Moving Files From Old Drive to a New One

All of us have been through this at some point. We have a new, virgin hard drive and we need to move all of our programs and files over to it. You may have bought a new computer. You may just be installing a new, faster hard drive. Either way, you need to move everything over. You want your new setup to work just like the old one. You want all your files there so that you don’t lose anything. What is the best way to go about it?

Copying Your Programs?

A lot of people new to computers assume you can copy entire programs from one computer to another and they will work. Unfortunately, for most software, that is not the case. Software programs usually have entire folders and many files that are needed to run smoothly. They also have registry entries that are needed to work properly. For this reason, you need to actually take the time to re-install all of your software. Yes, that means finding your program CDs and running all the install programs again. Trust me, not only is this necessary for a lot of your software, but your computer will just work a lot better if you do it this way.

Copying Your Data

Your data files are another matter. They are just files. They have no tentacles in the registry and can be moved around easily. So, the question is: How do you move your files from another hard drive?

Chances are you have a hard drive in another computer. That drive has a full installation of Windows on it, along with your entire old computing environment. But, keep in mind that all of it is on a hard drive. And that hard drive is removable from the old computer. Now, keep that in mind a moment while I address the most obvious ways to move your data.

  • CD/DVD Disc. Yes, you can use the old computer to burn all of your data files to discs. Then simply throw the disc into the new computer and move the files. Nice and easy. But, if you have a lot of data, you’ll need potentially a lot of discs. And this can be annoying and slow.
  • Network. If you are dealing with two completely separate computers, you can put them both on the network at the same time and use your network to move the files over. This is a nice, fast way to get it done, but it requires the time of setting up the network properly with the proper folder sharing permissions.
  • Internet. There are remote computing services that can be used to move files, even if the computers are not even near each other. I use, for example. They have a file transfer setup which is quite fast and you can move large quantities of data with it. But, again, it requires two completely separate, internet-enabled PCs as well as a paid subscription to LogMeIn. If you are using a remote backup service like Mozy or Carbonite, then chances are you have a lot of your data backed up with them. You can also use their service to restore all of your data files to your new PC.

Down and Dirty Way

Very often you find yourself with one computer and two hard drives and you need to move data. You can do the entire transfer with one computer and without any network. It involves simply connecting BOTH hard drives to the computer at the same time. To illustrate, I’ll go through the way I did it when I downgraded from Vista to XP.

  1. I had two hard drives, one with a full Vista setup and another which was blank. I wanted to put XP back onto this computer. So, I disconnected the Vista drive from the motherboard and power supply in order to protect it from being overwritten. I rebooted the computer with the blank hard drive in it and the Windows XP CD in the CD drive.
  2. I installed XP and my software to the new drive the same way I would if the computer were brand new.
  3. I then turned off the computer, reconnected the Vista drive, and rebooted.
  4. I went into the BIOS and made sure the boot order would dictate that the drive with XP on it would boot and not Vista.
  5. The computer boots into XP and now my entire Vista drive is visible inside Windows Explorer as a second hard drive.
  6. I copy and paste all of my data files from the Vista drive to the XP drive. It will take a while depending on the amount of data.
  7. I power down the computer, disconnect the Vista drive again, and reboot.
  8. There I am, using the new hard drive chocked full with all of my data. Nothing lost.

If your hard drives are SATA, then you need not worry about any settings. Just make sure the boot order is correct. If you are using IDE, then you will want to make sure that you flip your former master drive into SLAVE mode so that it will work secondary to your new drive.

If you are totally afraid to open up your computer and connect/disconnect hard drives, then you can always use a USB drive enclosure to connect your old hard drive up via USB and do the same thing. But, that requires having or buying a USB enclosure. My way is completely free.

Also, if the drive you are copying your data from is from another computer, just remove the drive from the old computer and connect it to the new one temporarily. You don’t even need to fasten the drive into the case. Just let it sit on something loose. As long as it is not on a metal surface and is connected properly, your computer will use it just the same whether it is screwed down or not.

Who thought copy and paste could be used to copy entire computers!


  1. Excellent, I’m actually about to put together a new rig, so this helps quite a bit.

  2. Paulsgotstyle says:

    Thats great and I have done just that – using an enclosure when I downgraded from Vista. The problem I have is it won’t let me delete the Windows files off the HD in the enclosure, and I want to clear the HD now I have transferred the files I wanted onto the new one.
    Any ideas how I do it? I am sure it is a simple thing that I am just missing.

