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Transferring Files and Settings from Another Computer

3/2/2011 10:39:22 PM
If you upgrade your computer from Windows Vista to Windows 7, all of your data and most of your programs should survive the journey intact. But what do you do with your data and settings if you purchase a new computer, or if you decide to do a clean installation on your existing system, or if your old computer was running Windows XP and can't be directly upgraded? With Windows 7, you can use a utility called Windows Easy Transfer to handle much of the grunt work.

This utility is a significant upgrade to the version that appeared in Windows Vista (which in turn was a greatly improved replacement for Windows XP's Files And Settings Transfer wizard). With its help, you can migrate settings and files from your old Windows installation (Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7) to the new one.

Use Windows Easy Transfer with a Single PC

When you use Windows Easy Transfer, the "old PC" and "new PC" don't have to be different physical machines. This utility will get the job done if you want to completely replace your existing Windows installation with a clean install of Windows 7. Use Windows Easy Transfer to save settings and files from your current Windows installation (your "old PC") to an external hard disk or network location. After you complete the clean install of Windows 7 on the same hardware, restore the saved files and settings to your "new PC."

Although the utility has its limitations, it's highly flexible and offers an impressive number of customization options. New in Windows 7 is a post-migration report, which shows you which files and settings were transferred and then lists all programs that the utility was able to detect on the old installation; you can use this report as a checklist to reinstall programs on the new computer.


You can transfer files and settings from a 32-bit version of Windows to a 64-bit version, but the transfer won't work in reverse. You can't use this utility to copy files or settings from a 64-bit Windows version to a 32-bit version.

Windows Easy Transfer is simple and straightforward in operation, but describing it is another story. It would take a whiteboard the size of a Jumbotron scoreboard to map out all the possible paths you can follow when using this utility. So rather than describe every step, we'll list the broad outlines and count on you to find your way through the process.


Windows Easy Transfer works with files and settings, but it does not transfer the programs themselves. If you want to transfer programs as well as files from your old PC to a new one, you'll need to use third-party software, such as LapLink's PCMover (w7io.com/0216).

1. Making a Connection

To accomplish the transfer, you need to establish a data connection between the old and new computers. When you run the Windows Easy Transfer utility and click past the introductory screen, you're greeted with the list of options shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1. The first two Windows Easy Transfer options require a physical connection between two PCs. The third option is intended for upgraders.

Your three transfer options are as follows:

  • Easy Transfer cable This custom cable, available for purchase from many vendors (just search the web for "Easy transfer cable"), allows high-speed transfers over a direct connection between USB 2.0 ports on both computers. You cannot use a standard USB cable for this task. If you connect the cable before running Windows Easy Transfer, the program assumes you plan to use it as the transfer mechanism and skips the other options.

  • Network You can connect two computers over a local area network and transfer settings directly from the old computer to the new one. A Fast Ethernet (100 Mbit/ sec) or gigabit Ethernet connection is by far your best choice, especially if you want to transfer a large number of data files.

  • Removable media, including USB flash drives and external hard disks If a direct connection isn't practical or possible (if you're planning to wipe out an existing partition so that you can do a clean installation on the same computer, for example), you can save the Windows Easy Transfer output to a file and then restore it after you finish setup. You must have enough free space on the external storage device to accommodate all files to be transferred. The Windows Easy Transfer utility calculates the amount of data it expects to transfer and warns you if the destination you select has insufficient space.

Inside Out: Use a shared network location for Windows Easy Transfer storage

Although you wouldn't know it from the Windows Easy Transfer interface, you can store files and settings from one computer on a shared network folder and retrieve them later. The trick? Don't choose the second option, A Network, which works in real time with two physical PCs connected over a wired or wireless network. Instead, choose the third option, An External Hard Disk Or USB Flash Drive. After specifying that this is your old computer, go through the process of calculating which files will be transferred and click Save. In the Save Your Easy Transfer File dialog box, select a shared network folder and enter a file name. When you're ready to restore the files and settings, connect to the same location over the network and begin the transfer.

If you're replacing your old computer with a new one running Windows 7, your best bet is to connect the two computers over a local area network (or using an Easy Transfer cable) and then run Windows Easy Transfer. This technique is not only the fastest way to get your new computer up and running, it's also the best way to avoid losing data. Because your existing data files remain intact on the old computer, you can recover easily if the process inadvertently leaves behind a crucial data file. If neither of these options is available, you can use an external hard drive to physically store the data and settings to be transferred.

If you have any other programs running, stop them now; then start the Windows Easy Transfer utility on both computers.

  • On the old computer, you can use the Windows 7 DVD (browse to the \Support\ Migwiz folder on the DVD and double-click Migsetup.exe). If the installation disc isn't available or you want to make sure you have the most recent version of the utility, run Windows Easy Transfer on the new computer first and follow the prompts to copy the program files to an external hard disk, a USB flash drive, or a shared network folder; then connect your old PC to the device or network location and run the Windows Easy Transfer shortcut there. If the old computer is running Windows 7, this step isn't necessary; you can run Windows Easy Transfer from the Start menu.

  • On the new computer, click the Start button and then choose All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Windows Easy Transfer. (You can also type Windows Easy Transfer in the search box on the Start menu or type migwiz at any command prompt, including the Start menu search box.) Click Next on the Welcome To Windows Easy Transfer page.

If you're using an Easy Transfer cable, start by plugging the cable into the old PC, which will need to install a driver for the device. When the driver is successfully installed, follow the prompts to begin the transfer. After you specify that this is the old PC, you'll be prompted to plug in the cable on your new PC, where Windows Easy Transfer should make the connection automatically and begin cataloging files and settings that need to be transferred.

