A simple guide.
Okay, so that old PC or laptop has let you down once too often. It’s time to face facts and retire it to silicon heaven. It is likely something you have been putting off. After all, it has been a loyal servant and it’s all set up just as you like it. But now the replacement has arrived, and the time is nigh.
It amazes me how often I have seen new laptops or PCs sitting unopened in their boxes, sometimes for months, because people are reluctant to go through the process of changing everything over to their new machine.
This article is aimed at taking the pain from that process and helping you get that shiny new computer up and running and as familiar as your faithful old workhorse. We are going to stick to a straightforward scenario – You have purchased a new laptop or PC and need to transfer everything from your old computer. Simple, right?
Well yes, it is quite simple.
There are a huge variety of methods to choose from. Microsoft themselves have a number of tools built into Windows 10 and a variety of other options to assist you. A quick Google search will display a huge array of tools and software to ‘painlessly migrate to a new computer.’ At the top of that list will be the paid ads, offering software solutions that will do the job for you. For the purposes of this article we will bypass these solutions and assume you are going to go down the do-it-yourself route. In most cases, it is an amazingly simple operation (however as we all know, computers can throw the odd curve ball.)
Please note, that if you do decide to use 3rd party software, ensure you research properly before you take the plunge. There are far too many options for me to cover in this post and personally, I have always chosen the manual route.
What do I need?
Actually, not much.
A freely available piece of software.
A single piece of hardware.
Some time and a bit of patience.
And no more than a basic user’s knowledge of computing.
We will start with the hardware. I am assuming here that you have a reasonable amount of data to transfer and you do not have it backed up on a cloud service.
- 1. An external hard drive.
Really, unless you have all your data backed up using an online service, then it is a no-brainer for you to own an external hard drive and to already be backing up your data frequently.
However, for the purposes of this exercise we are going to assume that you have a blank hard drive and have no prior backups. If you already own such a device and take regular backups, then you are already on your way. Take a new back up, check it is okay, and move onto the next step.
Okay, so you are now sitting with a brand-new hard drive, an old computer and a new computer. What now? Let’s start by copying your data onto your external hard drive. There are several factors you will need to consider before you start this. The most basic of which, is what data do I need to transfer?
For most people this is a simple matter. You will have a documents folder, a pictures folder, some music etc etc. However, you may also want to consider things like-
Emails, do I need to transfer these?
These days the answer is often no. For instance, if you use webmail. However, you may use a mail client such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, in which case you may require a backup. This depends on which type of mail server you are using. My advice if you are using a mail client, is to play it safe and back up anyway.
It will be necessary to identify where these files are stored. Unfortunately, this may not be as simple as it sounds. The latest versions of Outlook for example, mostly store the emails in a folder called Outlook files, which resides in your documents folder. However, it occasionally stores them elsewhere, try this for size.
And Thunderbird and other clients will each have their own storage solutions. So, if you wish to back up your emails, then a quick Google search will tell you where to find your data. Remember to include this folder in your backup.
We are so used to opening our favourite on-line shop or social media site, or any other site that requires a logon and – Hey Presto! you’re logged in. But what if you change to a new computer?
Luckily, there is an easy way – With most common browsers, you simply need to create a login for the browser itself. Once you have logged into the browser on your new machine, all your settings, history, logins etc, will have followed you over. This is by far the easiest way. However, if you’d prefer not to do so, then you will need to identify where your browser stores all your profile details and copy that folder over as well. Be warned, this can get messy and doesn’t always work, and it rarely includes saved passwords. I won’t go into details here, because it is an article in its own right. Creating a login is far simpler.
Okay, so now you must think about what other software you are using that has data stored on your PC. Examples would be accounting software, or perhaps you have a family tree program, or any other software that stores data on your local drive. These will likely all have a backup function built in. Ensure you take a backup and remember to either, copy onto your external drive, or into a folder that you will be backing up, e.g. your Documents folder.
Okay I think I’m ready.
So, you have your hard drive and you’ve identified what data you need to copy over. What now? Let’s assume that you are an average user with average data files, a login for your browser and you’re a webmail user.
For most people, this will be the case. At this stage you are once again presented with a choice. The first option is simply to copy all relevant folders over to your new hard drive. Open an explorer window, right click on the relevant folder, select copy, then right click on the external hard drive and click paste. Nice and simple.
The common folders are.
You may have other data stored in folders elewhere on your system, be sure to copy these as well.
However, another method is to use backup software. A great piece of completely free software (home user only) is Syncback. I have used this on many of my client’s machines over the years and it just works. And when it comes to your new PC, then ensuring a regular back up is made is nice and easy. I will link to this below and also to an article on how to set it up.
- 2. Account details and password etc.
In my experience, this is where it starts to get sticky. People tend to forget usernames and passwords. And often are unaware that they even have accounts!
