Check your e-mail, rearrange your photos, and get back to work on your new, faster toy.
But don’t pack up the old PC just yet.
Troubleshooting the Rapids
Migration tools are great, but not always perfect. I’ve never done a migration that didn’t require additional work. Some data files or settings just aren’t copied correctly.
So keep the old PC set up and handy for a few days. When you find programs or settings that didn’t transfer properly, copy them manually over your connection of choice. Or look for the application’s export options to move your choices to a new computer.
After a few days, you’ll feel confident that you got it all. But hang on to the old PC a while more. Pack it up and put it away in a closet. After you’ve gone two months without having to pull it out and set it up again, it is really time to get rid of it. See the accompany article “Ditching an Old Computer” for ideas on how to handle that challenge.