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If I move a hard disk from my old machine to my new one, can I just run my old applications from it?


If I buy a new PC with Windows 7 can I then install my old hard drive as a
slave and access and run programs installed on it such as PhotoShop CS3 and
Microsoft Office 2007?

Yes, no, maybe and most likely not.

I’m sorry to be that vague, but the answer isn’t always clear (though it is
for the two programs you mention).

It’s a common desire, and a common question. I’ll look at the scenarios
where it works, and where and why it does not.


One common, very common, and quite valid approach to moving data from an old machine to a new is to take the old machine’s hard drive and install it as a second drive in the new. Sometimes you’ll hear this referred to as a “slave” drive, which is actually an artifact of the IDE or PATA hard drive interface, and fairly immaterial.

The bottom line is that the old drive appears as nothing more than a second drive – often drive “D:” – in the new machine.

“… if it needed a setup program before, it’ll need a setup program again.”

Another alternative is to take the old drive and place it into an external USB enclosure, and connect the drive to your new computer – or any computer for that matter – using the USB interface. Once again, the old hard disk simply appears as another drive and another drive letter on your new machine.

This is great for accessing data. Everything that was on the old machine’s hard drive is typically just there – ready to be accessed, albeit via a different drive letter.

Programs, however, are another matter.

While all the files that comprise a program are also visible on the old hard drive, the applications may or may not work.

A good rule of thumb is: if the program required a setup program to install in the old system, then simply moving the drive will not allow that program to run in the new.

Put another way: if it needed a setup program before, it’ll need a setup program again.

The problem is actually fairly simple – many programs, including programs like PhotoShop or Office, rely on configuration and registry settings that are made within the operating system, and occasionally elsewhere. Without having run setup, those settings are not in place, and the programs will not run.

Occasionally there are programs – typically smaller, downloadable utilities – that don’t require a setup at all, or automatically perform their own setup if they detect that it’s needed. These programs can be run from just about anywhere.

But most significant applications, especially suites like Office or PhotoShop, don’t fall anywhere close to that category.

As an aside, there are applications that, for a fee, will move software from one machine to another as well as entire installed systems including both the operating system and all installed software from one machine to another. I’ve no direct experience with them, but PC-Mover by LapLink is getting some press these days.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of taking a new machine as a point at which to start with a clean slate, and reinstall, from scratch, only those programs I actually use.

That’s why it’s so important to keep your installation disks and product keys. Not only for backup should your own hard disk or computer die, but for the day when you want to upgrade to a completely different machine.

You’ll need to reinstall those applications from scratch from their original media before you can use them.

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15 comments on “If I move a hard disk from my old machine to my new one, can I just run my old applications from it?”

  1. What if we change this scenario a bit? Suppose I move my entire hard drive, with the operating system and all applications, to a new machine, and set it up as a primary hard drive. Will Windows autodetect the new configuration, and will everything just work?

    This rarely works, except for cases where the new machine is nearly identical in hardware to the old. The problem is that while Windows can detect and auto-update to reflect many hardware changes, there are some – like say a motherboard – where it’s very unlikely that it can. Sometimes it works, but I would never count on it.


  2. Hi
    I can agree with a lot of what you say there Leo. But that said, I have at this moment, got a couple of games on my 400gb hdd which are installed on a copy of xp, I can still play them with win 7 x64 no problem, also saving in game and re using that save.
    Some of the installed programs will run too, if you go into the program files folder, and click the programs exe file.

  3. To the commenter above: yes, it will work , but only if you follow the correct procedure –
    1 – uninstall all your drivers – and i mean ALL – and do not allow the pc to reboot by itself during that.
    2 – run a registry cleaner.
    3 – shutdown the pc and move the hard drive to the new pc.
    4 – start the new pc , close all new hardware wizard windows and again run a registry cleaner plus a system cleaner.
    5 – install all the new drivers and (after at least 2 reboot) all you will have left to do is to reactivate Windows.

  4. I agree, programs that require registry entries also will not run.

    I did this and found one HUGE problem. My XP machine had a password. Now, with my XP as a ‘slave’ to a Vista drive, I get permissions errors and have to set access on a file by file basis.

    If you do this, be sure to remove all user IDs and passwords from the ‘old’ drive, so that it won’t mess you up. (I even tried adding the same user ID & password to Vista, but it still balks over permissions.)

  5. Acronis Backup and Recovery Workstation has a universal restore add-on (now $15 – used to be more) which Acronis says will accomplish this. I haven’t tried it because I am now fairly disgusted with Acronia because the answers that I received prior to buying TrueImage “made it sound as if” TrueImage could do this. The literature for Workstation says that this software finds drivers and setup for the unfamiliar hardware before installation of the software (??).

