Honorable mentions

Answer:

There are several answers to this depending on whether you are willing to pay for a commercial product or want to do this without spending any money, and also on which operating systems the two computers are running.

If both computers are running Windows XP, there is a Microsoft utility for doing exactly what you want. Its called Files and Settings Transfer Wizzard (F&STW), and its found at Start / Programs / Accessories / System Tools / Files and Settings Transfer Wizzard. It has an export (save) mode, and an import (restore) mode. You run it on the old PC in the export mode, it creates a file containing your settings and, optionally the files that you have selected for it to contain. The file will be large (can be gigabytes), so the usual procedure is to save it to a local hard drive (can be a USB external hard drive) and then burn it to an optical media (CD or DVD) or use a network to transport it to the new machine. On the new machine you use the import mode to import the saved files and settings into your new computer. You may want to use the program to transfer your settings only, and use the suggestions in the next paragraph to transfer your files.

The F&STW will run in the export mode under any computer running Windows 95 or later, but you will have to copy the program itself to the old computer. Also note that it moves settings and data files; it does not move actual installed programs, which must be reinstalled on the new computer using the setup disks or CDs that came with the programs.

For transferring files (including the data file created with the F&STW), a very easy and fast technique is to network the two computers and share the hard drive of the old computer so that you can transfer any contents that you want simply using drag and drop, as if files were all on a single computer. One thing that I often do here, when the hard drives on the new machines are dramatically larger than those on the old machine and the space is available, is to transfer the entire drive(s) of the old machine to folders on the new machine. For example, create a folder called Old Drive C on the new machine, and put the entire drive C of the old machine into that folder. This is easy to do if the machines are networked. If you dont know how to network the computers, go to http://www.practicallynetworked.com for information on this. The only thing that you need to do this is an Ethernet port in both machines (even if you have to add this its only about $10), and a Crossover cable (under $5), although if you already have a home network with a switch or router you can just plug both computers into the home network.

[There are USB to USB solutions that do the same thing, but in general using standard networking over Ethernet is superior. The only advantage to USB is that it may avoid the need to add an Ethernet port to one or both of the computers. However in every other regard, using USB is inferior to using an Ethernet port.]

If you want to use a commercial product, there are quite a few available and a search of some reviews will lead you to some of the better ones. One that I have used is Eisenworlds PC Relocator (aka Aloha Bobs PC Relocator). While there are many other programs that are similar, one thing that distinguishes this program is that, as far as I know, it is the only program that claims to be able to move installed software. While I take this with a grain of salt and I absolutely do not recommend this if you have your setup disks, there are situations in which people have software for which they no longer have the installation disks or files, and in these cases it is worth considering. Laplink and other firms offers similar commercial programs, but as far as I know none of them even claims to move installed software.

Submitted by: Barry W. of North Canton, OH

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You may be right about theres no simple answer to this, Ben, and you were a little vague about what you actually have other than Windows XP. Windows XP is the System software you have in your machine that allows all your software and programs to work. In order to answer your question correctly, we dont really know what your hardware is all about (the inner workings of what makes your Windows XP work). Most computer hardware that come loaded with the system, Windows XP, might have on its Motherboard (thats like the computers heart what makes it work) extra space for a 2d hard-drive (this is called a slave drive). Your Master drive (the one that has all the set up software for your installed Windows XP system and files) is the one hard drive that you got with this machine, so either ask your manufacturer or take it to a PC Repair shop and ask them if they can install your old hard drive from your old machine in order to transfer files from that hard drive onto the new machine. I would say that would be the simpler thing to do in your case since you may not know how to do this yourself. Its a complicated matter for a beginner and more complicated matter for anyone who has never opened the outside case to take peek inside their computer. I know how to do this, but in telling you how to do it would take up many pages and explaining to someone on how to do something like this is another ball of wax too since you may not even know some of the technical terms I would have to use to explain how to do this.

There are books on the mechanics of computers you can buy and read up on how to do these at home and you can spend any amount of dollars and time learning how to do it yourself. But if you want things done in as little time as you can, the PC experts at computer repair shops are your best bet and may even save you more money and more time.

