BOOT CAMP 488 (07/08/07)

Moving to a new PC part 4


If you are uncomfortable with the idea of transplanting the hard drive from your old PC into your new machine (see Boot Camp 487) then this week’s selection of data transfer techniques, using removable storage media, should prove a lot less intimidating.


It’s a simple enough concept and one that dates back to the earliest days of personal computing. It involves copying the data you want to move from your old PC onto a portable storage medium, which can be then read by and transferred to the hard drive in your new computer.


Up until ten years ago this meant using floppy discs. Back then half a dozen floppies would have been enough to transport a few folders worth of documents, email addresses and web bookmarks. Clearly floppies are no longer any use, even for single files, which often exceed the disc’s 1.4Mb limit, let alone folders containing many hundreds of megabytes of data, which brings us to the current range of options now available to most PC owners.


Starting with the smallest capacity media we have the recordable CD, which provides 650 or 700Mb of uncompressed storage space. Recordable CDs, whether they are write once (CD-R) or Rewritable (CD-RW) types are one of the least attractive options for large scale data transfer because they are slow and unreliable, moreover the old or ‘source’ PC must be equipped with a CD-writer drive. They only became a standard fitment five or six years ago, which leaves a lot of old Windows 9x computers out in the cold. Of course it is possible to retrofit an older PC with a CD writer, or use an external CD writer drive but this will involve some expense, or removing the lid, at which point you might as well have saved yourself a lot of time and trouble and used the slave disc method outlined last week.


At first glance the greatly increased capacities of recordable DVDs would seem to be a much better prospect. Indeed, with 4.7Gb of storage space to play with they can make fairly short work of most routine transfer jobs, but the same problems arise with older PCs not having suitable drives, and grafting the technology onto a cranky Windows 98 machine is often fraught with problems.


Recording large volumes of data onto optical media can also be very time consuming and although many drives have what appear to be fast recording speeds, in practice higher speeds often result in errors and corrupt discs are no use to anyone.


If your old PC has a working CD or DVD writer and you can comfortably fit the files and folders you want to move onto no more than two or three discs them by all means use it but be aware that there are quicker and more efficient methods, like solid-state or ‘Flash’ memory.


Flash memory devices like ‘Pen Drives’ are the natural successors to the floppy disc; they are readily available, cheap, usually very reliable, useable on most PCs made within the last ten years and available in capacities of 32Gb and beyond. There is one small caveat, however. Windows ME onwards has built-in support for USB memory devices, so no problem there, but Windows on 98 and 98SE PCs you need to install a ‘driver’. Most major manufacturers either supply them with the drive, or make them available on their websites but a small minority of USB drives simply will not work on these operating systems, and you can usually forget it on Windows 95. See also this week’s Top Tip.


The plus side is speed and ease of use; simply pop the drive into a USB socket on your old PC, Windows will recognise it as a removable drive and you can just copy and paste or drag and drop your folders onto the drive icon until it is full up and the process is reversed when you move the drive to your XP or Vista computer. USB connectivity plays a key role in the last family of portable storage devices we’re looking at this week. They are external hard disc drives, which have become very popular very quickly because they offer almost unlimited capacity for storage and backup and they are exceptionally easy to use. Like USB flash drives you simply plug them into the PC’s USB port and the drive icon appears in My Computer and Windows Explorer, and it is immediately ready to use. The same provisos apply about the need for drivers on most Windows 9x PCs, and there may be some issues with older versions of Windows being able to access drives larger than 64 or 137Gb, but these can usually be resolved with downloadable patches. The only things to watch out for with external drives is that some models are prone to overheating, so make sure cooling air is free to circulate around he case, and they are vulnerable to shock and vibration, especially when recording data, so make sure the case is going to get knocked or fall off the desk.


Next Week – Moving to a new PC part 5





A program or data file that tells Windows how to communicate with a particular piece of hardware, like a video adaptor, modem, printer, web cam, USB Memory Stick etc.



Shorthand for pre XP Windows, i.e. Windows 95, 98, SE and ME



There’s nothing to stop you using any of the other types of Flash memory to transport your data from one PC to another. If you have a suitable USB card reader you can utilise the memory cards used in your digital cameras, PDAs, mobile phones and MP3 players, provided they have sufficient capacity. At a pinch you could also use your MP3 player or iPod to move your files and folders, though obviously you will have to find somewhere else to store your music tracks for the duration.  



© R. Maybury 2007, 1807


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