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I'm currently visiting my parents for the Christmas holidays, and as I'm sure is the case of many in the post-tech generation, my arrival brings with it the assumption of personal tech support.

I've been tasked with setting up my folks' new computer, and they want to make sure all their files, yes, all their files, get transfered over to the new device.

Short of manually dragging each folder in the C:/ directory onto an external hard drive and then out onto the recipient computer, is there an easier / faster way to do this?

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What old OS to What new OS? – Moab Dec 20 '10 at 22:42
XP -> 7. First new computer for them in 9(?) years. – Raven Dreamer Dec 21 '10 at 1:01
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's Christmas, spring for $20 and buy them a USB enclosure for the old hard drive. Pull it from the old computer and attach it to the new computer. All the files will be accessible - even portable.

Imaging the old to the new will likely not work because of two reasons: XP (the presumed older operating system) and the license - MS licensing doesn't permit imaging of OEM installs from an old computer to a new computer.

Otherwise, you can use NTBackup (downloadable on the internet) to create a .BKF file on an external drive or even onto the new machine's hard drive over the network and then restore the file there to a new (for example, c:\old computer) location.

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If the PCs are running Microsoft Windows you can usually use the transfer tool they provide for exactly this circumstance

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This looks promising. I'll look into it. – Raven Dreamer Dec 20 '10 at 20:27
The problem with transfer tools (and why I recommend the external drive conversion) is that they generally only cover the profile. People sometimes (and programs sometimes) store things in inappropriate places on the system that do not get automatically copied. By turning the drive external, you are assured of getting EVERYTHING. – Multiverse IT Dec 20 '10 at 20:32
I have used this multiple times. Best way to get files and settings from one computer to another. – Zooks64 Dec 20 '10 at 20:51
@Multiverse IT -- My parents called me up because their printer wasn't working. I drove over to find it unplugged. I shudder to what they'd do to an external drive. – Raven Dreamer Dec 20 '10 at 22:32
Ok, then install it inside the system as a second drive - a "D:" drive (or maybe assign it drive letter "O:" as in old drive. – Multiverse IT Dec 21 '10 at 5:36

Are the operating systems the same? You might want to consider creating an image of the original computer, that is if they want to keep the exact same state of original computer.

What do you mean by all? That can include system files. It might be easier to locate all the parent folders and copying them over to the new computers instead of searching through the sub-folders. If you know the files/folders that you need to copy in advance, you could just create a simple batch script to copy the files for you.

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What you suggested would not work (many of the files will be in use), but you wouldn't want to do this anyway. The thing is, everything in C:\Windows (among other folders) is already ON the new computer, and if there are parts that AREN'T, they might confuse the computer if they were there. Similarly, if you did this, you might not get all of the registry settings copied over. Without these, the computer wouldn't be set up correctly. You need to copy over the Documents and Settings (or Users) folder, and you need to reinstall all the programs. That's the only way to guarantee that everything important is copied over without ruining the brand-new computer.

If they are certain they want ALL their files, even though there geek (you) tells them this will get every file they care about and many they don't, then you should also use Multiverse IT's solution and get an enclosure to turn the old hard drive into an external one.

P.S. In our family, two of the three of us are geeks. We always have over-extensive backups whenever moving computers. We'd definitely go for the enclosure option. However, I can tell you from experience - we would NEVER use it, not even once.

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I've reinstalled Windows before myself, and typically, I just copy the Documents, Photos, and Music folders...I condense all of my critical data to these folders, and maybe one or two others.

  • Back up Internet favorites with X-Marks
  • Passwords with LastPass.
  • Drivers with DriverMax (this makes the setup a lot faster, but may not work from XP-7/Vista, but between Vista and 7 is a go).
  • Use TeraCopy for large file transfers to anywhere (speeds up the file copy process)...Network drives, external drives, etc. SyncToy is also useful for this, but works best over a LAN (local area network). highly recommend!

You could also use Dropbox to transfer a large queue of files - Lifehacker. (this would require two computers, you could transfer the files via Dropbox to a machine for temporary holding, reinstall, then transfer them back...)

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