  6. Another commercial option: Last Spring I used Acronis TrueImage Workstation v9 with their Universal Restore add-on to migrate a Windows XP Pro install from a six year old Gateway 2000 PC [Intel motherboard with Pentium 4 2.8GHz and 1GB] to a new computer with an Intel mobo running a Core 2 Quad 2.8 processor with 4GB. Copied everything from the current hard drive to a new one which I then plugged into the new computer (leaving my old computer untouched and ready to run in case this wizardry didn’t quite work#. It worked just fine. Everything I wanted came over. Unfortunately everything I didn’t want came over too, and as XP was installed as an update on top of an already several-years-old Windows 2000 install when the computer was new, there was a LOT of old stuff in the Registry, system32 and drivers directories, applied backups and Windows Update download dirs, etc. I sure don’t feel the performance boost I had expected from the upgrade. I consider this just a way to defer the inevitable, which will be a fresh install of Windows 7 and reinstall of the important apps. At least I got to skip Vista.
    Also, keep a downloads directory and back it up. For each program downloaded make a text file containing the description, author, date obtained, url of the file and the page where you found that url, filename under which you saved it #rename to be readable and include version #), and other notes: urls to documentation, etc. If you license the software add your registration info.

  7. You can’t always do that. Take an OS like XP Pro for an example. Unless you have the full retail version (not a reinstall disc) and still have the original CD, you can’t do it. That’s why it is important to save the original CD or DVD.

  8. Had a problem with my pc requiring a new machine so I bought a new Windows 7 machine last week. Had my old C drive installed as E in new machine. I use Adobe CS2 for work. Had disks, appropriate key etc. & tried to install them, but Adobe would not activate the program. Checked help & boards on Adobe site & determined that they no longer support CS2 & are trying to force a purchase of CS4. Found the prior application on my now E drive (old drive), set up a shortcut to old program for InDesign, Photoshop etc and am working away for the last week. Reading your comments above makes me nervous. Will this routine suddenly crap out & I am left high & dry in the middle of a major project, thus having to scramble & lay out $1600 to replace a program I own and should be able to work with? I guess my ? is not important, I’m just venting about how rude Adobe is in this and also want to let you know that, in my case, I am running Photoshop etc. from a slave drive. Perhaps it is because I tried to install originally on new C drive and therefore set up necessary registry items?

  9. All good points. Using the old HD as a ‘new’ slave is a reasonable idea except for a couple of considerations:
    1. It may be near the end of its life – HDDs do have an effective lifespan.
    2. It will almost definitely be much smaller than the HD on your new computer and may not be able to cope with all the new and future info you’ll possibly want to store. Videos and music are the big disk fillers now.

    Furthermore, don’t forget it has one huge, capacity-hogging directory that is no longer required – the old operating system. BUT, you can’t just simply find the directory called ‘Windows’ and blow it away. If only computing life were that simple. Far better to have done a proper backup before getting the new computer and restoring all that data to the new one. That way it’s only transferring the necessary docs, pics, music, spreadsheets, etc. and NOT .dll’s etc. etc.

    Then, no matter if you’re going to re-use that disc or pass it on to somebody or leave it at the tip, you should PROPERLY erase all the old disc. I don’t just mean ‘erase’; you need to use DBAN NUKE or some similar ‘heavy metal’ application to WIPE the old drive. (BTW, DBAN is a free application – Linux based of course – that is quite easy to use by running it from a Live CD). It’s pretty rare for me to not receive a computer that has stuff on it that the owner wouldn’t want the world to see.

    As an IT tech guy, I can assure you that computer change-over time is a great time to develop better housekeeping habits but it’s also a time that some tragic mistakes can be made if proper backups aren’t done first. And of course, the old advice applies, make sure you can restore everything from that backup before you do anything else.

    I’ll bet the guy (they’re always guys LOL) at the computer store didn’t explain all this as he wrote up the sale.

  10. My question is slightly different from the others. My machine is only 3 months old and is running Vista 64. I have a lot of apps and files installed on it, and don’t want to do a clean install and lose my Vista environment. If I buy another hard drive and use it to do a clean install of Windows 7 on it, how exactly do I go about making it a dual boot system? Should it be controlled by the new drive with 7 on it, or should I use the old drive with Vista on it to control the boot process? In either case how exactly do I go about doing that (making a dual boot system). Sorry about taking so long to ask for what is probably a simple answer :)


  11. >>Another alternative is to take the old drive >>and place it into an external USB enclosure, …

    I’ve done that – even though all my old files are on the HD, I can’t access them due to Windows 7 file permissions. Is there a simplistic command I can execute to change all file permissions on the ext hard drive so I can finally access them? Thanks in advance for your time and response.

  12. Hey Larry,
    To make a duel boot system, you would install 2 different operating systems, side by side on one drive, not 2 different drives. Or you could use VM Ware from Microsoft, which creates a virtual machine for running one operating system within another. Hope that helps.

  13. If the old machine was running, say, Windows XP, you would install the drive in the new machine and do a repair install of XP, install the drivers for the new hardware and your programs will work.


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