    • Sharron Field says:

      It’s probably way too late in your particular case Paulsgotstyle; but for anyone else who needs to know here’s how to do it:

      First before you start you’ll need to know which letter your temporary hooked up drive has been assigned with by your computer. Once you’ve established that, (In XP) click Start>Control Panel>Administrative Tools>Computer Management, and look for “Disk Management” under “Storage”. Click “Disk Management”.

      Select the correct drive in the other window pane and right-click it. Click “Format”. Click yes and preferrably make sure the type of file system you’re using is NTFS – Unless you’re going to install Win ME or 98 on it; in which case ensure you select FAT32.

      (You can use FAT32 with XP – And I believe Vista too; but the maximum file size with FAT32 is 32MB: You won’t be able to create files bigger than that.)

      That will erase everything off of the drive and reformat it.

  3. I just changed from aol dial up (windows 98) to dsl (windows vista) So far, I hate it!! I had my Family Tree Maker on my old hard drive and its not compatible with w-vista. Its still on my old harddrive and is also backed up on floppy disks. Don’t know what to do about anything; also the print is so small on my 19 inch flat screen monitor I am going blind trying to read it with these 75 year old eyes. i am thinking about just going back to aol dial up on my old hard drive. What are your thoughts. ps. not very literate with computers I am sad to say.

  4. Well one thing not mentioned here is cloning your hard drive to another. If you purchase a WD or Maxtor, a cloning disk is included if you purchase a retail and the program is downloadable if you purchase an OEM HD.I keep a hard copy of my entire HD and operating system in a cloned copy on an external and have not reloaded anything on my HD for years. Cloned HDs keep the regestery in tact.
    I have even upgraded my computer twice with new motherboards with a trick that was the tip of the day a few years ago with out loss of programs. I will repost if it is OK with the powers here.

  5. I am assuming it is OK to post this so here it is.

    Having XP recognize MB change
    To have Windows XP recognize a MB change, set 1st boot in the BIOS screen to CD then insert your Win XP disk in CD player. When computer has booted from CD, select “new install”, then press F8 to accept license, then press “r” for repair. You may or may not be prompted to press the r key as an option but just press it anyway. At this time it may ask for an admin password so be prepared ahead of time for this. As soon as you do this, a DOS prompt will show up on the screen. Now reboot with out the CD and everything should be a go. Do this and the previous activation trick, you should be able to reuse your old HD when either replacing the MB or doing a new build.

  6. Another remote access solution you could use is I’m InTouch to transfer files between computers. It can also transfer files between a computer and cell phone which is handy.

  7. When I’ve upgraded to a newer larger drive I’ve often cloned them using XXClone( and has worked wonderfully many times and is fairly simple to use.

  8. Hi: I installed a Maxtor as a second hard drive for data storage and opted to use their software to transfer files. Now if I right click a file and scroll to send to, the new drive is not on the list. In “my computer” the drive is listed. Also the Maxtor file transfer wizard does not see some files that I want to move to the new drive that are visible and useable in windows. I would like to get rid of the Maxtor software and just use windows, enable the right click, send-to feature. I already have data stored on the new drive and hopefully do not have to clear the data and start all over again. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  9. I am in the process of somthing similar…my old xp computer died and I am transferring files to a new vista computer by setting up my old drive in an external housing/USB as suggested here.
    Vista is requiring that I reset permissions to manipulate the files on the external drive. Is there an easy way to globally set the permissions so I don’t have to do this for every individual file?

  10. I have to move about 750 MB from a Windows 98 pc to my xp pc I tried connecting the 98 hard drive directly to the xp motherboard set as slave but the ribbons were different sizes so then I found something to hookup the hard drive via USB when I plugged it in , I got the “windows has found new hardware fujistu IDE device”, but it wasn’t showing up in my computer. So I looked in the device manager and saw the hard drive but could not access it, when I clicked on it, it brought up what looked like a properties menu. A friend suggested that I upgrade the 98 HD to 2000 so it would recognize plug and play devices like a flash drive. Does this sound like the way to go or can anybody offer me an easier way? Any advice would be greatly appreciated

    • I have the same problem and when I go to disk management, it shows the drive with windows 98 on it but will not assign a letter to the drive without having to delete the partition. This is unacceptable because I would loose all the files on the disk. Have you found an answer to your guestion which you are willing to share? Thanks Joe

  11. I’ve gotten a new computer with windows vista and would like to know how to move my e-mails and some data from my old computer with windows 98 to the new computer. Is this something that I can do myself or will I have to get someone that is real smart with computers to do it for me?
    Any help will be appreciated. Thanks.

  12. having same problem as charlote and do you have any suggestions. I did get the hard dirve out and now need to transfer over to the new windows vista. I would like to do it myself but at 65 not sure if I can do it.