However, you likely have a Microsoft account, or at some point you have subscribed to some other software. Perhaps an antivirus, or an office application, or a VPN. On the new PC you will need to download the software again and sign in to continue your subscription. You will need your login details handy, so if you don’t have them then contact the company to find your account details and reset your passwords. Mostly this can be done by simply failing to logon a few times, you should be prompted by that ‘oh so familiar’ question – Forgotten your username or password? If you follow the instructions it’s normally a straightforward procedure to recover these details. Normally!
I’m good to go.
So now the fun starts. Your back up is running, you know all your accounts and passwords, and your new computer is beckoning. Go ahead and switch it on and follow the instructions. Most of these are simple – Language settings etc. I always choose the default options that Microsoft offers you at this stage. These will include, allowing it to use your location, and other privacy settings. If you have concerns then make sure you read and understand the questions before answering. If you’re like ninety-five percent of users then a few clicks of ‘Accept’ and ‘Next’, will take you right through to the next stage.
Ah, those good old days when a company didn’t need to know what you had for breakfast, before allowing you to use their product. You don’t need a Microsoft account to use Windows software, but it is highly recommended. If you are already a Windows 10 user, then chances are, you already have an account and of course you have followed the steps above and know all your details. In which case go ahead and logon. Otherwise, at this stage you can set up an account. Just follow the on-screen instructions to set it up.
As I said, this is not compulsory, but Microsoft doesn’t make it easy to bypass this step. It is a case of finding the small print that will say something like, ‘Set up a local account only.’ However, sooner or later you will likely try to download a piece of software from the Microsoft Store and at that point, an account becomes compulsory.
Of course, if you had an account on your old system, then logging in with these details will prove helpful to the whole process. Examples are, if you subscribe to something like Microsoft’s One Drive, then this will magically set up on your new system. Also, downloading and installing Microsoft software that you own is far easier. An example of this would be Office 365. And things like your old desktop picture will appear. Straight away your system is starting to feel a bit more familiar.
I can remember the days when this would involve hunting through boxes of CD’s for that illusive copy of Microsoft Works. You may still have the odd bit of legacy software that will still require such a hunt, and if you’re lucky, it might even run on the latest version of Windows. But don’t make any assumptions about this, often it won’t.
In most cases, it will be as simple as going to the company’s website and downloading the latest version of their software. Then, installing it and registering with the correct username and password.
Even with all the correct details to hand this process is still a bit time consuming. But by the end of it, your new system should be starting to look a lot more like your old system.
In this section, we are going to cover both copying your data to your new system. And, also setting up a backup routine to ensure that all your precious data is secured against system failure, malware etc.
So, by now you should be looking at a system that bears a strong resemblance to your last setup. It is now time to restore your data. Plug in your external Hard Drive and a File explorer window should pop up. If it doesn’t, open file explorer manually and navigate to your external hard drive. If all has gone well, you should see the folders you have copied over.
Open a second explorer window, so that you have two windows open. In the window that is showing your external hard drive, perform the following procedure for each backed-up folder.
First, open the folder, you should see a listing of all the backed-up files.
Click Ctrl-A, this will select all files and sub-folders within the chosen folder.
Right click on any of the files and select the copy option.
Switch to the second explorer window and choose the corresponding folder (e.g. Documents to Documents – Pictures to Pictures etc.)
Right click in any blank space within the folder and select paste.
Repeat for each backed up folder.
Give yourself a pat on the back! Your new system is up and running and life is good again. Now, I take my old system to the trash. Right?
Wrong! For a start, it is still crammed full of your personal data. You will want to ensure that this is removed from the drive. There are a number of ways of doing this and depending on how private your data is and what you plan to do to the old system, will determine which option you choose.
However, before you decide. My advice is to not consider doing anything with your old system, for at least a month. Have your old machine available in case it needs to be referred to. It could be that you have missed some data, or a piece of software that you’d forgotten about and need to check. Be certain that you have everything you need from your old system before you clear the hard drive.
The options for securing the drive, range from physically destroying it, to merely deleting existing users from the system, or something in-between. It is a decision that is beyond the scope of this article. Any doubts about this then please contact us.
Is that it then?
More or less. But you do have a brand new external hard drive and it would be a shame to put it into a cupboard and let it gather dust. So why not ensure your data is safe and setup a backup routine.
Personally, I have used Syncback for both home and commercial systems for many years. For home users it’s free and it is a complete no-brainer. The link to download the free version is –
And a handy guide to setting up a profile is here –
The beauty about doing this now, is that you will have very little backing-up to do as the folders on your external Hard Drive and your new system should be a perfect match. Syncback will only back up new files or files you have altered.
What happens if I left it too long and my old system failed before I took the plunge.
Firstly, don’t panic. Although the process is now more complicated and probably beyond most home users, in a lot of cases it is still possible to recover your data and settings. Please contact us for details if this is the case. If it’s your hard drive that has failed then this can get very messy. So please folks get that external drive now and take frequent back-ups. Data recovery can be expensive and has no guarantee of success.
Just fill out the form below and we will get straight back to you. And remember, if you have any questions regarding the article, or are struggling to follow the steps – just get in touch. All advice is free.