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5 Steps to Move Into a New Computer

Gain a faster processor and better memory without the pains of change


spinner image an illustration of a man with a box full of files and other items associated with computers near a desktop on a green desk
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The excitement of purchasing a new computer can quickly turn to anxiety a few moments after you get it home and switch it on. 

“People get nervous about how to bring all their stuff to their new device,” says Mike Nash, chief customer experience officer at HP. So how do you transfer your files, user settings and favorite applications efficiently? 

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Here are some tips to make the process relatively stress free.

1. Prepare yourself mentally

This isn’t the same as plugging in a new toaster. Ken Colburn, founder and chief executive of computer service chain Data Doctors, likens it to moving to a new house.

You’ll likely need a budget for new software, cables and the like. 

“People just don’t realize all the things that have to be done to get that new computer to work like the old computer,” he says.

2. Take care of the basics

Your computer probably has a tutorial to help. Some of the first things you’ll do:

  • Link your computer to your home Wi-Fi network.
  • Create user accounts and passwords.
  • Set up your desktop the way you like it.
  • Figure out preferences for things like icon sizes, type choices and screen backgrounds.

All this could take an hour or more, so be patient.

3. Load your software

If you've gone several years between new computers, you'll probably need newer versions of programs.

“You may still have the disk for the install of your favorite applications,” Colburn says. “But it may not work on your new device.”

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Computers aren’t like turntables or sewing machines, able to play any old record or use almost any thread. The technology continually evolves, making old programs incompatible with new hardware. 

CDs are considered old technology and your new laptop might not even have a CD reader. Most new software is downloaded from official websites or app stores via the internet, so you can purchase the latest versions at home and start the transfer immediately.

Be prepared to find that many of the familiar applications on your old computer are asking for monthly subscriptions. But some similar software is available for free, often with the apps running not on your computer but in the cloud, meaning you’ll need a continuous internet connection:

  • Google has its Docs word processor, Sheets spreadsheets, Slides presentation software and nine other apps, including Gmail and Google Photos, available free online to share 15 gigabytes (GB) of cloud storage. When you fill up the space, you won't be able to save your work or send and receive email. Google's least expensive storage plan is $1.99 a month, $19.99 a year for 100 GB.
  • Microsoft 365, formerly Office, has basic online versions of its well-known Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentation software and Word writing program for free that share 5 GB of storage among them. A free Outlook.com account gives you 15 GB for your emails. The least expensive storage is also $1.99 a month, $19.99 a year for 100 GB cloud storage, another 50 GB for email.
  • Another option is to download a free, open-source word processor and related software that works much like Word and is compatible. These include LibreOffice and OpenOffice. Mac users have free access to Apple’s Pages word processor and design software.

All these options are designed to work with current computer technology and build in the latest privacy and security tools. For cloud-based software you license, you’ll need the account info. Once you’re logged in, you should be able to download what you need.

4. Transfer your files

Probably the simplest method is to first move all of the files from your old computer to a cloud-based service. For many Windows users, files and programs can be moved to OneDrive. On a Mac, you can use iCloud. Or third-party services are available, such as Google Drive or Dropbox.

“This is one of the easiest ways to transfer files from one operating system to another,” says James LaCroix, director of the consumer software segment at Lenovo. “They are device agnostic and serve as nice repositories.” 

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When you’re ready to move your files to the new computer, just log in to your cloud-storage service and download them.

Another option: If you need to transfer only small files and both computers have the same operating system, you can use a flash drive. Plug it in, drag files onto the drive, eject it, then plug it into the new computer. 

For transferring a large number of files or larger files such as videos without using the cloud, try an external hard drive.

5. Transfer your internet browser settings

Log in to the browser you use, such as Firefox or Chrome, on your old computer. Open the Settings tab and turn on Sync. 

Log in to your Google account and access Sync settings. Select Manage Sync | Sync Everything. Then log in to the same browser on your new computer, and it should synchronize your bookmarks, history, passwords and settings.

Or consider Plan B: Start over fresh.

“Some like to test out their new computers without moving everything over and then figure out what they need later, kind of like a spring cleaning where you determine what you need and what you don’t,” LaCroix says.

With this approach, you keep your old computer for several months even if you don’t plan to use it. 

“You may discover something wasn’t transferred over or need to refer to a setting that you want to replicate on your new device,” he says. After that, wipe the memory and give the computer away or take it to a computer recycling program.

Jason R. Rich contributed.

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