A customer has a computer running Windows 98 (I know, cringe) and needs to take some data off the computer to put on a new laptop.

I've tried using USB, but Windows 98 doesn't have USB storage drivers. I thought I'd transfer the data via Ethernet instead, but the computer doesn't have an Ethernet port.

I then decided to try and burn the data to a CD, but we only had blank DVDs on hand. And of course, the drive doesn't write to DVDs.

The only way I can think of getting the data off the drive now is by taking it out of the computer and using a USB cable to connect it directly to the laptop, but I don't really want to poke around the insides of that PC.

Does anyone have any better ideas to get the data off the computer?

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    So, the PC has USB ports but you can't find Win98 drivers for a flash drive, right? is this 98 or 98SE? – Sparx Jan 24 '11 at 17:51
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    Print everything. Surely there must be a parallel port. – mtone Jan 24 '11 at 17:55
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    @mtone Ironically, that's why she got a new laptop. After buying a new printer she found it didn't work with 98, so she decided to get a new laptop too as the PC was getting old anyway. – Connor W Jan 24 '11 at 17:56
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    Go buy some blank CD's? – Wuffers Jan 24 '11 at 22:45
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    I do find it amusing that you can write a CD on it but don't have USB storage drivers available. Either go get some CD's or pull the drive. – Simurr Jan 24 '11 at 22:46

16 Answers 16


To be honest, taking the drive out would take about 30 seconds, it's probably the easiest way.

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    That probably is the easiest option, but I dont want to damage anything in the process. I would have no problem if it was my own, but its not and it's over 10 years old. Maybe I'm just being paranoid. – Connor W Jan 24 '11 at 18:09
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    to be honest... you're being paranoid. If it breaks while your fixing it it's either because you don't know what you're doing (doubt it), or (in reality) it was already about to break. – James Mertz Jan 24 '11 at 18:15
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    You can get laptop drive enclosures cheap... they turn an old laptop drive into an external (portable) drive. Then its just a simple USB connection to your new computer. Something like: newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817145752 – cjstehno Jan 24 '11 at 19:07
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    Nice answer, quite outside the box. – Trufa Jan 24 '11 at 20:10
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    If you can buy a hard drive enclosure, you can also buy blank CDs. – TREE Jan 24 '11 at 22:09

Go buy some CDs at the local supermarket or computer store!

  • Yeah I may do, but I'd rather not have to if there is an easier and cheaper way. Especially as you cant buy single CDs, and that's all I want. – Connor W Jan 24 '11 at 18:00
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    Well, if you want to drive to Lewes in East Sussex I'll gladly give you a couple! – Linker3000 Jan 24 '11 at 19:22
  • Or ask around. Someone in the neighborhood probably has a couple old blank CDs in a drawer or old shoe box. Offer the first one to find one a pint in exchange! – hotpaw2 Jan 24 '11 at 21:44
  • A single CD isn't worth anywhere near the cost of a pint! – ErikE Jan 25 '11 at 1:43
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    “[...] and cheaper way” – time is money, and as of now, you spent more time discussing how to solve a non-issue than some cheap CDs cost.. – poke Jan 25 '11 at 11:40

download Ubuntu Linux CD or USB, boot from there and it will support USB

using serial port will take forever (depend on the data volume)

there are also DB25 Male / DB25 Male 15C Parallel Data Transfer Cable (norton commander or Windows 'Direct Cable Connection.")

boot Linux from floppy - but it is not GUI :)

DVD - KNOPPIX this GUI is very lightweith no problems even with 128MB

you also can do a backup of user's data if HDD dies (it is about a time)

  • 9
    A 98-era machine won't be USB-bootable. And they don't have any blank CDs... – Colin Pickard Jan 24 '11 at 17:35
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    I wouldn't even bet on CD bootable either for that era and many modern live CDs don't support El Torito anymore (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Torito_%28CD-ROM_standard%29) – Flexo Jan 24 '11 at 17:39
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    he said "...the drive doesn't write to DVDs." so maybe reads DVDs – jet Jan 24 '11 at 17:43
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    I wouldn't run Ubuntu (especially a LiveCD) on a computer which was made for Win98) because of a possibly low RAM. See my answer. – Lekensteyn Jan 24 '11 at 18:12
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    @kloucks: why can't you? Some of the leanest but complete Linux distros could fit all of their files in a 64 MB thumbdrives. The latest Linux 2.6 kernel (without initramfs and only relevant drivers included) is about 2.5 MB, which can be made much smaller with some effort. You probably are not going to have all the Compiz jazz, but some minimalists wm, e.g. twm could fit and have lots of space left; Firefox is out of the question, but dillo or even links is fine. The extreme minimalist Linux distribution can fit a whole system in 2.5MB. – Lie Ryan Jan 25 '11 at 1:01

Hyperterm file transfer with a null modem cable? Odds are good the old box has one and cheap USB ones can be used on the new laptop. Even for a CDROM of data it should complete overnight.

