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Transfer Your Files to a New PC

If you're like many people, you might be inclined to buy a new PC every few years in order to benefit from the latest in performance and features. But when you've spent years accumulating thousands of personal data files on an existing PC, the thought of transferring all that stuff over to a new computer can seem like a daunting task. Talk about a file management chore!

Fortunately, it doesn't necessarily have to be a chore. There are ways to automatically transfer all of your valued files from one PC to another-if not always quickly (data transfers can take time, especially when you have a lot of it), then at least reliably and thoroughly.

Windows includes several built-in data transfer features, including File History, Windows Easy Transfer, and Backup and Restore. But because the presence and capabilities of these features aren't necessarily consistent between successive versions of Windows, the version of Windows that's running on both your old and new PCs will determine the transfer method that makes the most sense. Other potential ways to transfer files between PCs include synching them to the same cloud storage service or using one of the available third-party tools to do the job.

Laplink PC Mover Express

Microsoft announced that it was making Laplink's PC Mover Express software available as a free download for a limited time. The software can transfer files and folders from a system running an old Windows PC to a new one, but it's only available until August 31, 2016. For more information on Laplink PC Mover Express or to download the software, see www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/transfer-your-data.

Before we get into the details for each of these transfer methods, Table shows when you'll want to use the built-in Windows features.

The transfer method to use will depend on which version of Windows is running on both your old and new PCs

Old PC (From) 		  New PC (To) 		      Use
Windows 8.1, Windows 10   Windows 8.1, Windows 10     File History
Windows 7, 8 Windows 8,   8.1 			      Windows Easy Transfer
Windows 7 		  Windows 10 		      Backup and Restore

File History

If you want to get your files from an existing Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 PC over a new one that's also running either Windows 8.1 or Windows 10, your best bet to do so is via Windows' built-in File History feature.

File History, automatically backs up files that you've stored on your desktop and any of the standard Windows folders (such as Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos) to an external storage device, which you can then use to transfer the backed-up files over to your new PC. In a nutshell, if you've been backing up regularly with File History, the job of getting it all to a new PC is already half done.

Transfer Files Off the Old PC

Before doing the transfer, you'll want to make sure that your File History backup is current. With your old PC's File History drive connected, run File History by searching for it from the Start screen, then click the Run now link to bring your backup up to date with the latest versions of your files. Be sure not to create, modify, or delete any files while you're File History backup is running; otherwise, those changes may not be reflected in the backup.

This should return you to the window. From there, select Restore personal files and you'll see File History. Because in this case you want to transfer all files from your old PC to your new one, highlight all items from the most recent backup (or press CTRL +A to easily select all items) and then press the green button to begin the transfer. When it's complete, all of the files that used to be on your old PC will be on your new one.

Windows Easy Transfer

If you want to move your files over to a Windows 8.1 PC from one running Windows 7 or Windows 8, the Windows Easy Transfer feature built into all three operating systems is the way to go.

Windows Easy Transfer is actually somewhat more customizable and comprehensive than File History. When you run Windows Easy Transfer on your old PC it scans the computer for user accounts and data files stored in standard folders such as Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos for each account that it finds. Windows Easy Transfer automatically tags all of these items for transfer and lets you customize the transfer by selecting additional folders and/or excluding folders that were automatically selected.

Once you're satisfied with the selections, Windows Easy Transfer will copy all the data to an external hard disk or flash drive where it's compressed into a single file to save space. Then, when you connect the hard disk or flash drive to the new PC and open the file, the contents of your old PC are expanded and copied into their corresponding locations on the new computer. If user accounts from the old PC don't yet exist on the new PC, Windows Easy Transfer will create them.

Transfer Files Off the Old PC

To use Windows Easy Transfer, start on the old PC and find Windows Easy Transfer by searching for "easy" from the Start menu. (You must be using an administrator account to run it.)

After you click Next on the initial screen, you'll be given an option to do the transfer via an Easy Transfer cable, a network, or via an external hard disk or USB flash drive. Be sure to choose the external hard disk option because it's the only way that a Windows 8.1 PC can accept the transferred files.