If you received this machine as a total package deal with the installed system, you might have been given (hopefully) a manual about your Motherboard what everything you use on your computer is connected to this motherboard (or otherwise called systemboard). The Motherboard manual may also have some technical instructions on how to set up a slave drive (a 2d hard drive to install that you can do a very simple file transfer from one hard drive to another). You then would see not only your main C drive (the drive that has your system and other files on it), but you also will see another drive after your CD-ROM and/or your CD/RW and, if you have this one, too, your DVD ROM drives; it would have another letter assigned to it automatically because your system would recognize another drive connected to it (something like F:/ drive or whatever comes after the CD ROM and DVD ROM drives (both CD ROM and DVD ROM drives have their own distinct lettered drives, usually D:/ for the CD-ROM drives, E:/ for a CD-RW drive, etc.) Once a new hard drive is connected up properly and your system recognizes a new drive, you would have to go into your BIOS settings (this is what I mean by the technical terms if you dont know what I mean here) to set up a slave drive. Your motherboard manual can also help to explain this and how to set it up all motherboards are different in their BIOS settings, so I cannot explain how to do this since I dont have a clue as to what type of motherboard you have.

Once that is completed and a drive letter assigned and you assigned the new drive as a slave, you can now do in one easy swoop by a drag and drop method of transferring files from the old drive (F:/) to your new drive (C:/). One word of caution here; some files and/or programs that are on the old drive (F:/) may not be able to be copied (or dragged and dropped) to the new drive (C:/) because of their file attributes (another technical term to learn) so if you have the program CDs on the ones that cannot transfer over, the only thing to do here is to install your old programs onto your new system again. If youve kept any of your program installation CDs you had on your old computer, its just easier to install them again onto this new one may take a little time but at least it will be safer this way, too. I would recommend this first before connecting the old drive with the new drive on your new system.

Most likely someone else will respond to your question with a more detailed answer and maybe even better tips, but I cant see having someone answer this question in a step-by-step method unless they know what type of motherboard hardware you have and what kind of space available you may have to add another drive onto your system. The best tip that I have for you at this point is to take the whole schla-meal to the PC repair expert and ask them to do an entire file transfer from one hard drive to your new one. They know and can see what you have and would know the best way to help you here.
Good luck, and Happy Computing!

Submitted by: Carlene C. of Coventry, RI

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I am upgrading some computers for family members. Getting the things they need and the settings back to what they are familiar with is a time consuming problem with no easy answer that I have found.

There is some PC Migration software available that will move some settings and some applications. (Google "PC Migration" or "migration software"). It is fairly expensive and, in general, licensed for only one use. I checked into it carefully but decided it was too expensive and restrictive to accomplish the task on multiple computers. The migration software costs more than a new processor! (I do this for fun and have never been paid to work on a computer)

So, for me, back to the old - the tried and true.
1) tell them up-front that their computer is going to be different - you can't fix or upgrade it and leave it the same.
2) the most common complaint is lost email addresses and passwords. They are often entered automatically and no one notices until they are gone. Suggest they write them down on an old fashioned piece of paper (or make a word processor file and save it to a floppy) before you start.
3) Data files are fairly easy - make a CD of them (if the computer has that capability) or install a second "temporary" hard drive (no OS, just formatted) and copy them. Then uninstall the "temporary" HD and set it aside until the new build is done - then copy them back to where they were on the new system. You will be surprised at how few actual data files there are, even on a computer that has been in use for years.
4) Installed software is not so easy. I haven't found any way to uninstall it and repackage it in a way that will reinstall - copyright issues etc make it unlikely that anyone will be able to mass market software that will do this reliably. Here is what I do:
Have them find all the original CDs they can.
Look for downloaded software packages on their hard drive and save them as in 3) above. Many times, they don't even know they have the installation package so you have to look for it. Any ZIP files are likely candidates. Sometimes there is a default folder for downloaded software under "My Documents".

Search the hard drive for anything named "Setup". Be sure to look for a "readme" file nearby to determine just what it sets up. Also, all the .dll etc files nearby will probably be required. Copy them as in 3) above just in case. Sometimes this even works, but not often.

Contact customer service for any software that you are using and ask them to make an installation package available either as a download or on CD. Do this while the registered software is installed and working so they know you are not trying to steal it.

In the future, SAVE downloads and install them from your hard drive - don't install them online by OPENING them for online installation. Online installation usually expands the installation package to a temporary file and then "cleans it up", leaving you with nothing but the installed application.

If you can't get the installation package, you are just going to lose or rebuy the software. Face it.

