Let's say that I have 80Gb of data to transfer from one computer to another. What's the fastest method to transfer that files?

  • Network transfer?
  • DVD Recording?
  • Copying in a pen drive?
  • Removing one HD and placing as secondary in the another PC and copy and paste the files?
  • [another suggestion?]
  • 1
    Network transfer and removing the drive mean you can read and write at the same time. The other 2 methods means you need to add the read from the first machine to the later write to the other one.
    – jvanderh
    Jul 17, 2009 at 2:30
  • 1
    Math time! What's the bandwidth of a 80GB hard drive traveling 60MPH in the glove box of a car that needs to travel 20 miles? :-)
    – Travis
    Jul 17, 2009 at 15:41
  • fwiw: 546Mbit... But it's very "bursty".
    – Sirex
    Feb 20, 2012 at 15:39
  • By fastest, are you including setup time? Physically moving a hard drive from one computer to another takes a lot more time than creating an NFS export, for instance. That 15 minutes to pull a drive and plug it into your other computer could move a lot of data over NFS on a gigabit network.
    – MaQleod
    Jul 13, 2012 at 21:29

14 Answers 14


I vote for temporarily removing the hard drive from one computer, installing it into the other computer for the transfer.

  • 4
    You need to add the time it takes to move the drive to the target machine and move it back to the original machine, which I would think isn't trivial. I would guess it would depend on the network speed (10/100 could be faster moving the drive, Gigabit definitely not worth the hassle to move the drive)
    – jvanderh
    Jul 17, 2009 at 2:45
  • 7
    I'm a really fast screwer so the "downtime" would be irrelevant.
    – Nate
    Jul 17, 2009 at 2:52
  • 1
    that is called latency
    – bandi
    Jul 17, 2009 at 5:27
  • 2
    I'm assuming this is an internal SATA/IDE drive. If it's USB 2.0 or Firewire it would be slower and about the same speed as file transfer over Gigabit ethernet. Jul 17, 2009 at 9:08
  • 1
    Also known as sneakernet Jul 21, 2009 at 12:23

I compared a few different methods in linux on a 100Mbit network:

Method             Bytes          Time     Speed
smb mount then cp  733960192      425      1.647 MB/s
scp                730253312      69.48*   10.0241 MB/s
wget using http    736274432      63.2     11.1097 MB/s
rsync               -              -       comparable to scp
  1. scp includes the time it took my to type in my 40+ character password. Subtract out at least 3-4 seconds.
  2. scp and wget actually locked up my network connection. putty timed out. top indicated than an entire core was dedicated to the copy.
  3. I don't have numbers for rsync, but the they were comparable to scp

So, in linux, I could transfer 80GB in 2 hours of ignoring it and not babying the process. I find that preferable to moving a hard drive between computers, since they requires me to actually pay attention and shut things down.

Windows sharing would probably not be as fast as scp.

  • 9
    40+ character password ?!?! Jul 17, 2009 at 9:12
  • 1
    It could be a sentence password. They're actually not hard to remember :)
    – sashoalm
    Jun 21, 2012 at 13:12

I'd go for the big external USB drive. I have a 250Gb laptop drive in an enclosure for just that purpose.

  • Or a Firewire drive, if you have the hardware.
    – Nate
    Jul 17, 2009 at 2:20

Gigabit Ethernet

  • 10 Gigabit Ethernet? Infiniband? Jul 17, 2009 at 2:11
  • 1
    Ethernet cable between the 2 computers, you don't even need a network device.
    – jvanderh
    Jul 17, 2009 at 2:28
  • 1
    Most drives on recent boxes can transfer data faster than 100Mbps (that is 12.5MBytes per second less the network overhead). At the same time, most standard drives cannot cap a Gigabit Ethernet (over 100 MBytes per second). So there is no need for 10 Gigabit or Infiniband.
    – jvanderh
    Jul 17, 2009 at 2:33
  • Agreed, 10 Gbit would be overkill unless you have a NetApp in your closet ;-) Jul 17, 2009 at 9:11
  • I don't see this as a full solution. Even with this in place, there are still more steps that can fundamentally change the speed depending on how you do it (ie, protocol or application).
    – MaQleod
    Jul 13, 2012 at 21:26

If you have a Mac, Disk Target Mode is great, especially if both computers have Firewire 800. You connect them to each other with Firewire, and then reboot one in Disk Target Mode, by holding down t when it starts up. That computer then acts as a Firewire hard drive, allowing very fast transfer speeds without removing any disks. Additionally, it often works even if the computer is unbootable due to a problem with the operating system.