On the next screen, select This is my old computer and Windows Easy Transfer will begin analyzing the PC to determine which files should be transferred. Be patient for this step-it may take some time to complete if you have a large number of files.

Once the analysis is complete, you'll see a screen, which shows the user accounts that have been identified, how much data has been selected for transfer within each one, and at the lower right, next to Easy Transfer file size, the total amount of data to be transferred (so the external drive that you use should have at least this much free space).

Note that by default Windows Easy Transfer will automatically transfer files for every account on the Windows 7 PC (including the Guest account) as well as the contents of shared "Public" folders. If you don't want to transfer all of that, clear the check mark next to an item. To view or change what will be transferred for a particular account, click Customize under an account name, and a window will appear from which you can uncheck any of the default folders. To add or exclude any other folders on the PC from the transfer, click Advanced.

I f you click Customize, you may see entries labeled Program Settings and Windows Settings. Be advised that Windows Easy Transfer saves this information but can't transfer it between different versions of Windows. When you initiate the transfer on the new PC, a window will appear informing you that Windows Easy Transfer can only transfer files, not settings.

After you customize your selections and click Next, you'll be asked to if you want to protect your Easy Transfer File with a password. It's strongly recommended that you do so; otherwise, anyone who gets their hands on your file will easily be able to transfer your data to their own PC. After you create and confirm your password, click Save, then save the Windows Easy Transfer file to your external storage device.

Once again, this is a time for patience; we've seen the process take 12 hours or more on PCs that were packed to the rafters with files (especially ones that are large in size such as videos and photos). When Windows Easy Transfer is finished, you'll be reminded of the name of the Windows Easy Transfer file and where it's been saved, after which you can disconnect the external storage device from your old PC and connect it to your new one.

Transfer Files to a New PC

After you connect the drive to your new PC, access it to find and open the file called Windows Easy Transfer - Items from old computer. Double-click the file and you'll see a reminder that only files-not settings-will be transferred and be prompted to enter your password (if you created one). Then a window appear, except the button at the lower right will say Transfer instead of Next.

If there are any items you transferred from your old PC but that you have since decided that you don't want to transfer to your new one, you can uncheck those items here via the same process described earlier. Once you're satisfied with your selections, choose Transfer and your files will begin transferring to the new PC. Notice that you can't cancel the transfer once it's begun. When the transfer is complete, you might want to put the external drive away for safekeeping in case you need to repeat the transfer in the future (or if you chose not to transfer all the files and need to transfer some more later).

It's also important to notice that after Windows Easy Transfer copies the files from your old PC, the originals are left intact. Therefore, before you sell, give away, recycle, or otherwise discard the old PC, you should take steps to ensure that its data can't be accessed by someone else.

Backup and Restore

If you want to get your files from an old Windows 7 PC to a new Windows 10 PC, you cannot use either File History or Windows Easy Transfer, because the former didn't yet exist in Windows 7 and Microsoft removed the latter from Windows 10. You can, however, transfer files between Windows 7 and Windows 10 via the Backup and Restore feature, which is common to both operating systems.

Windows 8.1 and File History is a better way of actually backing up your files in Windows 10. So for information on how to use Backup and Restore to back up your files on a Windows 7 PC, see http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/back-up-files#1TC=windows-7.

Once you've made the backup on your old Windows 7 PC, connect the drive holding the backup to your new Windows 10 PC, search for "backup" and run Backup and Restore (Windows 7). Then choose Select another backup to restore files from, and you'll be able to access the backup to restore its files onto that PC.

Be sure that you run the item labeled Backup and Restore (Windows 7), which will appear under the settings heading, not the one simply labeled Backup and Restore, which may appear first in the search results. The latter is an app from the Windows Store that won't be very helpful.

File Transfer via the Cloud

Last but not least, we should mention that if you sync and store files in the cloud with Microsoft's OneDrive or another online service such as Amazon, Dropbox, Google, iCloud, and so on, that can be a relatively easy way to get your files transferred over to a new PC.

Although features and procedures will vary by provider, in many cases simply logging into your cloud account on your new PC will automatically download all of your synced files to it. Although it may not eliminate the need to transfer files via one of the methods discussed in this tutorial-you may not keep all of your files in the cloud-it may help to simplify the process.