How to Transfer Windows onto a new machine

Dennis Faas's picture

Ron Smith wrote in and had a few comments to make about a past issue of the Infopackets Gazette, concerning whether or not Windows is transferable onto another machine using the same hard drive.

While I still feel that installing Windows freshly on a new machine is a better choice, you may want to try Ron's suggestion if you're willing to get your hands dirty. Here's what he had to say:

" Dear Dennis,

With deep respect, I feel that your answer was incomplete when you advised that Annette couldn't take over her hard drive to the new computer. Last week, I did exactly that, and it was infinitely preferable to reinstalling several hundred applications, updates, and multi-gigabytes of data. The process, while involved, was relatively straight-forward:

1. Ensure that your old hard drive is error-free and defragged.

2. For later convenience, place a copy of your Operating System CD on your old HDD. Similarly, if you have any new devices on the new machine that come with their own installation CDs, you may want to copy them to your old HDD also if you have room (They can be deleted later).

3. Power down your old computer, and install the new drive as a slave device to your old drive.

4. Boot your old machine back up, and use the BIOS setup to ensure that your new drive is set up correctly. (If your new drive is not empty, this would be a good time to re-format it to wipe out anything you're not going to want. This may include the new machine's O/S if you got one delivered with the new machine. In my case, I assembled my new machine from parts, so my drives were already blank).

5. Copy the entire disk (all partitions) to the new drive. I used "Drive Copy" (or Partition Magic). Other software can also do this job quite nicely.

6. Shut down your old computer, disconnect your old drive, and set the new drive to "Master". Reboot to Windows. This ensures that all your data DID make it across. Test as required. Now - the good stuff follows ! (Note: The following is using your NEW drive ! )

7. Set your screen display to standard VGA, 256 colors, and undo any Windows customization tweaks (such as having the swap file on a different drive).

8. Reboot into Safe Mode.

9. Go into Device Manager and remove all devices that will *not* be found exactly as is on the new machine. This includes Display adapters, HDD controllers. Imaging devices, Sound controllers, Network adapters etc. Everything that will NOT be on the new machine (or that your not sure of).

This is the key step ! It ensures that you won't have device conflicts on your new machine, but still preserves all your installs, applications and data files !

10. Shut down your old computer, remove the new HDD, and reattach it to the new computer as Master.

Now -- you're over to your NEW computer:

11. Boot up your new machine and slavishly follow all the Windows prompts to install new devices. This is where the HDD copies of your Operating System and other devices from Step 2 above comes in handy. If you couldn't copy them to the old HDD, and thus to the new one, be prepared to get real acquainted with your CD ROM.

12. Reboot and return to Step 11 as required until all devices are re-established. Use Device Manager to ensure that all is well in device-land.

13. Re-establish your key Windows tweaks that you removed in Step 7.

14. Enjoy your new machine!

Voila! You're now up and running on your new machine, after about 3 or 4 hours of careful work. This avoids 20, 30, 40 hours of painful reinstalls of every application, all upgrades, patches, etc. All it took was a little careful planning, and the willingness to get your hands dirty playing with HDD jumper settings. "

My response:

Thanks for mailing me your suggestion.

I have tried this in the past, but have had problems with the Primary and Secondary IDE drivers not wanting to "take" under Device Manager, which resulted in "compatibility mode". Of course, the only way around this was to reinstall Windows. Simply deleting the two ports under Safe Mode would not fix the compatibility error... which is why I recommend formatting the drive completely, then reinstalling Windows. Besides that, the newer hard drive is usually *much* faster than the old due to technological breakthroughs (which also means Windows will load faster).

Ron wrote in again:

" Hi Dennis, Thank you for your courteous reply! :-) I'd like to respond to your points: 1. As to the new drive being faster: Yes, of course it is, and usually larger too ! That was my point. The old drive's contents are completely copied to the NEW drive, using the old computer, and then the NEW drive is moved back to the new computer. The intermediate step of using the NEW drive in Windows on the OLD computer is two-fold:

a. Ensure that all the data has been correctly copied, and then

b. Remove all the old computer dependencies (while on the old computer) prior to moving it back to the new computer.

2. The driver removal from the drive while on the old computer results in a similar state to that found when installing the OS itself on a new machine: the OS determines the correct HDD drivers and calls for their installation from the OS CD. I have done this many times now, and it has worked without fail. The only times I have had any complications are when the motherboard has specific drivers that it favors over those from MS (eg. Via 4-in-1 drivers). In this case, if one takes the MS drivers, Device Manager will determine that these drivers have "problems", and then you will have to use Device Manager again, to "update" the drivers, specifying "have disk", and using those from the vendor's CD. (Of course, if you know the correct driver names and location ahead of time, you may be able to install them correctly the first time from the vendor's CD).

Kludgy, yes - but it works as long as one is patient and doesn't panic if / when unexpected challenges occur. The key here is preparation and planning: know what you intend to accomplish ahead of time, and then ensure you have all the required CD's and information 1st hand when it's needed.

PS. I am quite impressed with your site, and have signed up. Thanks for a great service! "

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