Help me cover all bases for computer backup
December 8, 2016 12:15 PM   Subscribe

My desktop computer hasn't been doing so hot lately and one of these days I'm worried it's going to refuse to boot up altogether. So I've begrudgingly accepted that I will, at some point soon, need a new computer. Unfortunately, even though I've moved computers before, I do it so rarely that it's as stressful to me as moving house.

So I was hoping to get some collective wisdom on ways to make the transition easier. I know to back up the pictures, documents, etc. to an external hard drive that I can then transfer to the new computer. As far as programs go, those will just need to be reinstalled, right, and can't be backed up and transferred? Is there anything else I should consider doing?

posted by madonna of the unloved to Technology (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is basically impossible to answer without information about which operating system you're using ...
posted by StrawberryPie at 12:20 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

The biggest thing I can suggest is to make the transfer before Computer #1 completely dies -- which luckily, it sounds like you're in good shape for this! Then if you forget to move something over and later realize it, you can still get that thing off.

You also might consider using an online service to make the transfer -- I have Mozy and while it's a little pricey, it definitely makes transferring to a new computer WAY easier to manage since once you set it up, it's all automatic.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:28 PM on December 8, 2016

Buy an external hard drive (or two).

If you're on Windows setup Backup and Restore. Make sure to select all the folders you care about.

If you're on a Mac setup Time Machine.

Seconding rainbowbrite on getting a new computer before the old one fails. Run a backup as suggested above, transfer the files to the new computer, and then shut down the old computer. If you find out that something is missing boot up the old computer and transfer it over. It'll make your life easier.
posted by gregr at 12:58 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're on Windows, get a freebie program called Belarc Advisor and run it on your old computer. In addition to other things, it gives you a summary of all installed programs and their registration numbers. I find it invaluable for moving computers.
posted by xyzzy at 1:20 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

1. Run a backup now.
2. Depending on what's wrong with the old one, you can pull the hard drive out of it and save it. That means if you miss something, you can get back on the drive and recover it!

Look out for things like:
1. Your desktop wallpaper, if it's important.
2. iTunes library
3. Browser favorites and cookies (in case you don't know passwords to some of the websites where you're currently logged in)
4. Custom dictionary and email address autofill, if you use Microsoft Outlook for email.

There are applications that move settings and programs from one computer to another, but I wouldn't always recommend them (on Windows) because they can also transfer problems with those programs. They are however, the easiest way around these issues.
posted by cnc at 2:05 PM on December 8, 2016

Crashplan. Or any of the other online services.

What will you do if you are broken into/your house burns down/flood/etc... and all the electronics are done? You don't need to do everything, but at least put the irreplaceable stuff, photos, etc.. in an on-line backup. An alternative is to give a portable HD to a family member or trusted friend (or encrypt it if they're not so trusted).

Ninite is a neat tool for managing mostly free/open source apps on Windows. I use it a lot for new systems.
posted by bonehead at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2016

Depending on how much crap you have, you might not even need an external drive per se, just a few USB flash drives.

This is a good opportunity to go through your saved files and decide what you do and don't need anymore. Software that is exclusive to your soon-to-be-former operating system is one example of stuff you might not need to keep handy.

Now that so many program suites are going to a software-as-a-service model (Office, Adobe Creative Suite), this should get easier for you in the future because you won't have to keep track of a physical disk, just a subscription.

I'd just start with the stuff you would absolutely hate to lose. Music, photos, scans of physical items, that sort of thing. Back that stuff up first. Hell, sign up for a Dropbox or Google Drive account and start moving things into the cloud--you don't even need a physical drive for that.

Then look for things you forgot you had, but which have value. Maybe you want copies of old tax returns and bank statements, but you could get copies from your bank/IRS if it came to it.

If you haven't touched it for over a year and you completely forgot you even had it, and it isn't unique (e.g. a scan of an old family photo) almost certainly don't need it. Put it in a "nice to have" folder and stash it on a flash drive if your existing computer holds out that long.

It's just like moving house, if you don't need it, don't pack it.

I installed a new solid state drive into my laptop, so I recently performed this same move. I had a lot of physical disks to reinstall, but as it turned out, in the interim those companies had moved to a cloud model, where you just entered the product key for your physical disk to validate your license, and it would download the most recent version. Pretty nice, and a hell of a lot easier than trying to install a bunch of disks in the correct order. Moral of the story is that you may find this easier than it has been in the past, just due to the way software is handled now.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm on PC and use SyncBackFree.

Powerful tool and easy to use - can differentiate between pure back-up vs. mirror what's on drive 1 to drive 2. I found the software to be pretty user friendly too.
posted by Twicketface at 3:48 PM on December 8, 2016

I use an online backup program (Mozy) and think it's about the safest system. Last time I got a new computer, it transferred everything on it overnight, with only a few inputs from me.
posted by Miko at 6:41 PM on December 8, 2016

I've run this down here before, and while I'm on a Mac my overall strategy is sound for anyone.

Listen to me. I know things.

1. I use Time Machine religiously. All day, every day, while I'm at my desk, I'm getting versioned backups onto an external drive. It's glorious. Honestly, if you're an office-app kind of person, Time Machine alone might be a good enough reason to go Mac.

If you're not on a Mac, I assume there's some aftermarket tool you can run that will do the same thing, but I don't know what it is.

2. All my active work goes into my Dropbox folder. This is more for mobile access and sync between my two computers than backup, but you get backup "for free" in the bargain. This step works the same for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

3. I use CrashPlan, which is an online/cloud backup service. This necessarily catches a smaller swath of data than anything local, but it covers the important things. If my house burns down, I won't lose anything because it's all here, too.

4. Finally, before traveling or every so often I use a tool called SuperDuper to make a full, bootable clone of my laptop drive. I have several in rotation, and generally at least 2 of them are at trusted other locations (my wife's office, a friend's house) in other parts of town.

This may sound like overkill, but trust me: it really isn't, and it takes very little time or money to manage.
posted by uberchet at 7:38 AM on December 9, 2016

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