How should I prepare for the looming demise of my personal laptop?
June 27, 2012 9:12 AM   Subscribe

How should I prepare for the looming demise of my personal laptop?

My computer is plaintively signalling that it is not long for this world. I'm kind of at a loss about what I should be doing now to prepare. Backing up documents is easy, but what else can I be doing now?

I'm interested in what people often kick themselves for not getting off of a computer before it dies, and any techniques for extracting passwords, auto-fill data, bookmarks and other things that I probably take for granted.

It's a Windows 7 laptop with a student version of Microsoft Office on it, and I only use gmail and Chrome for email/web activity. It's safe to assume that I know nothing about IT admin backend things.

Thank you so much!
posted by argonauta to Technology (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you use an IM program that logs, figure out where it stores the chat logs and back them up. They tend to be in a non-intuitive place, so just make sure you don't make the same mistake I did like three times.

Here are some tips on backing up Chrome settings.
posted by griphus at 9:16 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Uh, actually, ignore that link. It's hella old and there's probably easier ways to do it now.
posted by griphus at 9:17 AM on June 27, 2012

Get your new computer NOW, while you can still have stuff moved from the old one to the new one!

We did that and I am eternally grateful that it was so easy.

We had one die that we couldn't turn on. We had to remove the drives and do some other stuff and it was a real mess.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:18 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

any techniques for extracting passwords, auto-fill data, bookmarks and other things that I probably take for granted

You can sync Chrome to your Google account.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:26 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't have Dropbox or something similar, get that now and put as many of your files as you can on there. For documents you probably can fit everything in under the free 2 GB limit.

For passwords, look into something like LastPass (web-based) or 1Password (desktop). For the latter, save the password file to Dropbox. Or just use Chrome's builtin features.

If you have music you want to save, look into perhaps upgrading Dropbox to accommodate the extra files, or Google Music, which lets you upload up to 20,000 songs for free.

In conclusion, Dropbox.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:28 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Double-check with your ISP that they're not going to kick your ass for backing up your music (or other large files) to a server. A lot of them don't actually bother checking why you're using massive amounts of upstream and just assume you're pirating stuff and then cap you. If that's the case, or if you have any sort of bandwidth cap on your service, I'd just invest in an external hard drive and offload onto that.
posted by griphus at 9:31 AM on June 27, 2012

I'll second Cash4Lead's suggestion of Dropbox. When I purchased my Galaxy Tab 2, they rewarded me (rather unexpectedly, I might add) with 48 GB of storage space for an entire year. I used that extra space to back up everything on my desktop (documents, music, applications, videos, etc). I plan on getting an external drive later on to have an onsite backup of all my data, but knowing that everything is safely in 'cloud' storage for the moment is a godsend.
posted by Telpethoron at 9:51 AM on June 27, 2012

I would start using a new laptop as soon as possible. There's no better way of knowing what you'll miss than by not having it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:52 AM on June 27, 2012

I don't know the exact steps (too detailed for me to describe without making mistakes), but here are some things you should make sure are covered:
* all of your network settings. Take screenshots of the information on your network configuration tabs if necessary. If you have a login/password for your ISP buried in there, get that info secured. If you have specific settings for your LAN or your router, get that info now so that you aren't faced with rediscovering it later.
* similarly for every program you use: take a look at the options/settings menus and if there is anything nonstandard, make a note of it in a text file or take a screenshot, and back up those notes.

Personally I would buy a large external USB drive and backup your *entire* harddrive instead of cherry picking certain files and directories. Easier to have everything instead of losing data.

On preview: +1 to getting the new system up in parallel with the old. It's best if you can stop using your old laptop before it dies, so that it's still available to refer to as a last resort.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:57 AM on June 27, 2012

What's nice about LastPass is that it will dig up passwords stored across your browsers' files, and once you set it up can easily sync with your new system. I recently signed up after years of using another password manager and I can say I like it a lot.

Exporting bookmark data can be also an automated process via Xmarks, or you can export manually from each browser.

One frustrating thing about MS Office is transferring all your preferences across applications. MS used to have a tool, and it appears with 2010 that they really have done nothing to help end users (I may be mistaken, but a brief search came up with 'you can't do that' from an Office MVP on MS's answer's site). If you've done a bit of tweaking of the Ribbon and the document templates, you will want to back them up / export them to the new system.

Will second the motion that it is much easier to have your new laptop along with the dying one to make that transfer process easier. Good luck!
posted by scooterdog at 9:59 AM on June 27, 2012

After 30 years of upgrading computers, the things I still forget are my bookmarks and email address books.
posted by rhizome at 10:50 AM on June 27, 2012

Um. HOW is it dying? If the hard disk is dying, then I would copy the entire drive to an external drive (moderately cheap--say, under 100$). If something else is dying but the hdd is fine, then I would buy an external enclosure, pull the hdd out, and put it in there (very cheap--under 20$--and very, very easy). Both of these mean that you have the whole drive in case you happen to want something. If time goes by and you feel sure you've gotten everything you possibly want off, then you can blank the extra drive and use it for random storage.

(Side note, depending on the age of the computer and what the problem is, it might be easier to just fix it... Although if you have the want a new computer bug, I can totally understand that.)
posted by anaelith at 12:03 PM on June 27, 2012

Use Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder to back up all of the license keys for your software. That way, you can install your programs on another computer and not have to pay for another license.

As others have suggested, backup all of the file directories that contain any data you would not want to lose. Buy an external USB 2 hard drive from Amazon, the drag and drop the folders from your PC to the hard drive in Windows Explorer. When your PC finally dies, take out the hard drive and insert it into an external hard drive enclosure. I have done this for every laptop I have had and it always pays off - there is always something that you did not think to copy while the laptop was working!
posted by Susurration at 8:14 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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