I am getting messages upon boot up that my hard drive will die very soon, and will need to replace the hard drive. I do not wish to use some application to move my data and programs, but wish to do it manually. I am looking for a typical list of directories and files which need to be moved as well as how to generate a list of programs I have installed so I can decide whether I wish to reinstall them on the new machine.

I just backed up My Documents, My Pictures, and My Videos. I also backed up my Outlook pst file and browser bookmarks. EDIT. In hindsight, I probably should just have backed up C:\Users\Michael where Michael is the only normal user. I rarely use the admin user, and don't think I need to back it up.

Any other "typical" directories or files which should be moved? What about public/private keys, or is this handled under My Documents?

How can I generated a printable list of programs I have installed? EDIT. I think I answered this using Get-ItemProperty HKLM:\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall\* | Select-Object DisplayName, DisplayVersion, Publisher, InstallDate | Format-Table –AutoSize

The operating system originally was Windows 7 Professional (I still have the DVD) and was updated to Windows 10 for free. Do I need to backup any sort of license?

  • 3
    "CloneApp" can backup and restore configuration settings for a large number of programs. "Advanced Tokens Manager" will backup your Microsoft Office and Windows licences (although you don't need the latter for Windows 10). NirSoft "KeyFinder" will report the keys for the programs you have installed. "Double Driver" can backup all your drivers if you need to fully re-install Windows and "Macrum Reflect" can create a full image of your hard drive in case you forget to back something up. – Richard Feb 23 '17 at 17:30
  • The PowerShell command that you mentioned does not list all installed apps. In my machine, it shows a very short list. Notable item missing from it: Microsoft Office! – user477799 Feb 23 '17 at 20:10

When I am about to do something with the drive containing the Windows installation, I care about:

  • C:\Users\myUser\AppData. Holds all the config files for my programs, might come handy. Here are all the things like keys, bookmarks, POP3 email accounts, browser config and bookmarks, etc. It's a hidden folder so you need to enable them showing up in Windows Explorer settings (Folder settings).
  • C:\Users\myUser\Documents
  • C:\Users\myUser\Pictures
  • C:\Users\myUser\Downloads
  • C:\Users\myUser\ check here for hidden folders beginning with a dot ., like .android, .cache, .ssh and so on. Might relate to settings of program you need later.
  • C:\ProgramData. More program config files that could come handy.
  • C:\Windows\Fonts. If you care about some extra fonts you installed or stuff, you might need to get your ttf files.

To get a record of installed programs, you might use a script or even the mighty CCleaner!

Finally, once you install Windows 10 it will activate automatically, so no problem with that. I suggest downloading the W10 ISO from here and create a bootable USB to install W10 directly, see here how to do it.

  • You take care of C:\Users\myUser\Documents? It usually contains nothing but garbage. – user477799 Feb 23 '17 at 19:23
  • @FleetCommand it's good practice to check your garbage before throwing it away. I do it with mine – Alfabravo Feb 23 '17 at 19:40
  • Perhaps you are right. Ascertaining it takes a couple of minutes... – user477799 Feb 23 '17 at 19:42
  • @Alfabravo Please read edit questions and answers. It explicitly says "When should I edit posts? Any time you feel you can make the post better, and are inclined to do so. Editing is encouraged!" ... "to correct minor mistakes or add addendums / updates as the post ages". Editing under these circumstances is not rude. – DavidPostill Apr 15 '17 at 21:41
  • 1
    I suggest copying C:\Users\myUser using robocopy (from the command line). Windows explorer drag and drop copy will not copy all files reliably. Also, you could backup your registry using regedit /E my_registry.reg (which stores your current registry to the my_registry.reg file). – Neonit Jan 3 at 7:52

What I typically do is the following:

  • Backup the standard user folders from your profile to an external USB drive: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Favorites, Music, Pictures, and Videos
  • Also backup those same folders from the Public user profile
  • Backup any manually created Outlook PST files
  • Backup the %SystemDrive%\Windows\System32\DriverStore folder. This will allow you to easily install any device drivers (within Device Manager) that may be missing after an OS clean install.
  • Ensure that Windows 10 sync settings are fully configured for that Microsoft login
  • Ensure that Chrome and/or Firefox sync settings are configured properly

If your hard drive's behavior makes it rather unstable, you can easily download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool from another computer:

  1. Navigate to the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool web page.
  2. Select Download tool now

    Download tool now

  3. Save the MediaCreationTool.exe file to your desktop and run it.

  4. Acknowledge the UAC prompt, if necessary.
  5. On the screen showing Applicable notices and license terms, click Accept:

    License Terms

  6. Select the radio button to Create installation media for another PC and click Next:

    Create installation media for another PC

  7. Uncheck the box to Use the recommended options for this PC:

    Use the recommended options for this PC

  8. Utilize the pull-down menus to select the appropriate language, edition, and architecture for the Windows 10 installation media you wish to create and click Next:

    Select language, edition, and architecture

  9. In the next window you can choose to create a USB flash drive automatically, or download an ISO file that you can subsequently burn to a DVD to install Windows 10:

    Choose which media to use

  10. After you have finished creating either the USB flash drive or DVD disc, you can boot from that media to begin the Windows 10 installation process.

(Source: How to Download a Windows 10 ISO File)

The operating system originally was Windows 7 Professional (I still have the DVD) and was updated to Windows 10 for free. Do I need to backup any sort of license?

If you utilized the free Windows 10 upgrade during the offer period (prior to 29 July 2016), you won't need to provide your old Windows 7 product key during the install process. Your Windows 10 operating system activation is already maintained "in the cloud" so the OS will activate automatically on that same machine after you install it. A good reference from Microsoft for additional reading on that subject: Activation in Windows 10


The logical choice here is to backup your entire hard drive, or at least your entire system partition.

Better yet: Since you plan to buy a new hard disk, clone your existing hard disk over to the new hard disk.

Benefit: You save yourself hours or even days of reinstalling existing software.

I am getting messages upon boot up that my hard drive will die very soon

Suspicious. I didn't know such a error message even exists. Certainly this the first time I am hearing this. Perhaps your research its authenticity. I am curious as to what has generated this message and what is its basis for this claim. Is it an scareware malware?

  • S.M.A.R.T monitoring gives that message. Most HD include that diagnostic interface. Give it a go, there are different tools to read that data – Alfabravo Feb 23 '17 at 19:44
  • "Suspicious. I didn't know such a error message even exists. Certainly this the first time I am hearing this." This function has been around for quite some time. My team runs a domain with several thousand Windows 7 physical desktop computers that have SATA drives, and our help desk hears about this happening once or twice a month. – Run5k Feb 23 '17 at 19:47
  • @Run5k Any idea what generates it? – user477799 Feb 23 '17 at 19:50
  • Not specifically. The message itself comes from within the operating system, and just like Alfabravo said, I always assumed that it was S.M.A.R.T monitoring talking to our Windows 7/10 OS. – Run5k Feb 23 '17 at 19:54
  • I have never seen this either. It may be an OEM-installed item. – Yorik Feb 23 '17 at 20:06

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