Answer Line: Move Your Data, Settings, and Apps to a New PC

The act of moving everything to a new PC is always painful. How should I manage it?

Douglas B. Kuiper, Rock Hill, South Carolina

First, set up the new computer near the old one. If you have a network, plug your new computer into it and get it running. The new computer's name on the network must be different from the old one's--at least temporarily. If you can't get the new PC working on your network, visit What to Do When Network PCs Don't See Eye to Eye to read my May column on linking two systems.

If you don't have a network, buy a parallel file-transfer cable (they cost about $10) to connect the computers via their parallel ports. The connection is slow, but if you transfer at the end of the workday, it should be complete by morning.

Migration Patterns

With the two machines connected, pick a migration technique. Windows XP's Files and Settings Transfer Wizard does a good job of moving your data, but for $20 per migration, there's a better way: Spearit Software's Move Me. If you are using a parallel cable to connect the PCs, a program like Move Me is a must--Windows XP's wizard doesn't support parallel links. (Windows provides a workaround via Network Connections, but it's too difficult to bother with.) Move Me has one other advantage: It moves applications, as well as settings and data. Browse to Spearit Software to download Move Me. But before I describe the Move Me approach, let's review the free XP way.

Your old system probably doesn't run Windows XP, and thus lacks the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. To remedy this, start the new PC and select Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. An option early in the process lets you put the wizard itself onto a floppy disk so you can run it on the old computer. (Of course, if your previous system also runs Windows XP, just launch the wizard on that machine.)

A shortcoming of the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard is that it requires you to manually install any applications that are on the old PC but not on the new one. But the wizard does list the programs that you will need to install on the new machine. When you reach this list in the wizard on your old system, install the missing programs on your new machine, and then run the wizard again on that PC.

If you decide to go the Move Me route, install that program on both computers. If all goes well (with migration, there's no guarantee), you won't have to install any other programs on the new system.

Both XP's own migration tool and Move Me are self-explanatory. Before you use them, close all other programs. Be prepared to switch back and forth between your two computers as you step through the wizards--and be ready to take a break once the transfer begins (see FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1: MIGRATE YOUR apps, data, and settings with Spearit Software's Move Me.

The Final Touches

Once the migration is complete, use your new computer for your everyday PC chores--but keep your old system in place for a couple of days until you're sure that everything you need has made the move. It's inevitable that some important file or program will be left behind (in my tests, neither Move Me nor XP's transfer wizard migrated Word's template file, for example). Go here for links to four PC World articles on migrating some particularly tricky settings and programs to a new PC.

When you finally feel ready to give up your old computer, don't. Stick it in a closet for a couple of months--just to be truly safe. Once it is dusty enough that you can write your name on the case, it's time to sell it, donate it, or give it away. But before you do, visit Wipe Your Drive Clean of All Its Sensitive Data for instructions on how to wipe its hard drive clean of all its sensitive data.

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