Transfering Many Files Between Two Computers

My next door neighbors just got a new desktop, & are trying to transfer all their photos, music & files from their old hard drive to their new one. Any advice on the easiest solution? A few details:

  • They have no network in the home, which rules out the trivially easy solution.
  • Old machine runs Windows XP. I’m unsure whether the new one has XP or Vista.
  • I’m assuming both machines have network cards.
  • Assume the total size of the files makes using a flash drive impractical. I don’t have an external hard drive they can use.

Possible solutions, in order of increasing annoyance:

  1. Connect the two computers via the network cards. Forgive my ignorance, but is that all that’s necessary to get the computers to be able to transfer to one another? If not, are there easy to use Windows Help Wizards that will guide you through the process?

  2. Connect the old hard drive as a second drive to the new machine. I’ve got the technical know-how to do this, but can’t remember if the presence of an operating system on the second drive would require a lot of fiddling so that the new machine boots up to allow transfer.

  3. Drag the two machines to my house & connect them to my network.

Thoughts on these, or easy solutions I’m overlooking?

16GB thumb drives go for $20 nowadays.

copying is the easy part. getting over documents/program settings is a bit tougher.

How easily documents, data files, email transfer will depend on how they are stored. Whether a simple My Documents copy will suffice or if a lot of hidden folder/files will have to be copied or…if you can, export then import.

Bear in mind FAT32 (usually the file system on thumb drives) have a limit of 4GB to a file so large files (like video etc.) may not copy with an erroneous ‘drive full’ error.

I think you need a crossover cable to do a direct pc-to-pc ethernet connection. That would be the easiest way.

Also, equally as easy - get a USB A-to-A data transfer/crossover cable to connect the two PCs.

You can connect an ethernet cable directly from one machine to another. It might have to be a crossover cable, but I think newer network cards are supposed to be able to autodetect the RX/TX pins and any cable would do. I don’t know if the wizards handle this case though (it says it’s for serial, parallel, and IR connections), so you might have to manually assign IP addresses to both machines.

Put the old HDD in the new computer, make sure it’s a slave or secondary master. Copy the files in windows explorer and be done with it. It’s the easiest and fastest way to move a whole lot of data. If the data isn’t really that big, the high capacity thumb drive could be a good way to go.

Thanks for the suggestions so far. I forgot about cross-over cables; at one point, I had one, but I’m not sure if I gave it to charity in one of my wife-enforced extra part purgings of the last few years.

Is there a way to easily tell whether a cable is cross-over by visual inspection? If I still have it, it will be mixed in with other cables, & it seems like a pain to plug in each one by one, run a wizard, & wait for it to fail as a diagnostic test.

when I used desktops, that is what I did on every new build. ended up with 8 harddrives at one point, one was a teeny lil 8gb one.

or use one of these:

Sometimes crossover cables have “crossover cable” or “xover” printed on them in very small type along the edge of the cable. Sometimes they don’t. You can look for that print, but absense of it doesn’t mean that the cable isn’t a crossover, there’s no real standard for marking them. As mentioned previously you usually don’t need crossover cables these days because most adapters are smart enough to automatically adjust. If you go this route, just go into the network settings for both computers and set their IPs to be in the same subnet (eg. and and set the default gateway for each to be the other and then share the drive of the old one using Window sharing and go to that share on the other system (eg. go to an address bar in explorer and type [\](file://\ or whatever).

However… I’d go with TrunkDr’s suggestion and just put the old HDD in the new computer and copy things over. You might have to go into the BIOS to tell it which HDD should be first to boot if it tries to boot the old drive first, but it should be smart enough to keep booting the existing drive if that drive has already been booted from in the past. This will be faster and less painful than doing any kind of network copy and if the people aren’t going to resell or hand-me-down their old computer, they can wipe the old drive after everything is copied and then use it as an extra drive for data.

Yes. The two leftmost wires in the modular plug when looking at it with the clip pointing away from you should either be green and green-white, or orange and orange-white.

In a standard patch lead, both ends will be the same. In a crossover, one end will be green and green-white, and the other will be orange and orange-white.

Get some clarity on the old/new OS and SP level before you try to use the built in File transfer utility that comes with Windows. I used it once on two machines with different SP levels and ended up with a very large data file I couldn’t restore on the new machine. Worse, I had already dismantled the old computer.

To answer your question about putting a drive with an old OS into a PC with a new OS, it isn’t a problem. The new PC recognizes the old disk as just another disk with some files on it (assuming you haven’t done any kind of fancy encryption stuff, which most people don’t, on the old PC). The real challenge here is if the drive is old and uses a different method of connecting to the motherboard (IDE vs SATA) or uses a slower connection speed than new the PC. Give it a shot. If it fails, it won’t hurt anything.

I haven’t seen a PC in a few years that didn’t do autocrossover for network stuff.

However, it’ll be a pain in the ass. Pull the drive, put it in the new computer. Junk old computer.

I’d go with popping the old drive in the new machine. Less goofing around with settings and whatnot.

I got an IDE/SATA to USB adapter for this sort of thing and it works great. You plug your drive into one end, put the other into a USB port and then plug it into an electrical outlet. Works like a charm.

Yep, that’s the ticket. Good suggestion, rei.

Those devices are cool and handy to have around for different situations but if the new computer can talk to the old drive internally (and it should be able to, even systems that are mostly SATA based tend to have at least one IDE channel still, assuming the old drive is IDE) I’d just hook it up internally. This is ESPECIALLY true if the old drive is SATA and not IDE.

If the old drive is IDE then it is transfer limited below the speed of USB 2.0 though USB connected drives have real world throughput way lower than the theoretical maximum of USB 2.0. I’ve never seen one even come close to the theoretical max.

But best of all, just using the existing internal connectors that the new computer almost certainly has is free.

Oh the other hand, the next time someone asks for help trasferring files from one computer to the other, you can whip out your adapter and be like, “MacGyver!”

That’s what I did last time when I ran into the SATA/IDE issue (as far as I could tell my new Dell had no IDE support). It’s actually a lot easier to deal with since it’s all external if you don’t plan on leaving the old HDD in the new PC.

But again, it depends on the amount of data. Thumb drives are getting really, really cheap. The local WalMart is selling 2GB models for $5 (some sort of special deal).

I was all primed to try out these ideas, & it turns out my neighbor ended up just using a flash drive to transfer everything; I guess it couldn’t have been too much data overall.

I appreciate all the suggestions.

They are typically orange. That’s a convention, not a rule.

For next time or anybody else reading this thread I would also recommend the IDE/SATA to USB adapters. It’s easier than fiddling with network settings for most people and faster than using a USB thumb drive depending on the amount and size of files being transfered. Plus it’s just handy to have around if you deal with computer issues often.