5) Don't worry too much about the settings and appearance of things. They will gradually become familiar and, (who knows?) maybe even make someone actually read the help files to figure it out.

All this assumes the old computer is working. If it isn't, I just remove the old hard drive, set it aside and install a new "temporary" drive. After the OS is working on the "temporary" drive, install the old drive as a slave, copy whatever you can salvage. Then remove the new "temporary" drive, put the old one back in as a master, repartition it, format it and install the new OS. When it is working, install the "temporary" drive as a slave, retrieve the salvaged stuff and remove it for the next time you need a "temporary" hard drive.

All this is time consuming but I do it for fun, not profit.

Submitted by: John H.

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Answer to Ben M.

You're right, transferring all the information from one computer to another can be a bit daunting. It gets harder if your old computer is running an operating system older than Windows 98 and I've only covered options here for Windows 98 or later.

There are several ways of transferring the information, for example:
a) It's often possible to connect the two computers together using the serial ports and you'll find there's software around to transfer the data for you.
b) You can connect the two computers together as a network, for example using ethernet ports on the two computers.
c) You can compress files onto floppies and spread files over more than one floppy using special software.
d) If your old computer hasn't got a CD writer, you can buy an external CD writer for the old machine.
e) You can buy a memory pen which contains "flash" memory and connects to your computer's USB port.
f) You can buy an external hard drive that connects to the computer's USB port.

As long as your old computer is running Windows 98 or later and has a USB port, I'd recommend (e) - a memory pen. These memory pens are very good value for money and hold MUCH more information than a floppy. After transferring your files, you can use it for short term backups and for passing files on to friends or colleagues when you're working close together. I've used pens made by Disgo (http://www.mydisgo.com), but there are plenty of makes around and you can get them at all computer stores.

With a memory pen, Windows 98 will need to have some driver software installed. This software usually comes on a CD with the pen or else you download it from the net. The instructions to do this will come with the pen. If the old computer is running a more recent version of Windows than 98, it's easy - just plug the memory pen into a USB port. All this isn't as bad as it sounds!

Once you've plugged the pen in, it will appear to the computer as another disk drive, so you can transfer files to and fro between the existing drive(s) and the pen. When you've finished, you'll have to tell the computer to "let go" of the pen before you unplug it from the USB port - this is important.

A couple of tips:

Make sure you get ALL the information from the old computer. It's easy to forget information which isn't stored in easy-to-get-at files. For usernames and passwords it's best to keep them written down. Your address book (if you use Outlook Express) can be exported into an ordinary file (called a .wab file) that you can transfer to the new computer and then import into Outlook Express's address book on the new computer. With a bit of effort, you can track down the folder where internet favourites ( sorry about the spelling - I'm a Brit happy ) are stored, but it's often simpler just to start building up a set of favourites again on the new computer. If you've made any new templates (e.g. .dot files in Word) it's easy to forget these too and you'll need to track them down by finding out where the application stores them (you click on tools - options - file locations in my version of Word, for example).

Last, but not least, don't try and transfer program files for applications that you've installed on the old computer onto the new computer unless you really can't help it. Installing programs doesn't usually only involve loading on the files, it also involves telling the computer's registry (a system file that shouldn't be touched unless you're a real expert) that the programs are installed and updating or installing special files called .dll files. It's much better to reinstall the programs from their original disks or download them again from the internet.

Good luck,

Submitted by: Arthur C. of the UK

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Ben,

There are several actions you can take, depending on your level of comfort and expertise.

If you are only trying to copy files over that are not part of an installed program, you can use a data stick (thumb drive, zip stick, etc). They plug into the USB port of your computer and can hold quite a lot of data. (The high-bandwidth version of the sneaker-net!) If you feel comfortable with opening your computer and playing with the hardware, you could temporarily remove the hard drive from the old computer and install it inside your new one. Then it is simply a matter of copying the files you want to the new computers hard drive. Remember that these tips will not work on most installed programs. You can copy files that you have worked on (such as a .xls, .doc, or .mdb files. But you cant copy the Microsoft Office program files over and expect them to work. They need to be installed via the installation routine from the original program disks/CDs.

There are several software solutions as well, which can help you copy over a hard drives entire contents. Two notable choices are Symantecs GHOST and LapLink, allthough there are other programs which will do the job as well. Each has its distinct advantages/disadvantages. Some computer manufacturers and resellers also offer software and serial or USB cables that will help you move your software and files from the old machine to the new machine.

