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How do I restore my backup to a new machine?

My wife’s PC, which was running Vista, died. Fortunately, we have a backup hard drive. We’re replacing our old computer with a new machine running Windows 7. Can we do a complete restore using the new machine? Or will that overwrite Windows 7 as the operating system? How do we restore all of her content including the applications that were on the old machine? Do we just copy folders? Sorry, but I’m a Mac guy and I know very little about PCs.

There are several approaches to restoring what you have from a backup. Unfortunately, when you’re restoring to a new machine,  things aren’t nearly as clean as you might want them to be.

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Overwriting everything

Restoring a backup completely would indeed overwrite the operating system. By definition, that backup image is an image of absolutely everything. It has the operating system, programs, data, and whatever else was on that hard drive at the time the backup was taken. When you restore that, you’re overwriting everything that might be on the hard disk with the contents of that backup image.

Now, that may or may not work because it will also overwrite any hardware-specific drivers for that new machine with the drivers for the old machine. In other words, your machine may not know how to access the new hardware after the overwrite. Sometimes, Windows can recover from this, depending on the version and how different the new machine is from the old.

Some backup software (like Macrium Pro) does have the option to try and make the transition. Macrium actually detects that you’re restoring to a different hardware configuration and it tries to compensate by locating the right drivers. If it works, your old Windows Vista, applications, and data will be on your new machine.

Most people want to keep the new operating system that comes with their new machine. That’s fine, but then you actually need to reinstall all of the applications from their original installation media. There is no way to move an installed application from one backup image or from one machine to another.

Some software packages try to do this, but that’s not the way that software is designed to work; it’s not the way that applications expect things to happen.

The cleanest, most reliable approach

After you get your new machine, you should:

  • Install all of the applications that you’ve been using  from their original installation media or downloads, if this is software that you’ve been downloading. The problem is that the software that needed to run a setup originally will need to run a setup on that new operating system.
  • Copy the data that you have on your backup to your new machine.

External HD Connected The real value of an image backup (and the reason that an image backup is something that I stress so much) is not for the new machine scenario. It’s for the fix-the-broken-machine scenario where you’re just replacing a hard drive or recovering from malware or any of a number of other scenarios.

In those cases, simply restoring the backup image in its entirety is fast and does deal with the scenario with which you’re dealing. But when you’re moving yourself to a brand new machine, especially when you’re running with a brand new operating system or a new version of the operating system, then the right scenario really is to reinstall your applications from scratch and restore only the data that you care about from your backup.

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4 comments on “How do I restore my backup to a new machine?”

  1. Leo,

    I am a 70’ish senior citizen and a little slow in learning. I fear my Win7 pc hard drive crashing and having to image and data restore to a new hard drive. I think I can install a new hard drive OK and know how to change the boot options, but I am still unsure about restoring from my backups even after reading your articles in your 133 newsletter.

    I use Windows 7 backup program for my image and data backup to my USB 1 TB WD Passport external hard drive. Will the Win7 backup program work OK for restoring (you were high on the macronis? backup software) to a new hard drive?

    I am still confused on how to make the backup progam install from boot to a new hard drive. Will my last backup image and data backup auto install; will I have to select which of the backups on my Passport to install? I sure could use more details.

    I know you can’t answer all of your emails, but perhaps you could send me a link to that will help us seniors a little more?

    Thanks for your great newsletter.


  2. I am using Macrium (v 6.0) on my Toshiba Satellite Pro. It is 5.5 years old but runs good except for severe display failing. I am going to replace it myself, eventually. I am running Win 7 Professional in 64 bit operating system

    I have purchased a new HP Pavilion with Win 7 on it. Currently running Win 7 Professional in 64 bit operating system on it, as well.

    I am not going to discontinue using either machine, so it’s a purchase of 2nd backup software in order to stay on the good side of the law. Besides, if I get another copy of Macrium Reflect I will have the advantage of all your ‘Ask Leo’ good stuff. I want to experiment so I am not going to load a lot of my software over to the new HP machine yet until I can play with it and get to know it’s hardware, et al. Also will get into Windows 10 but not in a hurry. Since I am purchasing a second copy, can I purchase it through you or what. (as a matter of fact I haven’t even looked Macrium Reflect on the net yet as I figured you might have an affiliate setup an you might as well get credit, if so) . I purchased the first time from Cleverbridge. let me know as soon as you can as I need to get the new HP backed up asap.
    Jay Bach
    {email address removed}

    • Macrium has no affiliate program. :-( I just recommend ’em because they’re good. I might suggest starting with their free version, but in either case is the place to start. Thanks!


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