BOOT CAMP 486 (24/07/07)

Moving to a new PC part 2


Last week, in part one of this short series on how to transfer data from an old PC to a new machine, we showed how to prepare the ground; this week we’ll look at how it is done.


Essentially there are three ways of moving large amounts of data and program settings from one PC to another. My preferred method is to physically remove the hard disc drive (HDD) from the old PC, transplant it into the new machine as a ‘slave’ drive then copy the files and data using normal drag and drop or copy and paste techniques. It’s quick and reasonably simple though novices and those wary of tinkering with a PC’s innards may prefer to use one of the alternative methods. The other disadvantage is that it only works with desktop PCs, where the standard 3.5-inch drives can be easily removed and installed, though there are ways and means doing it with smaller 2.5-inch laptop drives, and we’ll come to that in a moment. For those who are interested we will have a step-by-step guide on how to slave an old drive in a new PC in part 3, next week.


Method number two is to copy your files and folder to a removable storage medium and this includes CDs and DVDs, USB flash memory drives (see also Tip of the Week) and external hard drives. The success and speed of this technique depends on the performance and capacity of the transport media. Blank CDs hold up to 700Mb of data, which might be enough for some users but if you have a large collection of photographs, audio files or videos then the number of discs involved, and time taken to burn them, could be a limiting factor. DVDs are a much better prospect with 4.7Gb of space available, but even this may not be enough for some multimedia PC owners, and it depends on the source PC having a DVD writer installed, and suitable software.


USB flash memory modules are a very convenient way of moving data around, particularly now that pen drives with 4Gb capacities are available for less than £20. Of course both PCs must have USB sockets. This shouldn’t be a problem on computers built within the last six or seven years, though older machines are unlikely to support the faster USB 2.0 data transfer rates. The only other thing to watch out for is that if the old PC uses Windows 98 or 98SE then the flash drive must come with suitable driver software, otherwise the old PC won’t be able to use it.   


A new generation of inexpensive external USB/FireWire hard drives are an excellent way to move data around. USB 2.0 and FireWire connections can be lightning fast and storage capacity is virtually unlimited. External HDD prices are now coming down so quickly that it’s likely that you’ll end up with one that’s larger than the drive in your old PC. They are very easy to use but there are a few points to watch out for.


There are the same connection provisos as USB flash drives and you may have fiddle around with drivers and utilities to get an older PC and pre XP versions of Windows to recognise the drive, or access its full capacity. Relatively few PCs have a FireWire connection, though this isn’t a problem as you can use the USB connection instead. 


Still on the subject of external hard drives this method provides a handy ‘halfway-house’ alternative to installing or slaving an old drive in a new PC. Just slot the 3.5-inch ATA/IDE drive from your old PC into a USB HDD housing or ‘enclosure’ and plug it into your new PC. It won’t break the bank either, with prices starting at under £20. The enclosure converts your old drive into an USB/FireWire type external drive, with the obvious advantage is that there is no need to poke around inside your shiny new computer. Enclosures for 2.5-inch laptop hard drives are also available, though these can be quite tricky to remove and they need to be handled much more carefully.


Method number three, which we will be looking at in the final part of this series, is connecting the two PCs together, either via a network, or by using a direct PC-to-PC cable link. This works quite well, though it is not especially fast. Setup can be tedious, more so nowadays with all of the layers of security in recent versions of Windows, intended to prevent files from being accessed or copied without permission. Nevertheless, this is the preferred method used by the Windows Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, a handy utility that was introduced in Windows XP and is also included with Vista.


Next Week – Moving to a new PC part 3





Advanced Technology Attachment/Integrated Drive Electronics/Parallel ATA -- connection system and circuitry built into disc drives that acts as an interface between the drive and the PC motherboard. ATA/IDE is now almost obsolete and being rapidly replaced by smaller, simpler and faster SATA (Serial ATA) type connections


FIREWIRE (aka IEEE 1394 and ‘I-Link’)

High-speed serial data connection system, commonly used for connecting PCs to external storage devices and digital camcorders, for downloading video footage for editing


USB 2.0

Universal Serial Bus -- the fast 2.0 specification is backwards compatible with now obsolete USB 1.1 and allows theoretical data transfer rates of up to 480Mb/sec




Other types of flash memory can also be used to transfer data between PCs. The memory cards used in digital still cameras are one example, and many PCs have built-in card readers, or can be fitted with external card readers. Additionally, some types of memory card, notably the postage-stamp sized MMC/SD format, can be fitted directly into USB ‘Pen Drive’ type card readers that work in exactly the same way as regular pen drives. The cost of MMC/SD cards has fallen dramatically in the past few months and 4Gb cards can be found selling online for as little as £21.


© R. Maybury 2007, 1107


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