Can I precisely mirror an old laptop on to a new one?
March 9, 2023 2:54 AM   Subscribe

I have Windows 11 Laptop A, filled with the usual ballooning cruft of apps and data, including connections to several cloud services. Is there any way of precisely replicating Laptop A on another device, Laptop B? In an ideal world, Laptop B would simply mirror every aspect of A, right down to desktop shortcuts, stored passwords and browser history.
posted by srednivashtar to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can try just physically moving the SSD if it's compatible with both machines, or using imaging software to make a copy. Either way you will very probably need to open up the laptops' cases. *PROBABLY* windows will be able to figure out that it's in a new machine and modify itself with new drivers etc. But maybe not. That's fun!

And unless you're buying another of the same model or you nuked the old ssd for a clean install of windows, the image will have a bunch of support software that's not relevant its new home.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:44 AM on March 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Other operating systems do this sort of thing quite well, but to best of my knowledge in the Microsoft corner of the universe the answer to your question would be No
posted by rd45 at 4:17 AM on March 9, 2023

For stored passwords and browser history, most major browsers should have syncing mechanisms. In the case of my preferred Firefox you can also copy the entire user profile folder.

The most pain free way for the lot is to restore a current backup of computer A to computer B. You'll still have to reinstall software.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 4:26 AM on March 9, 2023

You can get close by syncing everything to Onedrive.

At an enterprise level, it’s certainly possible. At my wife’s work, if her laptop has an issue, they just hand her another one and it pulls everything down from O365 and other backup locations, and she carries on with her life.
posted by rockindata at 4:45 AM on March 9, 2023

Laptop B would simply mirror every aspect of A,

Including identical hardware? Cloning a Windows boot drive is easy these days, especially when the new drive is going into the exact same computer.

I don't recall if registration of the license depends on the hardware signature any more, but I also know from experience that starting a copy of Windows in a completely different machine makes it very unhappy. Drivers won't be correct, etc. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:22 AM on March 9, 2023

Youtube is your friend for a guide through the required steps - something like this.
posted by rongorongo at 5:29 AM on March 9, 2023

It sounds like you're trying to have two laptops that stay synced, not clone laptop A on to laptop B one time although depending on the use case you might want to start with a clone.

Do they need to be used simultaneously? If not you might want to set up some kind of remote access on Laptop A and remote into it from Laptop B.

If they do need to be used simultaneously, I'm not aware of a good way to get apps to mirror after an initial clone but you can, as previous folks have said, use browser sync (Chrome, Firefox, and Edge all have this) for bookmarks, history and extensions and OneDrive for files. And you would want to start with a clone; the process rongorongo links to looks more or less sound but if you don't want to take the drive out of the target laptop you might be better off making an image with Rescuezilla (or something similar) and then restoring it on to the new laptop. Windows 11 should be cool with licensing but depending on how DRMed your apps are you might have to wrangle some licensing/activation issues.
posted by implied_otter at 5:46 AM on March 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I should add that I'm after keeping the laptops synced, it's basically about moving on with a new device. Most of my data is in the cloud, and things like Office are easy to re-install. The things that bother me are the little bits and pieces that get downloaded and then embedded in work processes - pdf readers, codecs, mp3 taggers, plug-ins, masses of VSTs, etc., etc. A lot of these things tend to be installed into the Documents folder, which is also synced on Onedrive - can I assume they'll be brought over automatically?
posted by srednivashtar at 5:59 AM on March 9, 2023

Best answer: Before you try anything, back up the Windows profile, at the very least. C:\Users\%YourUserID. Ideally, do this from a different user login. Most of what you want is in there. There might be a few shortcuts in C:\Users\Public, mostly start menu stuff that's easily re-created.

You can make an image of the hard drive with something like Clonezilla and put it on a new computer. In my experience, Windows is surprisingly good at updating drivers and working on a new computer. But I don't recommend this. Your existing computer has cruft; apps you forgot about or that didn't uninstall completely, junk in startup, and a lot of registry entries that are now useless. It doesn't break anything, but may slow it down a little. If you choose to image the old computer and install the image on the new computer, do some serious cleaning up of useless programs and stuff.

When I worked in tech support, we backed up the entire user profile. We checked the hard drive for software installed in odd places, data stored in odd places, and checked for extra profiles that might contain data. Browser profiles, including bookmarks, were backed up. We usually restored bookmarks, the MSoft Libraries folders: desktop, documents, pics, downloads, music, videos, saved games, not the whole profile, but the profile was available if needed. It's been a while since I've done this, so my checklist is incomplete.
posted by theora55 at 8:39 AM on March 9, 2023 [2 favorites]

There are enough vagaries with Secure Boot and EUFI that I would not expect cloning the SSD to work, assuming that your laptops are even built to make the SSD easily accessible. Seconding the "No" answer. Or at least, not without a lot more difficulty than the average user might be prepared to tackle.
posted by Aleyn at 8:59 PM on March 9, 2023

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