If you're transferring over a network, start with the old PC, and then run Windows Easy Transfer on the new PC. The connection should be made automatically. You'll need to enter a numeric key on the new PC (automatically generated on the old PC) to initiate the connection.

2. Choosing What to Transfer

When you reach the Choose What To Transfer From This Computer page, Windows Easy Transfer automatically catalogs all files and settings that are available for transfer, calculates their size, and displays the results in a dialog box like the one shown here:

Each user account on the old PC gets its own top-level entry in this list, followed by a Shared Items entry that grabs files from the folder hierarchy for the Public user profile and settings for programs that are installed for all users.

The default settings for individual user profiles migrate files from your user profile, including documents, music, pictures, and videos, as well as per-user program settings and Windows settings like your desktop background and screen saver. The utility also migrates Internet Explorer Favorites and preferences; folder and taskbar options; and account settings, messages, and address books from supported e-mail programs, including Microsoft Outlook Express, Windows Mail, and Outlook, among other programs.

If you want to replicate the setup of your old PC on your new one, click Next and then find something else to do while the transfer takes place (transferring 100+ GB of data over a network can take hours). If you simply want to transfer your personal files and settings to the new PC, clear the check boxes next to the Shared Items entry and any other accounts; then click Next.

For more granular control over exactly what gets transferred, click the Customize link beneath your user account entry or the Shared Items entry. That displays a list of folders and program settings like the one shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Clear any check box to skip the selected item type. Click Advanced to specify individual folders and drives that you want to include or exclude.

If you have an enormous collection of music and videos, you might prefer to copy those files to an external hard disk and import them later. In that case, clear the Music or Videos check box for your user profile (Public Music and Public Videos in the Shared Items category).

Allow the mouse pointer to hover over the blue Information icon to see a list of which programs will have their settings migrated.

Windows Easy Transfer does not migrate program files; instead, it copies the settings and preference files to the correct location on the new computer and uses those preferences when you install the program on the new computer. Registry settings and preference files for a long list of programs are copied automatically. (Click Customize and allow the mouse pointer to hover over the blue Information icon to see a list of which programs will have their settings migrated for the selected account.) Naturally, this list is heavy on Microsoft programs, but it also includes a lengthy list of third-party products. Here's the complete list of programs covered as of the initial release of Windows 7:

  • Ad-Aware 6 Professional

  • Adobe Creative Suite 2

  • Adobe ImageReady CS

  • Adobe Photoshop CS

  • Adobe Photoshop 9

  • Adobe Reader 9.0

  • AOL Instant Messenger 5 and 6

  • Corel Paintshop Pro 9

  • Google Chrome

  • Google Picasa 3

  • Google Talk 1

  • iTunes 6, 7, and 8

  • Lotus Notes 6, 7, and 8

  • Lotus SmartSuite

  • Microsoft Money Plus Home & Business 2008

  • Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007

  • Microsoft Works 9.0

  • Mozilla Firefox 3

  • Opera 9

  • Peachtree 2009

  • Quicken Deluxe 2009

  • QuickTime Player 5, 6, and 7

  • RealPlayer Basic 11

  • Safari 4

  • Skype 3

  • Windows Live Mail

  • Windows Live Messenger

  • Windows Live Photo Gallery

  • Windows Live Writer

  • WinZip (8, 9, or 10)

  • WordPerfect Office 11, 12, and X3

  • Yahoo! Messenger

  • Zune Software 3

3. Restoring Files and Settings on Your New Computer

If you use a network or cable connection to transfer files between two computers with Windows Easy Transfer, you control both ends of the process. After you enter the correct security keys on each end, establish a connection, and specify which files and settings you want to copy to your new PC, click Transfer. When the operation is complete, you'll see a detailed status report on the new computer indicating which files and settings were transferred.

If you've saved the files and settings to a USB flash drive, an external hard disk, or a shared network drive, run Windows Easy Transfer on the new computer, specify that you're using an external hard disk or USB flash drive, and click This Is My New Computer. Choose the location, type a password (if you set one when saving the data), and click Next.

If the user names on the old and new computers are different, you have a choice to make. If you simply click Transfer, Windows will create a new account for each account that you saved that doesn't have a match on the new computer. If you want the settings from the old computer to go to a specific account on the new computer, click Advanced Options (at the bottom of the Choose What To Transfer From This Computer page). That opens a dialog box like the one shown below. You can choose to match existing accounts or click Create User and type in a new name to create an account on the fly.

If you copied files from a secondary drive on the old computer and want those files to go on a drive with a different letter on the new PC, click the Map Drives tab and match the old and new drive letters. After completing both match-ups, click Save, and then click Transfer to complete the operation.

After the Windows Easy Transfer utility completes its restoration, it automatically displays a report of what it did. (You can call up this report later by clicking the Windows Easy Transfer Reports shortcut, which is also in All Programs, Accessories, System Tools.) Check for any errors, and correct them, if necessary.

Unfortunately, as we noted earlier, Windows Easy Transfer doesn't migrate installed programs. Instead, when the process completes, the Easy Transfer Report displays a list of programs that were installed on your old computer that you might need to reinstall on the new one. The example shown here displays a selection of third-party programs and some utilities that connect to hardware devices.

If you chose to install some programs before running this step, you'll notice that some programs in the list are marked with a green check mark as Already Installed. The links under each entry in the list take you to the program developer's website, which typically includes the download link. You can leave this report window open, and it will update each entry in the list automatically as you complete it.

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