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Transfer Data from One Computer to Another

March 2016

updated November 2020

by Richard Lee

This is a procedure that may need to be done whenever we are upgrading a computer

system. Invariably we would have a cache of useful files on the old computer that needs to go onto the new computer. The blog is focused on transferring user data only. I discuss only high level steps just to give an overview of whats required. ( For specific steps you can search other blogs on Bing or Google ) It is presumed that the new computer comes with its own updated operating system.

Data that typically needs to be migrated include:

⦁ spreadsheets

⦁ documents

⦁ databases

⦁ photos

⦁ videos

⦁ Outlook email data files

For programs (such as Microsoft Office and others) typically we would just download and install or else use the program vendor's DVD. But since there would've likely been some improvement to the software since we last installed it, that also requires that we may need to upgrade the program. Or stay with the old version (not recommended in most cases). It is not possible to simply copy and paste over programs like we do for data. It simply won't work+.

Main practical options to transfer data from one computer to another are:

⦁ USB memory stick


⦁ portable hard drive

⦁ direct/indirect network connection

⦁ cloud

⦁ hard drive caddy

⦁ network server

⦁ wireless connection

USB memory stick - an obvious choice. Its limited to around 128Gb* of data. However can be used multiple times to transfer data above and beyond the stick capacity. Each time the stick can be erased to make room for new data.

A CD holds around 650Mb of data whilst DVDs can hold around 4Gb of data. Providing both old and new systems have these drives this method can be used. The old system needs to have at least a CD burner and ideally a DVD burner drive, otherwise connecting a portable USB CD/DVD burner drive may be another option using this method.

This method may be useful if you've got older style programs that were using CDs as the distribution medium. In recent years most programs were simply distributed Online through the vendor's website. If the data to transfer is significant (say larger than 30Gb) it may not be practical (due to the large number of disks required) although it is still possible to use this method.

A portable hard drive would typically be a USB connected external device. Sizes can range from a few hundred Gb to several Tbs in capacity. More than enough in most cases! It is an easy and obvious method for bringing old system files across especially when data size is large (more than a few hundred Gbs).

We can use this method to connect to the old system. Once connected Windows should see the drive automatically. ( If not you can try removing other connected devices first ) Then in Windows Explorer copy across the files we wish to transfer. Connect the portable drive to the new system and then bring across the required files.

Direct Connection would use a crossover network cable to connect from the old PC to the new one, whilst an indirect connection would use normal network cable (UTP) connected to a switch. In this case both old and new systems use the UTP cable to connect to the switch.

In both network connections, enable peer to peer networking by setting the same Work group name on both computers. The default name is WORKGROUP. We can use this name or another name if desired. Just ensure both computers use the same work group name.

Computers should be able to see each other in the Network. It is also required to enable folder sharing on the old PC ( ie share the folders of the files we wish to transfer) otherwise the new system cannot see and not access the required files.

Use Drag and Drop technique to transfer files or Edit | Copy | Paste in Windows Explorer.

Cloud - On the old computer transfer data to the cloud using Windows Explorer and

Cut | Paste. This may be from one of the providers such as Dropbox, OneDrive, GoogleDrive etc.

Then access the same cloud service on the new computer. Now transfer files to new computer. If data is particularly large ( > 100Gb) it can take a while (several hours or more depending on amount of data, computer and internet speed) unless using super fast internet (such as NBN).

If you're using Microsoft 365 ( old name is Office 365 ) then its simple matter of logging into your Microsoft account on the new computer and then the rest is automatic! There's also another step you might want to do: deregister the copy of Office installed on the old PC so it won't count towards your licenses.

Another option could be to connect old computer's hard drive directly into new computer's system board or make use of a hard drive caddy. The new computer "sees" both drives so its just a matter of using the Windows Explorer to transfer files. Transfer speeds (of direct hard drive connection) are significantly faster than using network, or internet based options.

The Network Server option uses either a Network Server computer or a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. Using these devices, the old computer would authenticate^ to the Server computer. Then its just a matter to transfer files over to a network drive on the server. If using NAS the old computer typically accesses the NAS's storage using a web interface to transfer files over. Then on the new computer log into the Network Server to retrieve the copied data from a network drive. Or access the web interface to retrieve files from the NAS.

The last option would typically apply to transferring data from an old laptop computer

with wireless capability. In this case the laptop should authenticate to a wireless ADSL modem and likewise the new laptop computer. Both computers should be able to "see" each other in the Network. Apart from this the remaining steps are to use the Direct/Indirect Connection Workgroup strategy discussed earlier. The only difference is that the connection is done wirelessly rather than wired.

In this blog I've discussed eight separate ways of transferring data from an old computer to a new computer. Most of the options are fairly straight forward to do yourself. The only ones that require some know how or experience is with the direct/indirect connection and the Network Server options.


+ Since Windows 95 it has been necessary to use the vendor program installer rather than simply copy and paste program files as done with older Windows and DOS based systems.

* A useful fact to know is that if you use FAT file system (which is the default format) it is limited to a maximum size of 32Gb. Any larger means you would need to format the volume using NTFS file system.

^ Login to the server if its in Active Directory(AD), otherwise use Indirect Connection using Workgroup technique discussed earlier if the server is a member server (and not a part of AD).

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