Or you could even do full PPP over the serial port to another PC running a pppd.

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    Masochistic, but doable! – Linker3000 Jan 24 '11 at 17:29
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    If CD-R, Ethernet and HDD removal are out there isn't much left besides RS-232 and the printer! – Flexo Jan 24 '11 at 17:30
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    If you're going to go buy a null modem cable you might as well just buy some blank CDs, then you have data transfer and a backup in one. CDs are probably cheaper and easier to find locally too. – Colin Pickard Jan 24 '11 at 17:36
  • Huh. I would have suggested tar + compression for some reason... Then again, I don't think I've tried that over raw serial, so maybe it would hit a transmission error and die. – SamB Jan 25 '11 at 15:01

Find, buy or scrounge a PCI network card.

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    Not a bad idea actually. Cant believe I didnt think of that already – Connor W Jan 24 '11 at 18:14
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    Apparently you ruled it out..."but I dont really want to poke around the insides of that PC." – Linker3000 Jan 24 '11 at 19:20
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    In the case of a laptop of that era, you may well be able to put in a PCMCIA card, which wouldn't require any poking around. – oKtosiTe Jan 24 '11 at 21:20

If you're looking for drivers for a USB flash drive for Win98 FE or SE, see this page for a generic USB Mass Storage Driver.

Right click on My Computer and select Properties

On the System Properties page that opens up click on the General tab, if it is not already on that page. Under the System heading, look for the version number (see right)

* Version 4.10.1998 is the original version of Windows 98 (98FE)
* Version 4.10.2222 is Windows 98 Second Edition (98SE)
  • Thanks for that. Had no idea there were two editions of 98. Only problems is, how do you install the drivers to a computer with no internet connection or USB storage functionality? I'm really wondering how people lived with 98! – Connor W Jan 24 '11 at 18:18
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    You didn't mention that there was no internet access. I don't suppose you could connect an external dial-up modem. is there any ISP in your locale that still offers dial-up internet access? – Sparx Jan 24 '11 at 18:24
  • @Connor: You may want to edit that into your answer. – oKtosiTe Jan 24 '11 at 21:22
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    And this is exactly the situation in which a floppy drive in a new computer still makes sense! If your new computer had one, you could easily transfer the driver! So, go buy a floppy drive ;) – poke Jan 25 '11 at 11:42

Back in the day, we used special parallel or serial port cables and file transfer software to move data from PC to PC. The most famous package I remember was LapLink and it came with special cable and software for just this problem. Wikipedia describes the LapLink cable as for parallel port - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LapLink_cable, but I know I have in a junkbox somewhere a couple of universal serial port null-modem cables. Perhaps, I'm mixing up the Direct Cable Connection feature of Windows that apparently is available up through Windows XP - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_cable_connection. If you're interested in pursuing, Microsoft still has some instructions online - http://support.microsoft.com/kb/298446.

  • I used LapLink at one point and it worked well. Same with Direct Cable Connection. There's probably something about the latter in Windows' built-in Help. – martineau Jan 25 '11 at 4:39
  • You recall correctly - LapLink supports both parallel and serial port transfers. Note that it's painfully slow compared to modern transfer speeds; I'd use it to transfer the USB Mass Storage drivers mentioned in another answer, and continue thence. – Piskvor left the building Jul 25 '11 at 7:35

The two most economical ways to do it would be to, as many suggest would be to:

  1. remove the harddrive and put it into another machine that you can copy the files off
  2. buy the smallest, cheapest stack of CDs and burn copies of those.
  3. Variant on 2, buy a cheap stack of CD's, burn a very lightweight Linux distro (Knoppix works fine) on it, and transfer off via a USB stick (assuming you can actually boot to a CD, that is)

The alternatives involve buying curiously expensive cables (it's harder and harder to find a Parallel cable, let alone whether the laptop computer you want to transfer the files to actually has said connector) coupled with very slow transfers (would take more time than to walk down to any computer superstore/Office Supply store and get some CDs). You didn't mention whether the Windows98 computer has "open" PCI slots for an ethernet card, so that route might be difficult (finding an ISA ethernet card isn't easy anymore). Plus you would NOT want to connect that computer to the Internet in any way shape or form.

