Can an operating system be transferred from one PC to another?
Q: For over six years now I’ve been using an HP Pavillion with two 500GB SSDs. I do a monthly image backup to an external SSD. Everything works fine, but I want to be prepared for a failure that will require upgrading to a new PC at any time.
I like to have an idea of what I need to do before that event, so I’ll be more comfortable knowing what to do when the inevitable happens. Will it be possible to transfer my current operating system to a new PC, with everything intact, or will I have to start from “scratch”.
— Jim Locatelli
A: By “image backup” I assume you mean a “system image”. A Windows system image is an exact copy of the system partition or the entire hard drive, including the operating system and all installed programs and data files. Everything will be configured as it was when you downloaded the system image.
Creating a system image is ideal if your computer encounters a recoverable calamity. But if you want to install the system image on a new computer, it’s much more complicated. In short, you need to create this system image on an external drive, like you did, which you can move to the new computer. Next, you need to acquire software to make the new computer bootable and able to access your external drive and copy the system image.
Also, when you buy a computer with the Windows operating system already installed, the license is usually tied to that hardware. I wouldn’t expect it to work if installed on another computer.
My plan in the event of a computer disaster is to first ensure that all my data is backed up to a device that is not in the same location as the computer. If you’re backing up to an external drive, store it somewhere else so it won’t be damaged by a fire or flood that could destroy your computer. With this in mind, my data files are automatically backed up to cloud storage.
If you don’t want to reinstall your programs and your old computer is still usable, you can purchase a transfer program such as PCmover from LapLink ($39.95).
Q: I read your response to a reader’s question where you very briefly reference information about the iPad, which surprised me. I have been a Mac user since the beginning of its existence. I’m a “veteran” in the mid 80’s and I’m still trying to keep up with computer technology, which is a losing battle. I usually skip reading your column because I thought you were all about the competition. Am I wrong?
— Phil Relnick, Woodinville
A: Over the past few years, I’ve answered technical questions on all operating systems – Windows, iOS, OSX, Android, and sometimes even Linux. I suspect not many people are aware of this though, as the vast majority of questions I receive relate to Windows and Android.
So ask. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll do what I can to find it.