Moving PC made easy

Time was, and not so long ago, when moving to a new PC was a considerable pain in the rump. Transferring files, settings and passwords, reinstalling all your desktop software, and getting everything just so was a process that could easily swallow a day.

Now, it’s perfectly possible to shift to a new PC and be up and running within minutes, not hours. Vast improvements to Windows’ migration tools, in-browser synchronisation, and a bevy of cloud services have taken much of the aggravation out of the transfer process.

Here, we’re going to describe how to make a PC move as seamless as possible, highlighting tools that make the job easier and offering advice on how to manage your move.

Before you make the move

The first thing you should do, before you even think about fiddling with your new PC, is make sure you have a backup of the files and folders on the current one.

The built-in backup tool that’s been integrated into every version of Windows since Vista is perfectly adequate – you can restore a Windows backup onto your new PC.

For more granular control, you may wish to use third-party backup tools to create a full disk image of your old PC. Some of these, such as Paragon Backup & Recovery 12 Home, allow you to mount an image of your old disk as if it were an external drive, and drag individual files and folders to the new machine, instead of transferring all the files in one hit.

Alternatively, you can simply drag and drop your chosen folders to an external hard disk or NAS drive, and then copy them again to the new PC.

Note that you can’t copy Program Files from one PC to another and expect the software to work: you’ll need to reinstall software to ensure it has the necessary Registry entries and so on.

Before you decommission the old PC, you might also want to retrieve any licence key codes for software that you no longer have the boxes or disc covers for. Unfortunately, software such as Microsoft Office doesn’t just spit out licence key information on demand, but dedicated utilities can uncover this information for you.

Belarc Advisor will dig out keys for Office (all versions except 2013), Adobe products, internet security suites and more.

If you were hoping to take your current version of Windows with you – what do you mean you don’t like Windows 8? – you’ll have to think again if it came preinstalled on your PC. Such OEM licences are limited to the hardware they shipped with. It’s often technically possible to move an OEM copy of Windows onto a different system, but it isn’t legal.

Can I just clone my hard disk?

If you’re upgrading your hardware but plan to stick with the same operating system, you might wonder whether you can clone the contents of your old hard disk, copy them onto the new one, and carry on as you were, saving you the hassle of reinstalling all your software. Conventional wisdom says this isn’t possible, but it can, and does frequently, work – with a few provisos.

First, you’re far more likely to succeed if both machines are based on the same processor manufacturer; this almost certainly won’t work if you’re moving from an Intel- to an AMD-based PC, or vice versa. If you’re cloning a hard disk onto an SSD, you may need to change some settings to suit the different drive hardware, too.

To clone your old hard disk, you’ll need software such as Paragon Hard Disk Manager, which will make a copy of the old drive, then create a bootable CD or thumbdrive for the new machine that can be used to image its contents onto the new disk.

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