copy hardrive
October 9, 2011 10:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I copy my existing hard drive to my new pc?

I've been through the other posts, but I'm not tech savvy enough to be 100% confident about what I'm doing.

I want "take" the contents of my old PC and "put" them on my new PC, as much as possible. I want to "see" my old PC on the new one.

I'm not clear if I need ghosting, cloning, imaging. Do need something bootable? Do I care about back up?

I can get under the hood if I have to, but prefer easy clicking. I don't mind paying.

posted by larry_darrell to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The easiest solution by far is to obtain an external hard drive or similar, copy all the data you want to transfer onto it, and thence onto your new computer. You can theoretically do this over any type of connection between the computers -- wireless, for example, if you have a network at home.

If you don't have an external hard drive you can buy a small USB adapter to let you plug the old hard drive directly into the new computer; this will require you to open the case.
posted by katrielalex at 10:54 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, I have to suggest not copying everything over. I'm assuming by you saying you want to "see" your old PC, that includes all of your Windows settings and installed programs. It can get a little hairy, mostly because of hardware and driver compatibility issues. Also, there's a LOT of useless stuff on a hard drive after even a relatively short period of use that's just nice to get rid of by doing a fresh install. That being said, you can do what katrielalex said. You just might have a few errors and might spend just as much time trying to fix them as you would doing fresh installs of the programs you do use.

I personally would recommend just copying over your personal files, such as documents, music and movies, and reinstalling the programs that you need. It's relatively easy to do and can be very cheap (by using a mass storage device like a USB drive or external HDD), or even free, if you use an online storage service like Dropbox.
posted by erstwhile at 11:00 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

get an external hard drive - it is the easiest way to move your files easily -
and then you can also periodically back-up your files to that external location to protect them (which you should be doing if they are important)
posted by Flood at 11:24 AM on October 9, 2011

External hard drive or Large USB Thumb Drive.
Connect it to the old PC.
Copy over all the data you want.
Connect external hard drive to new PC.
Copy over the data you want on the new PC.

Best thing is since you're keeping the old PC around for a bit you'll know if you're missing anything so you won't have to worry about losing anything you forgot to copy on the first go.

Programs will need to be installed on the new PC.

If you want you can copy over the entire old hard drive to the new drive. Storage is cheap so if it's an old PC it probably won't be that much data anyway and you can always delete things later.

You can try using some migration assistant like Windows Easy Transfer to copy over a lot of your old windows settings, etc., but it's usually more trouble than it's worth.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:09 PM on October 9, 2011

If what you want is your data (Wordprocessing documents, spreadsheets , etc.) then the 'buy an external hard drive' advice is fine.

If what you want is for your new PC to be exactly as the one is/was (same version of Windows [i'm assuming you're a windows user], same settings, etc.) that's not achievable reliably simply by the 'buy external hard drive' advice (so I'm seconding what @erstwhile said in other words).

That much i know. The next bit i'm less certain about and others may correct me.

There are cases where you can 'clone' one machine in order to completely replicate it on another. I have no practical experience of this but I have been told that if the two machines are not identical/pretty similar (stories told to me vary) then this is not necessarily going to work as you might hope.
posted by southof40 at 2:06 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Ghosting" refers specifically to using the Norton Ghost imaging software, but in practice "ghosting", "cloning" and "imaging" are pretty much the same thing: making an exact replica of your entire hard drive through a software program that then also lets you replace the contents of the new hard drive with the old one. Voila, you "see" the same PC as you had before. Norton Ghost costs $69.99. DriveImage XML is a similar program available free for personal use. You can find quite a few others both free and paid. They are not hard to use, per se, but presume some degree of familiarity with how your hardware is configured.

As others have said, one issue you will run into with installing your old disk's image over your new one's is that your new computer will likely have different components than the old one and you will find that you need to chase down a lot of drivers unless they came on recovery media from the new computer's manufacturer. It isn't the worst thing in the world, but it does make the job a lot more time consuming and opens the door to problems if you can't find all the drivers.

Copying your files is indeed a lot simpler if that's really all you want. If you were a good do-bee and kept all your important files in your "My Documents" folder, it's a straight copy job using a flash drive or external hard drive, just like everybody has said. Your safest bet is to copy the following from your user folder (C:\Documents and Settings\user in XP or C:\Users\user in Win Vista/7): Documents, Desktop, Favorites, and Cookies. That covers most things home users care about.
posted by briank at 3:52 PM on October 9, 2011

While respecting erstwhile's point of view, it has been my experience that there are always files you forgot you had, and these are left behind when you transfer your documents. Chagrin follows. I had good and untroubled success using Acronis True Image Home in cloning Senhora Quijano's computer drive and not only moving it to a new computer, but to a larger drive as well.
posted by alonsoquijano at 4:21 PM on October 9, 2011

Buying yet another hard drive is overkill. Assuming this is a Serial ATA drive we're talking about (almost all drives these days are Serial ATA, but if it's an old drive it might be IDE), just get a docking station like this and plug the old drive into there. Then you can copy whatever you want (prime candidates should be your \Users folder, mainly).
posted by neckro23 at 4:23 PM on October 9, 2011

Larry_darrell, on the new computer do you just want to have access to any data files which are currently on the hard drive of your old computer?

Or are you thinking that you could move your old drive to the new computer and sort of boot off of it and have access to programs that you might have installed on your old computer as well?
posted by dgeiser13 at 12:57 PM on October 10, 2011

Unless this is a laptop or a super-micro desktop, I'd just install the old hard drive into the new computer.

This is pretty easy to do- it should at most involve removing four screws, unplugging the power and data cables from the back of the drive in the old computer, and then reinstalling the hard drive into the new computer. This video looks like a passable demonstration of the procedure. If you're unsure, try reaching out to friends or coworkers to see if someone has sufficient experience to do this for you; you can always say thanks with a six pack, lunch, etc.

The only possible complication is if the old drive is an IDE type and your new computer does not have any IDE connectors on the motherboard; if this is the case, you can purchase inexpensive PCI cards that will provide IDE connectivity.
posted by EKStickland at 7:31 AM on October 12, 2011

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