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!