  13. Could some one help me!!! I have some old files on a old computer that I need System is windows 95 I have the files on a floppy and tried to open then on XP no way. I can bring them up on the 95 system but I can not print them because everything is usb cable now and I do not have any cables to hook old computer up. HELP

  14. My desktop drive 0 with the OS on it went south and my external drive that had all the data backed up on was hooked to my notebook so I could read some files on how I had set up my previous install on the desktop. Well the data got corrupted on my backup drive before I could copy them back to the new replacement drive in the desktop! Can you believe my luck? Well I did some research and these drives aren’t really meant to be plug and play. I hadn’t been using the “safely remove hardware” feature to disconnect the backup drive from the notebook which is why i believe the MFT got messed up. So i was able to put the messed up drive 0 back in to the 2nd bay once the OS was reinstalled on the new drive and I was able to copy about 95% of my data onto the new drive. Whew! Only lost a few music albums – unreadable. Then I had to reformat the external drive and back up everything again on it. Not feeling secure about having only one backup after this experience I bought a 500 GB WD MyBook as a backup backup! So now I’m copying gigs and gigs from one external drive to another via USB 2.0 using the desktop PC. It seems to take about a minute per gig as a rough average. I’ve got about 160 GB of mp3s! And of course a few pics and important documents and some video clips.
    What a story! So my point would be that only one copy of a backup is not 100% secure if you have files that you absolutely can’t lose.

  15. Diana Merrick says:

    Hi. I just bought a Dell Inspirion with Vista. My old Dell EP became corrupted with a virus. I want to transfer mostly pictures to my new computer. Can I do this with out corrupting my new computer? I have the Vista/EP transfering cable. Thanks, Diana

  16. Can I use it on blogger?

  17. Could some one help me!!! I have some old files on a old computer that I need System is windows 95 I have the files on a floppy and tried to open then on XP no way. I can bring them up on the 95 system but I can not print them because everything is usb cable now and I do not have any cables to hook old computer up. HELP

  18. I had a question i want to transfer word documents excel documents music and pictures from my old dell computer to my new hp computer. in my dell computer i have a virus, when i transfer over these files will i also transfer the virus?

  19. can i twitter my files to new computeR??! plz help

  20. Patricia Cossart says:

    My old computer died and I had the computer people put everything on the old hard drive on to a portable one. I cam home and hooked it up to my new computer, but now I can’t access much of what’s on it. I get access denied as I don’t have permission. What does this mean and what can I do about it? Please help.

  21. Seymour Wheelock says:

    Don’t know why but I’m finding little help online with this question:
    I bought a new PC laptop. It’s Vista. I want to keep what it has on it in the way of applications, files, settings, etc. I want to add to it the programs, files, settings, etc., from the old laptop. All I find is info about transferring to the new one as if to replace, not augment, the files on the new one. I’ve got a clone of the old HD on an external USB HD. What do I do?

  22. yes and if you back up your files the virus goes with them

  23. I had a 2004 Dell computer crash, it ran an WD eide hard drive. I bought a new gateway computer yesterday(SATA Drive) and the guy from Best buy said all I needed was the enclosure system to transfer my files to the new computer. I hooked everything up but when I went to transfer my files to the new computer it wouldn’t let me because is said I did not have permission from the owner. I AM THE OWNER. The old computer was password protected. I used the same name and password on the new system but still cannot access my old stuff. What can I do.

  24. Abby Jones says:

    I used to think that transferring my files from an old hard drive to a new external hard drive was difficult. Thanks for this!

  25. My old computer was running window xp but computer stopped powering on. So I took the hard drive out and put it into another computer. The master drive is SATA, but the hard drive from the older computer is plugged in as IDE. (The newer computer is running vista.) When the computer boots up, the folders show up, but the files in the folders do not.

  26. Somone11 says:

    FYI to anyone. After you install that old hard drive you have to take owership of the files. In vista is easy right click on the file. Go to Security. Click advanced Click Edit. YOu need to click the part where it say inherite all files and something is checked. It will ask you to take owership of the files. There may be a step or two I missed. But when your in there its very clear what you need to click. Thats how you gain acess to the files. Or google it for better directions. In XP you have to boot the computer in safe mode to do this. The step are a little different but same principle. Again google it.

  27. i put in a blank driver and fomated it witth window or windows xp progarm but one is a 40bit and the other is 80 how do i run 80 as the master

  28. I have a computer xp. I have Drive C and D some how I have windows on both drives. Can I take off one of the drives. If Yes how?

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