An external USB enclosure that supports IDE (most likely what the Windows 98 computer's harddrive is) are fairly inexpensive (in the US, approximately 20-50 dollars). Though plugging it into any computer that can actually transfer via USB would be ideal.


I'd just get a USB<->IDE converter (see the review on cool tools). You wouldn't even need to remove the drive from the case if the connectors fit in behind the drive. Just plug in the data cable between the laptop and the drive, plug in the power, ????, profit!


Since the computer runs Win98, it has probably not enough RAM to run a full-featured distro like Ubuntu/Linux from a LiveCD. Therefore, I recommend using a lighter Linux distribution like PartedMagic which uses 175 in "Live" mode. It supports USB, so you can plug in an external USB harddisk and copy the files. You should have patience though, Win98 computers do not (often) have USB2.0 ports.

The best alternative I can think of is removing the hard disk from the computer, and put it in a newer computer with better hardware. You might need an IDE to SATA cable as well. If you do not like opening your new computer, or wish to transfer data to the laptop directly, buy an IDE to USB cable.

  • Linux can run on pretty minimum resources. – James Mertz Jan 24 '11 at 18:16
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    KronoS, I'm not talking about Linux, but Ubuntu/Linux. Altough it can run on 256ish RAM, there are faster alternatives. – Lekensteyn Jan 24 '11 at 18:19
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    What the f*** is Ubuntu/Linux? ( "official censoring rules" ) – Hello71 Jan 30 '11 at 1:48
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    Ubuntu is a Operating System, ran on the Linux kernel. Added a link for your convenience: ubuntu.com – Lekensteyn Jan 30 '11 at 10:16

This calls for kermit! if it worked on XTs then it should work now. Do you have a serial cable?

But seriously, you could have got a next-day delivery of CDRs by now. Before you move the drive to another PC make sure it has support for the drive. The old drive is probably IDE and most new PCs are sata only.


Buy (or make) a laplink cable http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LapLink_cable

Higher bandwidth than a null modem cable.

You can find the software you'll need easily enough with a google search, and you can transfer it to the Win98 box with a floppy disk.

I have one I keep around just because I've ran into similar scenarios in the past.


The easiest and fastest solution would be to go to your local electronic store and buy a case of CDs, R or RW, whichever you prefer.

However, another way to transfer the files would be via the network, but you didn't specify if there was a NIC in the PC.

Yet another way would be to connect an old Zip drive and get the files off of the machine that way.

And finally, the last way I can think of would be to take the HD out and plug it into another computer that can write DVDs and then simply burn the DVDs, assuming you have a computer on hand with those capabilities.

  • 2
    I wouldn't certainly wouldn't call burning CDs one the fastest ways to do it. The OP also mentioned there was no Ethernet port, so that's out, too. Zip or Jaz drives might work, if he can find or borrow one. Removing the HD is probably the fastest and most painless suggestion, IMHO. – martineau Jan 24 '11 at 21:34
  • Another possibly nice thing about IOmega Zip or Jaz drives is that they can both be connected to through a printer port. – martineau Jan 25 '11 at 4:46

If you have Internet access on the old machine, you could use something like DropBox which will let you upload and download, or "share", files & folders among multiple computers running different OSs. I'm not sure if their client software directly supports Win98, but even if it doesn't you can use its web-based interface to do almost all the same things (uploading and download shared files) -- I've done that with someone I know who has a Mac with an old unsupported version of OS X.

A free account comes with 2 GB of storage space -- and if that isn't enough you can transfer the files in batches.

  • User doesn't have internet access. That's one of the main hitches. – Sparx Jan 25 '11 at 14:14

If you absolutely cannot take out the hard drive, and cannot use a USB flash drive, then you can use the parallel port on the system to transfer files. However, speeds are going to be SLOW (I'm talking dial-up era speeds) so to be fully honest with you, take out the hard drive and transfer the files from there.

It will probably be even faster than anything else since 98 (to my knowledge) doesn't have USB 2.0 support and the processing power/memory usage for transferring files will slow it down as well.


Buy this, or equivalent. Afterward, keep for future similar data retrieval. As an IT tech, a device like this is well worth the investment. The one I have, I have used 3 or 4 times in critical situations. Never fails to provide the best solution for the type of problem you have.


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