  • 1
    +1 but clearly the OP didn't have a mac
    – cregox
    May 27, 2010 at 20:33

Depending on how fast/reliable your network is I would either go with the network or removing the hard drive and just copying.


I have always found doing a direct copy disk to disk slightly faster and more reliable, however I also have a Gigabit network at home so lately just copy directly across.

To ensure I get the best performance on Windows I do however use Robocopy. It works well both across the network and drive to drive.


80 gigabytes is 640 gigabits. Typical home ethernet is 100 Mbps. So, I guess figure on 10,000 seconds - less than three hours. Probably somewhat slower if you are using wifi. But you can just leave it go without worrying about. I wouldn't want to deal with that many DVDs, and my flash drives aren't much bigger.

Although last time I tried a long transfer I found out that I had been using the wrong power supply for my hub.

  • That's assuming the hard-drive will keep up. Jul 17, 2009 at 2:24
  • I agree with your numbers, over 9,000 seconds is my estimate, so yes less than three hours. But don't mix it up with wifi if you are talking 100 Mbps. And most hard drives today can keep up easliy with 100Mbps unless you are copying a bunch of tiny files.
    – jvanderh
    Jul 17, 2009 at 2:40

Most likely, your hard disks (source and target) can do about 100MB/s. Gigabit ethernet, provided all the network hardware involved is decent should be able to get close enough that network is easiest.

If you have particularly fast harddisks, or a particularly slow network, you may be able to save time by moving the harddisk into the target machine and doing a local copy. If you get 80MB/s or more, it is probably not worth the hassle.

  • 100 MB/sec from a desktop hard drive‽ Since when?
    – derobert
    Jul 17, 2009 at 4:58
  • Seagate Barracuda, WD Velociraptor... more probably, see: tomshardware.com/charts/2009-3.5-desktop-hard-drive-charts/… ... note that this is average throughput, peak will exceed 100MB/s on most.
    – jerryjvl
    Jul 17, 2009 at 5:15
  • And that is obviously not even considering SSDs that can often easily do twice that.
    – jerryjvl
    Jul 17, 2009 at 5:16

If you're copying files over the network, I would do something other than just dragging files with Windows Explorer. There are utilities that will be able to copy it faster than the built in way.

  • I agree there are utilities. Please provide a few in your answer.
    – jvanderh
    Jul 17, 2009 at 2:41
  • I actually don't use Windows very much any more. If someone wants to suggest any, I would gladly add it to the answer. Jul 17, 2009 at 3:02

If you are going to do it repeatedly (if not, you'd be done by now whatever method you chose ;)), I'd connect the two computers via a crossover cable and gigabit ethernet. Turn on jumbo frame support, and if possible don't use windows file sharing (smb). This will be about as fast as an average drive can write under ideal conditions, so there's not much to gain by swapping disks.


Download and install Fastcopy. The site looks kind of generic, but it seems to be safe. I have been using it for several years. Works faster than anything out there...no matter what physical method you use.


Surprised no one else has mentioned this, but FTP is a good option. I'm copying a 200gb virtual machine clone of our server to another machine, and I'm getting very good speeds (30MB/s) over LAN, plus it's resumable. Filezilla Server on the source and Filezilla client on the target, free-as-in-whatever and getting the job done.


Some years ago, I believe the fastest transfer was FireWire (usually common with Mac). This is now outdated. I would reply on a USB 3 flash drive or external hard disk.

DVD or BlueRay (any compact disc type of burning) is painfully slow. Network transfer would be slower than a USB 3 too.

Removing the HD and placing it on the new PC - yes. However at the end of the day, the removal and replacement also take time...

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