If you do not feel comfortable with the above options, you can contact the technical support office for the company who made your new machine. Most new computers come with free technical support for a limited time. Look at the documentation that came with your computer to find out the number to call and what level of service you can expect. They will be able to answer many of your questions. I know that many people feel intimidated when they talk to technical support. (Sometimes I do, and Ive been working with computers for over 20 years!) But it is often the fastest approach to getting your machine running quickly. And it is no shame if you dont know somethingeveryone has to learn sometime! If you dont feel comfortable with talking to a Geek, arm yourself first by doing a search online for How to Talk to a Geek you will find several articles which will get you ready to speak and understand the lingo fast!

The last (and most expensive) option would be to take the machines to a REPUTABLE (much emphasis on REPUTABLE!!) service center that has experience with moving files. You dont want to take it to your sisters boyfriends uncles brothers friend who had a friend who read a book onceyou WILL regret it in the end!

Submitted by: Eric S.

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It really depends on the capabilities of your old computer. If it has a USB port, then the simplest method would be to use a USB key (flash memory). Versions of Windows earlier than 2000 and XP might require a driver be installed to accomplish this - the Key should come with drivers for them. 2000 and XP will recognize the USB Key when inserted. Then it is a simple matter to copy files from the old machine to the key and then from the key to the new machine.

If your old machine is pre-USB, then there are products such as Fastlynx by Sewell Development, which include cables to connect to both the newer USB and older ports, both serial and parallel, and software on floppy to manage the connection and transfer of files. The two computers are connected with the cables and files are transferred using the provided software.

Both of these methods cost $$ (or a friend with a Key), but if you are comfortable working inside the machines you may be able to move the files with little or no cost.

Remove the Hard Drive from the old machine and reconfigure it's jumpers to be a slave drive. Most drives have a label showing the different jumper configurations. Lacking a label, try the web for that information - it is readily available. Inside your new computer, pull the Hard Drive and configure it to be a master. Once again the label should tell you how. If the ribbon cable (this does not apply to SATA drives) has a second connector, use it to install the old drive. There should also be an available power connector for the old drive. If there is no second connector on the ribbon coble, you may use the one from your optical drive, just for the transfer. (But leave the old drive's jumpers alone for this scenario.)

Reboot your XP machine and see if it recognizes the new drive. If so, just copy your files from the old to the new. If not, then reboot and enter the BIOS setup, where you should find a section for configuring drives. Since setup programs vary, I can't tell you specifically what to do next, except follow the prompts to see if you can get the BIOS to search or "discover" the added hardware. Once this is accomplished you should be able to restart and find the added drive from in XP and then you can transfer your files.

Once the transfer is complete, remove the old drive and redo the connections as necessary, and then a reboot, and maybe a visit to BIOS setup again, will get your new machine back to its original configuration with your files in place.

Submitted by: Asher H. of Ithaca, NY

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Hello Ben,

I'm Edwin and I may be able to help you. You said you have transferred some data from your old PC to new PC by floppy disk. Is that and the CD drive the only available optical drives? If your old PC is equipped with a memory card reader, then I might suggest you using a memory card to transfer. It takes a while since you have to shuttle back and forth, but it's easy. Or, if you have a DVD-RW drive installed in your old computer then you can burn a data DVD using DVD-RW disc. It would hold 4.7GB of data, which is a sizable chunk. Or, the easiest way is to use the existing USB port that your old PC has (or should have).

Just get a 1GB USB Flash Drive, which will hold about 1GB of data. Just connect the Flash Drive and drag and drop the files onto it through Windows Explorer. You must make sure that you safely remove hardware every time you disconnect it, though. If you have an mp3 player in your household then that process should sound familiar. There's another way, using external hard drive, but it is quite costly if you get a big one (120-250GB), but if you would like to try, then go for it.

It is the same principal as the Flash Drive, but since it has much more storage space, you would most likely have to transfer once. Beware though, it will take a long time, I suppose, since it sends and receives information by USB 2.0 which is significantly slower than some high-grade memory cards or FireWire. USB 2.0 is by far the most popular, and should be equipped on most if not all PC's. I hope the above solves your question. Good luck transferring data!

Submitted by: Edwin G.