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Can my image backup of Windows XP be used on my Windows 8 computer?

Question: Leo, I followed your advice and have been doing system backups with Macrium Reflect in Windows XP. My current 8-year-old Dell Desktop computer is showing signs of failing and I will probably have to replace it soon. Maybe concurrently with the April loss of support of Windows XP. Can the XP backup be used on the Windows 8 computer?

First of all, good on you for backing up. Like I’ve told many people, that puts you ahead of something like 90% of the people out there, so that’s fantastic. I love to see people using backup tools and backing up regularly.

Now to the question of whether you can use your Windows XP backup on Windows 8.

Kind of. Maybe. It depends on how you expect to use it.

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Working on Windows 8

I want to be clear: Macrium Reflect works on Windows 8. It may very well be the same version, or you may need to pick up the 64-bit version if the new machine turns out to be running 64 bit Windows.

I think what you’re really asking is “Will the backups I’ve taken under Windows XP be useful as I transition to my new machine?”

The answer here is yes and no, but mostly no.

Using image backups moving to a new system

Image backups cannot typically be used to transfer an installed operating system from one machine to another. That’s not what backups are for. The problem is that the image contains Windows, its drivers and its settings that are all specifically configured for the machine that you’re backing up. The chances are that those drivers and those settings are all wrong for your new hardware.

There are some programs and utilities that will attempt to fix that by locating updated drivers during the restore. I believe one of Macrium’s backup products actually already includes this as part of the package.

But further complicating this is that with your specific scenario, it’s possible, even likely, that there aren’t all of the Windows XP drivers you might need for the new hardware you might purchase today.

This isn’t what backups are for

And I have to stress again, this isn’t what backups are for. Backups are not for moving complete installations from one machine to another, especially when those machines are different.

Backups are not for moving complete installations from one machine to another, especially when those machines are different.
So what is a backup for?

They’re for restoring a complete installation back on to the same machine. For when your hard drive fails, which happens much more often than people realize. For when malware attacks so badly that starting over is the right way to clean it up. Image backups are perfect for those kind of scenarios. And you’ll be really, really glad that you have them if and when those things happen.

Transferring files

Even though you can’t use your backup to transfer your Windows XP to your new hardware, the backup itself could still be useful with your new machine.

After you’ve set up Windows 8 and installed all of the software that you’re going to use on your new machine, then your backup can be a convenient place from which to get your data files.

We often transfer data files manually some other way. We’ll copy all of our data files, all of our documents, all of our whatevers to an external drive or to a USB drive, and then we’ll recopy them on to the new machine. That’s fine. That works great. Even then and particularly then, when you think you’ve got everything copied over, your image backup of that old machine can be a great way to recover the files that you forgot to copy in the first place.

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6 comments on “Can my image backup of Windows XP be used on my Windows 8 computer?”

  1. As well as the conventional Backup as Leo has described, I COPY important directories such as my Family History Research on to the external Backup HDD; and on to spare space on my other Networked PCs.

    Proven to be very useful over the years.

  2. I seem to be on the way to making a mistake. I am considering equipping a system, in a small office situation, so that the backup will completely restore everything even if the machine(s) are totally destroyed and software CD’s are also destroyed (fire, flood, hurricane etc.). I was considering a mirror image backup. New computers will not be identical to or even of the same brand or class as the original.
    The mirror could be held in two places; (1) A local USP attached HD which in extreme circumstances contemplated would also be lost and (2), on an online backup/archiving service.
    Since I did not intend to restore the old OS over the the new one, the approach that I was contemplating was to put a second HD into the computer formatted but with no OS and restore the mirror image to that second drive. Finally, I would make the second drive into the boot drive. And all should be well.
    Clearly you have another opinion. Where am I off track?

    • Image backups contain the operating system, drivers and settings as they were configured for their original hardware configuration. Restoring that so as to boot from on a different machine/hardware configuration is not likely to work. You can access all the files from the backup, but booting from it should not be assumed to work.

  3. Another problem with using a backup in this way is that Microsoft’s servers won’t like it when they find out that a brand new Windows 8 machine has Windows XP using the XP product key on the COA (certificate of authority) sticker belonging to another computer, as Microsoft’s user agreement (or some similar document [might be called “terms of use” or “end user license agreement]) states that a Windows license cannot be transferred to another computer. So, basically, a user would have to buy Windows XP again no matter what the installation method is, even if it’s via putting a system image on another PC.

    There must be a separate product key for every motherboard. (except, I have heard, for identical replacements for defective motherboards.)

  4. What about restoring your image backup into a VM? Sure, it might require Windows to go through a bunch of “new hardware detected” updates, but it could (“should”?) work.

    • This is one of those “can I restore an image to a different machine” questions, really. The blanket answer is “probably not”, as in Windows will often fail to update itself to work properly on the completely different hardware platform. However with a VM, since you can easily discard the attempt, it’s VERY easy to say “why not try it? It could work.” :-)


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