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How to Transfer Files, Settings and Software to Your New Computer

Updated on July 7, 2015

Ah the joys of a new computer. Faster, better, more. A new lease on life. The truth be told, getting your old computer's files, settings, and software applications over to your souped up new machine can be a hydra headed hassle you wouldn't wish on a proverbial dog.

I was still recovering from the trauma, when I came across an ad from HUB for writers, and decided this is a topic about which I can speak from my own experience, and if I can save anyone the tribulations I endured, they will not have been a complete waste.

If you have software from a while back as I do, you may not have their installation CDs or serial numbers, some of the vendors may no longer exist, most will not take phone calls to provide whatever may be needed to authenticate the software on a new machine even if you could get through to them.

Unless you have been anticipating for years what getting your old computer onto your new computer will entail, you will be unpleasantly surprised. I, for one, just assumed if they sell new computers, getting the old one over would be a non-issue. Little did I know.

If you're not prepared, you quickly find that every computer chore requires doing something else before that can be done, which requires another thing before that can be done . . . the multiplication of tasks can seem endless, it's not hard to lose sight of what you are trying to do: get your old stuff over to the shiny new machine, so you can get back to doing things fun and useful with your computer.

From a little research and a lot of mistakes, and with the patient help of ‘experts' at one of the better tech help forums, I present here a relatively simple, effective short-cut through the technology jungle of getting this done. Unless you happen to be a hardware/operating system pro, this article can save you a world of stress.

In my case, I had an old computer running XP and a new one also XP. If you are running Vista on your new computer (or on the old one for that matter) there will be only minor differences.

Hardware You Will Need

If you don't have two monitors, one for each computer, you will need a "data transfer switch" for about $10 (at or If the switch box does not come with cables, you will also need at least 2 "VGA" cables, assuming you presently have one VGA cable connecting one of your computers to your monitor. If not, you will need three VGA cables, one from each computer to the box, and one from the box to the single monitor. You flip the switch to see what's going on from one computer to the other.

You will also need a special USB cable with a plug at each end which fits into each computer's USB slot (more on this below). If you don't get the USB cable, you'll need to have an external USB hard drive.

Software You Will Need

You do not need to use the Microsoft File and Settings Transfer Wizard, or gizzard as I call it, in order to transfer your files and settings, and the F.A.S.T. gizzard will not move your software with its registry settings.

If you are disk image savvy, as I subsequently became, you can backup (a/k/a "mirror") your old "C" drive with your operating system and programs in a disk image, and restore it to your new drive. Unfortunately, this sounds much simpler than it is, requires quite a bit of geeky know-how, and you will require bootable partition software and bootable disk imaging software, in addition to the external hard drive. Also, more apps will likely require a re-install afterwards.

That, however, is the subject of another How To, and the approach described here is simpler: Lay out a few dollars for special software which will move all your software applications without your having to reinstall each one of them, as well as transferring all your files and settings, and do that without an IT browbeating.

I wish there were a significantly better software than PCMover and I have no interest in endorsing it or Laplink, its maker. People seem to either love it or hate it passionately, depending on their experience.

A superior product will hopefully soon take its place: one that does does not require an internet connection while you are running it, that does not hang when making a big transfer, that does not pester you endlessly for its serial number, and that successfully transfers all of your software treasures, not almost all of them. These are the major failings I experienced, so be prepared.

Until then, it is the best-rated game in town, though there are other softwares for this purpose if anyone cares to share their experience with them. I can say though, PCMover did move all but one application out of more than a hundred without having to re-register and activate them when I opened them up on the new computer. This is huge.

If you don't have a lot to move (under 10 Gb), you most likely want to get the CD box of the latest version (v.3 as of this writing) which includes their "Silver USB 2.0 cable" ( ). If you decide to skimp and get the download version, or have a big transfer to make, be sure you have an external USB hard disk drive that has enough space to hold the transfer from your old computer.

Some computer vendors (like Dell) may offer a watered down or older version of PCMover at a tempting price. Do not go for it. I've heard terrible stories. Though I can't confirm any first hand, better safe than sorry.

Connecting The Two Computers

Somehow, the old stuff has to get onto the new computer, most likely through a wire. There are three ways of going about making a direct transfer, and one for making an indirect transfer:

  • You can set up a "network connection" between the old and new computer by buying a special "crossover cable" with the telephone-type jack at either end (but this is not a regular "ethernet cable") then performing a labyrinth of operating system settings on both computers;
  • or you can simply plug in a special kind of USB cable that has the computer-side plug on both ends, which apparently only Laplink sells;
  • there's also a ‘parallet port' option, for the nearly obsolete parallel cable, but this is provided mostly on the odd chance you don't have USB slots on both computers;
  • or you can use an external USB hard drive as a ‘middleman,' moving your old computer's stuff there, then connecting the drive to the new computer and importing it.

If you already have an external drive you can use, there is no other connection hardware needed. Right-click on each of the drives in My Computer and select "Properties" to find out how much space is used on the old computer and how much is available on the external drive. You can get by with less space on the external drive, since the files will be compressed when transferred there.

Don't make my mistake and try setting up a "network," even if your cousin is an IT network guru who offers to walk you through it. This for me was a descent into Microsoft hell.

If you ignore this and do try to set up a "network" between the two computers, at least do yourself the favor of adding something called a "router" to your hardware shopping list, along with the requisite "like ethernet but not ethernet crossover cable," then call a network expert (you'll still need one, but the "router" will make the setup far easier on both of you). If you succeed, you can then use PCMover's "Over a Network" option, which functions as a direct transfer much like the USB option.

