So your old Pentium 2 gave up the ghost. Or you were tired of getting the perplexed look from the kid at the computer store every time you brought your antique computer in for tweaking. Maybe you just wanted to see what that Windows thing was all about. Or maybe you realized last year's definition of "the fastest machine on the market" may have been true then, but isn't true anymore.
Whatever the reason, you made the command decision to upgrade your computer -- a decision that, for the most part, has more advantages than disadvantages. On the positive side, your software will run faster and you'll have more memory to do more of the things you want to do, whether it's play better games, do more intricate projects, or store more files. The negatives, though fewer of them, mostly deal with price - the top of the line will cost you, although there are plenty of sales or breaks on custom systems to be had.
But picking the right computer isn't what this article is about. No this article is about what happens after you sign your name on the dotted line and take possession of a new machine.
Before you sit down and get comfortable with the new computer, you need to think about the stuff on your old computer and ask the age old question:
What Do I Do About Old Data?
You have a choice to make: what, if anything, should you do with all the stuff sitting there on your old machine? And by stuff, I mean data, not programs. (You should reinstall your programs from the original disks.) But, as for data, if you've been using your PC for a while, odds are good that you have data you want to preserve, such as documents, photos, projects, or even certain preferences and settings.
One option is just to decide it's old news, say, "forget it," and let it all go. If you want a completely fresh start, you can wipe out the memory and walk away from that old box. It's sort of like trading up to a new car and leaving your old junker behind. It might be bound for the scrap heap or the "pre-owned" lot, but you don't care. It's not your problem anymore.
With a computer, if you want to ditch it, you can. Plenty of places are willing to take your old PCs, and in many areas, you get a nice tax credit for donating your older computer to local schools and non-profit community organizations. Some places may just tear up older machines for parts, but again, it's not your problem anymore.
Data, Where Art Thou?
But what if you want to keep your old data? Even if you're willing to part with the old box at some point, you have a whole new set of choices when it comes to moving the information off it. If you want to move data from the old computer to the new one, you have a number of options. Some are easy, and some are a little more advanced.
One option is to physically move the whole hard drive from your old machine into your new machine. This process does take a little skill and familiarity with the guts of a computer. Once you have the old hard disk in the new box, you can move and delete all you want, or even keep everything on it.
Bear in mind, however, that this option does take a little bit of reconfiguration of paths, since your new machine likely already will have a C: and maybe even a D: drive. So you may have to figure out how to re-designate your old drive as E: or F:. If you have multiple partitions, CD, or DVD drives, then the next letter moves on down the alphabet.
Another thing to consider is that if your old drive used to be a C: drive, you'll probably want to remove all old operating system and program files because they won't run correctly. If you weren't very organized about storing your data, it may be mingled in with your software. (How many of you put your Word documents in with Word software?) This type of mess can take a while to untangle. But you will be wiser for the effort and on your new computer, you'll know to just keep your data separate in its own folders.
If you bought your new machine from a store specializing in custom machines, rather just buying a box off the shelf, the folks at the store may throw in a "move over old data" service in the package. The last time I looked, some places charged around $30 for this type of option, which really isn't a lot to spend if you've already shelled out a few thousand dollars for a new computer.
The process involves a cord being plugged into both machines, the creation of an "Old files" folder on your new machine, and the removal of everything old into it. It's a nice feature, especially if you're making leaps and bounds as far as memory.
Again, like the hard disk option, there is a downside. Along with the stuff you want, you often get a lot of stuff you don't need or won't need. If you upgrade to Windows XP from Windows 98, you don't want the files for running '98, it just a waste of space, and most of the utilities such as screensavers and games are better in newer versions of Windows anyway.
If you have any type of portable media, such as a CD-ROM drive, Zip drive, or even floppies, they might just save the day. It does take some planning, but you can put everything you want to save into a folder on the old machine. Then, all it takes is a few clicks to copy it on a disk.
The viability of this option, depends on how much data you have. A CD can hold about 600MB of data, but a floppy disk generally holds only 1.44MB, which could be just a picture or two per disk. (If you have image files, it could be a LOT of floppies.) Zip Drives may work fine if you have drivers set up on both computers.
Once you have all your stories, pictures and other goodies on some kind of disk, you just copy it off PC 1 and put in PC 2. The good thing about this method is that you get to keep exactly what you want, and ditch what you don't want. This approach can save a lot of time and later questions, since you don't have to weed through mystery folders and toss all the pieces of obsolete applications as you do when the whole mess is moved over.
You can even use the Internet to help you in your adventure in moving. First create a "To Be Moved" folder on your old machine. Then, start sending everything to yourself as attachments to e-mails. If you have really ancient, obsolete word processing software that you can't (or don't want to) load on the new computer, you can paste these text files into e-mails directly.
If you do it right, you'll just need to turn on the email program on the new PC, open all the mail from yourself, and then put the data wherever you want.
Of course, you'll want to check your Internet account first. Some mail programs limit the size to be sent or received, either based on how large it is or how much stuff is already in your email box. Hotmail is notorious for refusing files over 1 MB, and AOL draws the line at files over 100 MB.
The other problem is that shuttling your stuff using email may take some time, especially if you have dial-up service. Big files can take a long time to upload and then download.
FTP It All
If you've created a Web page before, you may know how to access a FTP site and transfer files using FTP software. When you're creating Web pages, you park your text and graphics into FTP areas, which are just folders on a server, much like the folders on your hard disk.
Depending on your respective ISP and how much space you have available, you may be able to upload data to your FTP area from your old computer and then download your old data from the FTP area to your new computer. Again, it can be a time-consuming process, especially if you have a slow connection.
Try Online Storage
A variety of online storage services are also available. Most of them charge a small amount for the service of securely hanging onto your data. These places claim high levels of encryption, and say they are an excellent resource for people wanting backups to certain information, or a central place to get the same data, regardless of what machine is used to get there.
For example Streamload.com offers free unlimited storage, for $5 to $40 a month, or $40 to $400 a year, depending on your storage needs.
Set Up a Network
If you're up for learning about networking, you can get buy a few cables and a network card and connect your old computer to your new one. The task shouldn't be done without guidance, as you could potentially experience some incompatibilities. Software programs like StepUp also help with the process of moving data, applications and settings from one machine to another.
No matter how you get your personal data moved over, your final step should be to make sure your software, drivers, and operating system are updated. Check the Internet for any updates that may have become available since you first installed the software. Generally these "service packs" are free downloads.
And with that, you have the best of both worlds: a nice shiny, clean, updated system and all your favorite old data files all happily coexisting on one box.