Migrating Data From Old to New PC

The excitement that comes from taking delivery of a new computer can be quickly tempered when faced with the task of reinstalling programs and moving all your files from your old PC to the new model.  

I’ve setup a number of new PCs over the past year and understand how overwhelming it can be. Some backup options haven't changed much over the years, but there are also a number of options that now backup all your data online as a reasonable cost that don't take much configuration at all.  

But first the bad news: you will need to reinstall your programs. I wish I had a secret shortcut to share, but I don't. Programs just weren’t made to migrate from one computer to another. If your PC is a few years old, you also might be using a 32-bit version of Windows. If you’re still using Windows XP, this is most certainly the case.

If your new computer is running Windows 7 or Windows 8, it’s likely to be running the 64-bit version which means you’ll see increased performance if you install 64-bit versions of your programs. Not every program has a 64-bit version but many do. Both iTunes and Microsoft Office are two examples of popular programs available in 64-bit versions. So check to see if your other applications are offered in 64-bit before installing the 32-bit version.

Once you have your programs installed on your new PC, you’re ready to move the data from your old PC to your new one. Although there are a number of ways to do this I’m going to cover the two I recommend. 

External USB Drive

Using an external USB drive is the simplest and most foolproof way to move a large amount of files from one computer to another. There’s no software to install or settings to configure. You just plug in the drive to your old PC and copy any files you want over to it.

How do you know what files to migrate and where do they reside? Well, that depends. Most people will want to save everything found under My Documents, My Music, My Pictures and MyVideos. If you use a desktop email client like Outlook you’ll need to save your .PST file, and here’s how to find it. If you’re using Gmail, Yahoo Mail or Outlook.com you can skip this step. Also be sure to backup any files or folders you’ve created on the desktop that you’ll need on your new PC. 

There are a number of automated products available such as Windows Easy Transfer, but I have found them to be far less reliable than my manual process. I say skip them! Backing up your files to a USB drive isn’t sexy, but it works, and that’s what matters here.

Depending on the number and size of files you've selected, don't be surprised if the backup process takes a few hours. One benefit from using an external USB drive is you now have a portable backup of your files. Even after you move the files over to your new PC, you’ll still have a backup you can store or even keep offsite should anything happen to your new system.

We offer a number of fast external USB 3.0 drives at Puget Systems ranging from 500 GB up to 3 TB. These are high quality drives and ones many of our customers have used to backup their data. I don't suggest using an old external USB drive that's been tucked away in the closet for a few years unless you've fully tested the drive. Spending money on a quality external drive is a good investment, and no amount of money saved will matter much if you're stuck with an inoperable drive that's holding all your data hostage. 

Dropbox Online Backup
Few products are as helpful and well-designed as Dropbox. Last year I wrote about how I use it to sync files across my PC, tablet and phone, but it can also be used to backup and migrate files from one computer to another.

While an external USB drive works best when you have a lot of large files, say more than 50 GB, Dropbox works best if you have a smaller number of files to backup. Personally, I use Dropbox to backup about 2 GB of my most important files and those I need to access across all my devices. Dropbox is often a good solution for those moving from an old laptop with modest storage to new laptop or desktop PC. 

Dropbox is a small program that installs on your Windows or Linux PC. Basically, it creates a folder on your desktop, and any file or folder you drag into this folder will be backed up to the Dropbox service. Your files will also be available from other devices where you have Dropbox installed such as phone or tablet. 

So as long as you have your files backed up to the Dropbox service, all you need to do is install the Dropbox software on your new PC. In a few hours, after the service syncs, your files will show up in your new Dropbox folder. Your files will also be accessible from any computer via the Dropbox.com website.

Dropbox gives you 2 GB of storage for free. Larger amounts of storage can purchased if you need it, but I’ve found the 2 GB enough to backup my most important files.


Using an external USB drive and Dropbox are two ways to ensure your files make a safe trip from your old to new computer. With any backup solution, I’ve found that simplicity wins out over more complex solutions that require specific settings or advanced configuration. So many of the commercial backup or PC to PC solutions out there fall under this umbrella of complexity. 

As a rule, give yourself plenty of time to backup the files on your old PC. Older computers may have slower ports, and moving files via USB or over the internet can take a while.

Some customers order an external USB drive from us at the same time they order a new computer. That way, we can ship the USB drive immediately, giving them time to backup their files in preparation for the new computer to arrive a week or so later.

As always we are here to help you along the way, and want to make the transition from old to new computer as painless as possible.  

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