Thursday, 18 March 2021 12:00

Tech tips: moving to a new computer

Written by Hans van Bemmelen

close up of a black computer keyboard with blue backlit keys

Most of us occasionally have to move our work to a new computer. In this article, I will give you a few tips on how to get started. However, the information is limited to PCs running Windows.

As an aside: the benefits of keeping your data on an external drive

Your PC has an internal hard disk drive (formerly a 'spinning rust' disc, now usually a Solid State Drive (SSD)). This contains the Windows operating system, program files and data. Although you could store your data (work, email, admin, etc) on the internal disk, I've always found it easier and safer to use an external drive. Therefore, whenever I have to take the PC in for repair, I can leave the external drive at the office, so I won’t have to worry about the repair shop having access to my data. When I go on holiday, I put the external drive in a safe; a burglar might walk off with my PC, but not with my data. This approach also makes it easier to comply with data protection legislation.

An external drive also makes it easier to move to a new PC: once you have set up all the software, you simply connect the external drive and continue as before. So, if you are not currently using an external drive for your data, moving to a new PC might be a good time to consider getting one!


The first thing to do is take a close look at your current PC: what do you like about it and what could be improved?

Next, make a list of all the software you use and review that critically. The easiest way to get a full list is probably to go to Windows Settings > Uninstall or to Settings > Apps & Features, depending on the version of Windows you use.

Go through the list and see what software you actually use and need to install on your new computer. If the software is covered by a licence, you may be able to deactivate it on your old computer and then activate it on the new one. The relevant process is different for each software package.

Can you download the software on your new PC, or do you need to install it from a CD? If you are moving to a new version of Windows, you will have to check that your new computer is compatible with older software.

How you migrate your emails to the new computer depends entirely on the email software you use. If you only use web mail or another server-based email client, this will not apply to you. Now might be a good opportunity to consider if you want to keep working that way. You may also want to copy your browser bookmarks to your new PC.

This might also be a good opportunity to decide if you want to move to new software. For example, I moved from Adobe Photoshop to Affinity Photo: cheaper and available under a perpetual licence rather than a subscription.

Remember to make notes of the languages, keyboard layouts and other Windows settings you use. Do you want to keep the current drive letter assignments (eg, C: for programs, D: for data on the internal disk, G: for date on the external disk) or start afresh on your new PC? How do you back up your data, and do you want to continue using that method? Will you need to be able to restore old backups to your old PC? If so, do you need specific software or perhaps an optical drive?

Setting up your new PC
  • Set up Windows and take a critical look at the security and privacy options. Being a paranoid Luddite myself, I've turned all the 'cloudy' functions of Windows off.
  • Set the Windows keyboard and language options. 
  • Set up user and administrator accounts. Running Windows as a user rather than an administrator has some security advantages.
  • Set up drive partitions and assign drive letters, using Windows Disk Management.
  • I would advise making notes on paper of the most important settings, user names, passwords, etc and storing those in a secure place.
  • The next step is to download and install all your software and activate licences where relevant.

Pro tip: if you find that Windows suddenly switches to a different keyboard while you're working, you may accidentally have pressed Alt + Shift. Press those keys again to switch back to your normal keyboard, or look for the keyboard box in the task bar at the bottom of the screen.

Every time I install new software, I also check that all my other important software still works and is not affected by the most recent software installation. If older software does not run under Windows 10, you can investigate the options available to you. If you right-click on a program and select Properties, the Compatibility tab will show you the available settings. Another option is to get advice from a computer wizard!

Moving your data to the new PC

Make sure your antivirus software, etc is operational. Connect the external drive containing your data to the new PC. Change the drive letter if necessary, then check that all the software works with it.

If you do not normally use an external drive for your data, you can use one temporarily to transfer data between the internal drives of your old and new computers. Alternatively, you can use cloud storage or an online service such as WeTransfer.

Creating resilience through installing alternative software

Software such as MS Office 365 and Adobe products is dependent on an active subscription, and regularly 'calls home'. That means that if something goes wrong with your account, or if you have extended connectivity problems, the software may simply stop working. At present you can still get MS Office under a perpetual licence, which avoids those problems.

If you normally use Adobe Acrobat to read PDFs, you may want to consider an alternative, such as Sumatra. I prefer that because it is nicely spartan and does not have automation features, which could create security issues if somebody sends you a dodgy PDF.

I have also installed LibreOffice on my PC. The software package is not dependent on a licence server and should always work. It is largely compatible with MS Office, and Libre Office Writer can apparently open some damaged Word files, should MS Word encounter any issues.

Notepad++ is a useful editor for opening any file and accessing data files for software which is no longer available.

Windows 10 does not include DVD playback software. VLC Media Player seems to be a good option and is free.

Last, but not least...

Before you start using your new PC in earnest, it would be a very good idea to test your backup and restore arrangements.

I hope these notes are of some help to those who have to move to a new PC. If you have any questions, then you may want to set up a thread on the SENSE forum. And of course, you’re always welcome to join the next Tech SIG meeting!

Read 328 times Last modified on Thursday, 07 October 2021 21:05

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