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How to Migrate to a New PC

How to Migrate to a New PC

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Published by Muneeb Khan

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Published by: Muneeb Khan on Nov 01, 2008
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09/23/2010

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TIP OF THE DAYHow to Migrate to a New PC
You probably know the feeling: You sit down at a new computer, excited by itspotential, only to realize that so much of what you really need is still stuck onyour older system. Trading up to a new PC and a new operating system can be abit like moving into a newer, bigger house; you've got to pack up and relocateevery little thing you've amassed over the years, and then customize your newsurroundings before it really feels like you're at home. But how are you going totransfer your address book, e-mails, data files, Internet favorites, digital musicand photos, specialized applications, desktop wallpaper and screen savers, andall your other personal paraphernalia, not to mention your application and systemsettings?Copying all this data manually is an option in principle, but it's hopelessly tediousand error-prone in practice. You're likely to miss files hidden in some dark corner of your hard drive—and even if you do succeed in copying all your data files,you've still solved only part of the problem. Many Microsoft Windows applicationsstore key settings in the Registry or in profile files. If your new PC has a newer operating system or newer versions of applications, the older settings may havemoved or not be applicable at all. Copying your hard-drive contents wholesaleisn't an option, either, since a new operating system and new underlyinghardware will require all kinds of different files that you don't want to riskoverwriting.In an ideal world, you wouldn't have to worry about any of this. You could press afew buttons and transfer everything that made your old system unique right ontoyour new one. While such a panacea is beyond the current state of the art, anumber of system-migration tools take a big step in that direction. We'vereviewed a variety of them (see
)—so now let'stake a look at how you can actually put them to use to help get your new PC setup just like your old one.
What You Can Migrate
All migration tools aim to move your data files and at least some of your application settings—things like program options and preferences, toolbar positions, custom dictionaries, and so on. In order to move settings for aparticular application, though, the tool must be explicitly designed to support it.Most migration tools can move settings for dozens of common applications fromMicrosoft, Intuit, and other major software publishers, but you should check tosee if particular applications you depend on are supported. If you're a power user, you'll undoubtedly have some apps with settings that no product supports,which means you'll have to make any settings changes manually; fortunately,many programs don't have all that many crucial configuration options. Also, if 
 
you're upgrading from an older version of an application to a newer one—fromMicrosoft Word 98 to Word XP, for example—you'll want to see if the migrationtool can handle the conversion.A few migration tools will also attempt to move applications themselves, althoughmany won't, citing both licensing considerations (many software licenses giveyou the right to install an application on only a single PC) and the difficulty of ensuring that an application that was installed on one specific hardware andsoftware configuration will work properly on a totally different machine.In a moment we'll take a look at how three different utilities can assist with your migration. Alohabob PC Relocator 2005 Ultra Control Edition is our Editors'Choice for application movers; Computer Associates' Desktop DNA Professional4.7 is our Editors' Choice for settings movers. See our reviews at
and
respectively. (Desktop DNA was previously published by Miramar Systems, whichhas been acquired by CA; an updated version of the product was entering alphatesting as we finished this story.) Additionally, Windows XP comes with a free,albeit basic, migration tool, the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard (FAST).(Microsoft also provides the User State Migration Tool, or USMT, but since it's acommand-line program designed for enterprise system administrators who needto migrate systems en masse, we won't explore it in depth here.)
Planning Your Migration
Before you dive into the migration, it pays to do a little bit of preparation. First,decide how you're going to transfer the data from one system to another. Your options generally include a standard network connection or shared folders, someother physical (USB, Ethernet crossover, parallel, or serial) direct connection, or removable media. Migrating across the network is the easiest solution if both theold and new PCs are already networked—but if you're going to use sharedfolders, start by making sure that both the old PC and new PC can access themsuccessfully, which can take a bit of work if you're using widely divergent OSversions such as Windows XP and Windows Me.Using a crossover cable of one kind or another is a straightforward alternative,but unless you use a high-speed technology like USB 2.0 or 100 megabits per second (or faster) Ethernet, transferring your data can take hours. Removablemedia like CD-Rs will work for some, but if you have large amounts of data—particularly music and digital photos—you'll need a large numbers of discs andhave to do lots of swapping to complete the migration. Burning CDs can also betricky if the OS you're migrating from doesn't natively support it. If you're luckyenough to have a DVD burner in your old system, that's a more viable option, butwe're still partial to migrating via a wired connection.
 
If you're using one of the slower transfer methods, it might be worthwhile to cleanout unneeded data that's lurking on your old machine. Consider deleting large e-mail attachments, old digital photos, or other space-consuming files if you nolonger need them.Next, make a list of all the users who have accounts on your old machine, if it'sset up for multiple users. Migration will go most smoothly if you create identicalindividual user accounts on the new machine. If you're using a settings mover rather than a full application mover, install your programs on the target PC beforeyou begin the migration.Take a minute to make sure that both the old system and the new system areready for the transfer. It is a good idea to visit Windows Update (
) to ensure that your systems have all the latestsecurity fixes and patches. Update your antivirus software and run a completescan of both machines, to prevent transferring an undetected infection from your old system to the new one. We recommend running an antispyware program too.Once you've completed scanning, though, you may want to shut these programs'real-time scan engines off temporarily, as well as your software firewalls—migration-tools vendors say they can sometimes interfere with the migrationprocess. Disconnect both machines from the Internet before you do this, to avoidattacks during the transfer process! Shut down applications and unneeded trayitems and make sure that, if you're using a laptop, you're connected to AC power.You don't want your battery to run out in the middle of a move.
Using FAST Migration
The Windows Files and Settings Transfer Wizard doesn't transfer applications,and it's a vanilla product with few options and no undo feature or detailedreporting capabilities. But since it's included with Windows XP, it's worth knowingabout.You can launch the Windows Files and Settings Transfer Wizard in two ways.One is to insert the Windows XP CD-ROM, select Perform Additional Tasks, andselect Transfer Files and Settings. Or, on a machine with Windows XP installed,go to
Start 
|
 All Programs
|
 Accessories
|
System Tools
, where you'll find FASTlisted. FAST will offer to make a disc you can put into the old PC, in case it's notrunning Windows XP and thus doesn't already have the program to support theother end of the transfer.FAST really is a simple wizard—you just click through a few short panes,optionally add settings, directories, or file types beyond the default, and let it doits work. If you want more detailed control over the migration, one of the followingtwo third-party products might serve you better.

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