Mobile Computing: Moving to a New Notebook

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Feature: Moving to a New Notebook

In December, my nearly 3-year-old notebook developed yet another mystery malady. Applications often stopped responding and the ominous blue screen flashed frequently before my increasingly bloodshot eyes.

So I made my decision: The heck with this, it's time to buy a new notebook. After choosing a model--Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion Dv1000--I faced the chore of moving my applications, files, passwords, Microsoft Internet Explorer Favorites, and everything else off the slowly sinking ship. Fortunately, the rescue was relatively painless.

If you're about to move from an old notebook to a new one, read on. In this issue, I've got tips and resources to help you make the switch.

1. Scan for Troublemakers

Before you do anything, scan your old computer's files for viruses, adware, spyware, worms, and other troublemakers. The last thing you want to do is spread those germs to your new notebook.

There are plenty of programs that can handle these tasks. Some, such as Webroot's Spy Sweeper ($30), are available for a free trial. For links to free antivirus tools, go to the PC World Downloads library.

2. Back Up Your Data

Ideally, the next step is to back up your germ-free files to an external hard drive--preferably a USB 2.0 or FireWire drive. (FireWire will give you the fastest data transfer rates.) Backing up is always smart, of course. In addition, storing key files on an external drive that can be connected to either your old or new notebook can help with the file transfer.

If you don't have an external hard drive, you could use flash-memory storage cards as the go-between, provided both computers have card readers. Or you could burn your files onto DVDs or CDs.

I've used external hard drives from CMS Products and Maxtor, and I recommend products from both vendors. Maxtor's OneTouch II drives are $200 to $350, depending on capacity. You'll find pricing for the 250GB version on our Product Finder. CMS Products offers both USB and FireWire portable and desktop hard drives, from $209 to $629.

3. Use a Migration Program

One option is to connect both computers over a wired or wireless local-area network, then transfer files and settings via Windows XP's File and Settings Transfer Wizard. But even though it's free, this method isn't for everyone. Sharing files over a network can be tricky to set up, especially for the uninitiated. And file sharing over a wireless network can be a security risk. (You can also use the Windows wizard and use floppies or optical discs to copy files between the two systems.)

I prefer to use a migration program such as Alohabob PC Relocator or Detto IntelliMover. I've not used PC Relocator, but I have transferred files and settings using IntelliMover. I found its step-by-step approach to be easy and straightforward: Just install the program on both computers, pick what you want to transfer from the old computer, connect one USB cable to both systems, and go. The process can take an hour or more, depending on how much you're moving, so start it before going to lunch (or taking a nap).

I used IntelliMover to transfer my Internet Explorer settings such as my home page and Favorites; Microsoft Outlook accounts, preferences, and e-mail messages; image and music files; and so forth. But I didn't transfer any system settings or application files. Why? First of all, I didn't want to inadvertently transfer any of the unresolved problems my old computer was having. Second, I didn't want to load up my brand-new notebook with old files. Instead, I've hooked up to my new notebook a Maxtor USB 2.0 external hard drive, which contains all my application files backed up from the old notebook. When I need a file, I can simply open or copy it from the external drive.

For more information about Alohabob PC Relocator ($30) or PC Relocator Ultra Control ($70), go to the Eisenworld site. More information about IntelliMover ($50) is at the Detto Technologies site.

4. Keep Your Old Computer Nearby

After you've finished the Big Move, keep your old notebook around for at least two months. Down the road, you may need a file that didn't get transferred over.

I'm planning to send in my old notebook for repairs, since it has two months left on its warranty. Then I'll keep it as a back-up computer: As shiny and sparkling as my new notebook is, it's only a matter of time before it, too, develops a mystery malady.

For more tips and advice on migrating computers, read "Move It On Over," by PC World contributing editor Lincoln Spector.

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