How To Move A Full Operating System From An Old PC To A New One

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move operating system to new hard driveBuying a new desktop or laptop computer is always good geeky fun. Although computers have generally accelerated beyond the level needed for mere “adequate” use, the performance wars haven’t calmed down in the slightest. New PCs also often have cool features like touchscreens.

The only problem with buying a new PC ““ one that has existed for years and that hardware technology can’t solve ““ is when you want to move the operating system to your new hard drive. Simply copying your operating system from one hard drive to another doesn’t work, and trying to install your old hard disk into your new PC may result in issues as well. There is a solution to this issue, however.

Making Your Clone

move operating system to new hard drive

Operating systems are finicky beasts. They don’t like to be copied directly over to a new hard drive, and the operating system on your new PC will most certainly won’t let you copy over it (at least as long as it’s running). There’s good reason for this, in terms of curtailing security threats and preventing accidental operating system damage, but it certainly makes moving a full operating system more difficult.

Since copying operating system files the old-fashioned way doesn’t result in a bootable operating system being transferred over, you’ll need to rely on a process called cloning. Cloning a hard drive replicates all or some of the files on it and also replicates the file structure of the hard drive. This creates a perfect bootable copy. Other MakeUseOf authors have discussed this topic already, so check out Tina’s post about popular freeware cloning software and Benjamin’s post about how to clone a hard drive with Clonezilla.

Cloning Problems

how to move operating system to another drive

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Unfortunately, while cloning does create a perfect copy of your hard drive and the operating system on it, it isn’t always the best solution. The process of cloning is itself a bit complex, and it will presumably require that you at some point have an extra hard drive, since directly cloning your existing drive to the drive on your new PC would wipe out the new PC’s drive entirely.

The other issue with cloning is that creating a perfect copy does not guarantee that your old operating system will work with your new PC. When an operating system installs itself on a PC, it also installs a plethora of drivers relating to your PC’s hardware. If you transfer your existing OS to a new PC, much of that hardware is going to be different ““ and that can be a shock to your OS. It will have drivers for certain hardware, but that hardware is gone. It will try to compensate by installing new drivers automatically, but if it can’t find the right drivers it will likely crash.

You may be able to repair the operating system if you still have the install disc around, or can load the installer onto another bootable device, but this can be a frustrating process.

Transferring Files

how to move operating system to another drive

If cloning sounds like too much work, or you’ve tried it and found that it failed, you can forgo trying to transfer the entire operating system and instead transfer only your files and system settings.

Windows has a utility for this called Windows Easy Transfer. As the name implies, the goal of the software is to transfer everything from your old PC to your new PC that could easily be lost. It doesn’t transfer software, but it does transfer documents, photos, music, program settings, etc. Once the process is complete, your new PC should behave much as the old one did, and should have all of your personal files as well.

move operating system to new hard drive

The Windows Easy Transfer software is free, but a direct USB connection between computers requires that you buy a Windows Easy Transfer Cable. You can skip this, however, by connecting two computers via a network and transferring files that way. A direct Ethernet connection is usually quickest.

Linux users can accomplish this same task by using a utility called Rsync. Apple users aren’t left out in the cold, either ““ OS X comes with a utility called Migration Assistant that will help you transfer files to your new Mac from an old one.

Conclusion

Personally, I don’t recommend that most users go with cloning, although it is the only option that results in a true full operating system transfer. Utilities that transfer all critical system information and your personal files usually give you a better result ““ they transfer important data, but don’t leave room for driver compatibility issues that could cause crashes.

Let us know if you have done this, and if so, what method you chose to go with.   How did it go?

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Comments (14)
  • tech2011

    you can use acronis v9 with universal restore. i’ve tried it even from hardware to virtual machines and it works. i image my server and restore it in a virtual machine and it works.

  • Arwen

    Windows… cloning never worked…
    Linux… a whole different story… just a new xconfig and done…

  • Arwen

    Windows… cloning never worked…
    Linux… a whole different story… just a new xconfig and done…

  • stevenhugo

    How to join http://www.makeuseof.com as a member and answer question?

  • @stephenhau

    If it was a motherboard with a different chipset and different CPU (AMD <> Intel), then all respect to XP for handling the switch.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.