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The problem: Getting everything from your old PC to the new one

How to transfer data - Part I

Data transfer methods - Part II

Moving the programs over

Ways of transferring Data:  


Prior to launching into any major job on your PC the prudent move is to run anti-virus programs on both PCs and to run your usual backup program just in case something goes wrong. Because with PCs they often do.

Floppies: The simplest and cheapest way of transferring files over is to use floppies. But, as anyone who has used floppies recently will certify, this is painfully slow. The floppy drive is to a hard disk what a three legged zimmerframe is to an F-16. It also has highly limited storage space, and uses relatively large media - the contents of over a 100 floppies would fit in a thumbnail-size flash memory card - but donít laugh just yet. The floppy is so ubiquitous that even now, 20 years after itís debut, we canít write itís obituary. Brave motherboard manufacturers have launched models without legacy devices like floppy controllers - and lived to regret it, Abitís IT7/AT7 motherboards are a case in point. Almost any new PC bought today is going to have this in common with any other PC bought in the last 20 years: The plucky, tenacious, but now anachronistic 3.5Ē, 1.44 MB, 360 rpm floppy disk drive.

Using floppies is cheap and undemanding Ė the drive is already present in both source and target PCs and the only other requirement is a few floppy disks. Disks are so cheap that whole boxes of them can be had for free at boot sales/garage sales. The drives themselves, if needed, cost under $10. Even the MicrosoftģWindowsô operating system isnít required on the source PC! Any version of DOS and knowledge of one or two DOS commands will do the trick.

What if there are a few hundred files to be copied over, or the individual files exceed 1.44/2.88 MB? This will take a little more effort via floppies. Sure, if the files are only slightly bigger than the capacity available there are programs like Winzip, and for the files that donít compress down to 1.44 MB there are file splitting programs that allow the spanning of a large file over several floppies. However, the typical computer user has thousands of small files and often has image/video files running into several GBs. The humble 3.5Ē will be woefully inadequate for them, and relying on it to transfer the data could keep a user busy long enough for Microsoft to release a bug free operating system.

DCC: If you have large volumes of data to transfer over there is no substitute for a fast data connection, and the Direct Cable Connection (DCC) is no substitute for a fast data connection. At speeds only marginally faster than a floppy drive itís included here only for purposes of completeness. A DCC can use either a serial or parallel port and  an appropriate null modem cable to connect to a similar port on the other PC. A DCC gives anywhere from about 10 kbps to about 80 kbps depending on whether itís a serial or parallel connection. 80 kbps is roughly the speed of an inebriated snail. Newer ECP parallel ports, with the right cables, could give five times that speed, but even that is painfully slow.  

Then there is the USB DCC connection which goes faster than a serial or parallel connection and provides up to 500 kbps (despite USB 2.0ís claim to fame being 240 Mbits/sec). Thatís over two days to copy a 100 GB disk. But 500 kbps is a far cry from the floppy drive. So why isnít DCC as popular as free beer? Maybe itís the reputation it has for being a prima donna. DCC has a long list of demands. For starters both PCs need to have USB ports, a network needs to already exist on the target PC, the source PC needs Windows 95 (OSR 2.5) or later, the whole operation does require a special cable like a NET-LinQ (sic) - normal USB cables wonít work; and getting a DCC working via USB requires a fair amount of skill and patience. Though DCC obviates the need for network cards in both machines, it does involve all the configuring pallava of a network without the network speed advantages. DCC as a technology is as old as the floppy Ė if not older Ė but unlike the floppy it hasnít held itís popularity and is hardly ever seen as a credible alternate to a Local Area Network (LAN).

CDReWriters and DVD ReWriters: After a little fiddling around, discovering that CDRWs don't need drivers installed but do need a writing  package like Nero instead, wasting time burning a few coasters, learning about buffer under-runs, and tearing out some hair most users eventually get to grips with their CD or DVD Writers. These make for reasonably good options to move data over. However, being more recent innovations these writeable optical drives are more likely to be in the new machine than the old. That, of course, is as good as a chocolate teapot because the new PC is not where the data needs to be copied from. For the optical drive to be of any use it will need to be temporarily fitted in the older PC till the data is backed up on disk/s. External optical drives save the bother of changing jumper settings, messing with the BIOS, looking for spare ribbon cables, having to sometimes unplug other IDE devices, or finding that the CD writing software bundled with the new PC doesnít work in the older version of Windows on the source PC.  

Rewriteable media are more expensive to buy than CD recordables (CDRs) or DVDs but, being reuseable, they pay for themselves over time. In any event using non rewriteable media is a bad idea because throwing CDs or DVDs away risks personal data and files falling into the wrong hands. Once theyíve served their purpose these disks have to be destroyed. Thatís easier said than done. They donít dissolve in water, they donít burn easily, and breaking a CD results in sharp edges as dangerous as a well maintained cleaver. Using a sharp object to inflict deep scratches on the underside of an optical disk does make it unusable but is not a green solution.

How fast is this method? It depends on the speed of the drive and the speed of the old PC. Typically calculate 150 kbps for each 1x. A drive that writes at 8x will therefore write 1200 kbps. In theory. As the old saying goes: ďIn theory, there isn't any difference between theory and practice. In practice, there isĒ. Setting your writing software to do a dummy run first before actually writing will more than double the time you need for a complete backup. Other factors, like programs running in the background, can affect writing speed.

The data storage limits of about 600 MB for a CD and about 4 GB for a DVD would have been considered massive several years ago but are quite paltry now. Even dual layered DVDs offer only about 8 GBs of storage space. An old PC with a lot of media files could have over a 100 GB of files, and tranferring them in 8 GB (or 650 MB) chunks still makes for a messy operation.

The following are the fastest ways of transferring data and are, not surprisingly, the most used:

- Hard disk to hard disk copying

- Copying over a LAN

Next: More ways to move data




This article was first posted on July 20, 2004. Note the copyright notice at the bottom of the page. We do actively prosecute content thieves.







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Last updated: Jan, 2010