However, both the USB cable and "Using File Storage Device" (external drive) options are such an order of magnitude easier, anyone can get through the chore without short-circuiting from techno-overload.

Once you connect the two computers, you can then run PCMover.

Install the software on both old and new computers, and follow the easy steps provided in the interface. (Note: Laplink sneaks in ads for their other products while they have you "captive" in the PCMover wizard. Just click "Next.")

How To

In my case, I cheaped out and bought the download version without the special USB cable, so my only real option was to use my external hard drive.

The process for the external hard drive option is simply this: you take a "Snapshot" of your new computer using the PCMover you installed there, copy this file over to the old computer (more on how later), run PCMover on the old computer to make the transfer from old to external drive, then run again on new computer to install from external drive.

Although I had far more space on my external drive than I needed, it so happened PCMover would keep "hanging up" or "freezing" while creating the transfer or middleman file, which they too cutely call a "Van," as in moving van. If this hang up happens to you, don't fret. You can select a smaller set of apps to transfer and put it in a series of smaller "Vans." This seems to solve the hanging problem.

You can readily make any number of smaller Vans, one at a time, following the cycle of taking a Snapshot of new, copy Snapshot file to old, run PCMover on old, save Van to external drive, run PCMover on new to import Van, take new shapshot, etc., until you're done.

Using the Snapshot from the new computer, the PCMover installation on the old computer "remembers" what you moved, shows you what has and hasn't been moved, so you can just check off which apps you want to load into another "Van," as many Vans as it takes to move every application you have installed on your old computer.

It took me three Snapshots and three Vans to move about 30 gigabytes of settings and software applications, easily over 100 apps large and small. Since the Vans are compressed files, they were only about 3 gigabytes each on my external drive for a total of 9 Gb. The Snapshots were about 2 megabytes each. Your results will likely vary.

Things To Remember

Getting the stuff from the Van to the new computer is straightforward. If you don't get the USB cable Laplink makes for this purpose, and end up having to fill more than one Van to accomplish the move on a go-between hard drive, you need to take another Snapshot of the new computer each time, and get that Snapshot file over to the old computer again.

I used a small flash drive to accomplish this, but you could use the same external hard drive you're putting the Vans on, or even burn the file to a CD and copy it over. At 2 Mb my Snapshots could almost fit on a floppy. Before you run PCMover on the old computer though, always make sure you have a current Snapshot of what is presently on the new computer.

If the external drive option seems complicated, you just have no idea what a nightmare trying to set up a network to use the network option can be.

Though I did not use the Laplink USB cable, it seems to me the software and this cable are designed to work together and this option would seem to be the fastest and easiest, since it "cuts out the middleman," your data is sent continuously from the old machine directly to the new one, and all that without the "network" setup nightmare, as well as no need for Vans or multiple Snapshots.

Yet hangs or freezes during USB transfer are where customers most rant and flame against PCMover, or where no hangups occur, praise it to high heaven, which suggests at a minimum that USB success may vary widely. It also suggests the culprit is the size of the transfer, just as I found out (the hard way) trying to make one giant Van using my external drive.

The big difference is that It is not possible to make multiple smaller transfers with the USB cable (or network) option. You can reduce the transfer size somewhat by taking an initial Snapshot of the new computer, but after that you have to make one continuous run. If you're making a humongous transfer, the chances of a hangup increase.

And don't forget you have to pay Laplink for the USB cable, whether "free" with the more expensive box version of the software, or separately which costs even more. If you intend to keep both computers, you may be able to figure out other uses for this cable. Otherwise, it's a throwaway once you're done with the transfer. (Not that you should throw it away! Sell it on Ebay or barter it or give it away at or stash it for the future. Ditto with the data switch box and VGA cables.)

All in all, there is reason to conclude the clunky, less convenient external drive method, with the flexibility to make multiple Snapshots and Vans, is in fact the most reliable option. You should have an external HDD for your backups anyway, and can save yourself the price of the cable. The more you have on the old computer to transfer, the more you should consider this your best option.

Reality check: the only alternative to PCMover or like software is to manually reinstall each and every application for which you still have the installation CD and serial number, then run the Microsoft F.A.S.T. gizzard, itself complicated and error prone. Any software you don't have the wherewithal to fresh install, you lose.

If you have a great many beloved old apps for which serials and CDs are long gone, or just want to get all you've invested in software quickly onto your new computer, easy-does-it is the way to go.

copyright 2010


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    • profile image

      Tey Smith 

      5 years ago

      The PCmover mention is Ultimate It supports Windows 10 and comes with a cable for faster transfer over a slow network. It has far more transfer options than Zinstall

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Unfortunately, the tool in the article did not work for my transfer to Windows 10.

      Luckily, I have found another tool that works for Windows 10 just fine.

      Here is the tutorial I used to transfer programs to a Windows 10 laptop:

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The one and only easy and fastest way is get a external hard drive, I did that and transferred over 32GB. of programs I can't live without.


    • profile image


      6 years ago

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      7 years ago

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    • profile image


      11 years ago

      If I had known this, I never would have bought a new computer. Everyone I talked with had a favorite store or brand and unequivocal encouragement. No one told me it was going to be like pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Thanks for the info, but I am afraid that I have lost my old itunes forever, and that external hard drive I thought was going to speed things up on the old machine is now a pretty good door stop that I never really needed and can't use for much.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Steven! There is so much badly-written and conflicting advice on this topic. Thanks for the clear advice. Now, I'm going to try it....


    • profile image

      buy absinthe 

      12 years ago

      great info thank you

    • About-The-Home profile image


      12 years ago

      Good,comprehensive advice


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