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How Do I Restore a Backup to a New PC?

It would be nice, but that’s not what image backups are for.

You probably want to keep the new operating system on your new machine. All that you need from your image backup is the data that has luckily been preserved.
External hard disk connected to a laptop.
(Image: Adobe Stock Photos)
Question: My wife’s PC died. Fortunately, we have a backup hard drive. We’re replacing our old computer with a new machine. Can we do a complete restore using the new machine? Or will that overwrite the latest version of Windows that came as the operating system on the new machine? 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.

First, good on you for backing up. Seriously, that puts you ahead of so many people for so many scenarios.

Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t one of them.

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

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Restoring a backup to a new PC

Restoring a backup image to a new/different PC will overwrite everything, including the pre-installed operating system, and may or may not work because of hardware differences between the old and new machine. The better approach is to set up Windows from scratch, install your applications from scratch, and then restore your data from your backups or elsewhere.

Overwriting everything

You are correct: restoring an image backup completely overwrites everything. The image has the operating system, programs, data, and whatever else was on that hard drive at the time you created the backup image.

When you restore that image, by definition you’re instructing the backup program to overwrite everything on the hard disk with the contents of the backup.

So whatever was on the machine — including the newer version of Windows and anything else — will disappear as it is replaced with the contents of your backup image.

But it gets even riskier.

Restoring to a different PC

The backup image contains an image of Windows as it was configured for your old PC. This includes drivers, settings, and perhaps even optional software that relates specifically to the hardware on that old machine.

That is hardware that might not even be present on your new machine. On top of that, the image won’t have the drivers, settings, and such for whatever hardware is on your new PC.

It may or may not even work. Windows will try to recover by detecting all that different hardware when it first boots up, and will try to install the appropriate drivers. How successful it is depends on how different the two machines are. It may appear to work only to fail sometime down the road in unexpected ways.

Some backup software includes a feature to try and make the transition. Macrium ReDeploy, for example, tries to compensate by locating the right drivers. If it works, your old copy of Windows, applications, and data will be on your new machine.

Everything but the operating system?

Most people want to keep the new operating system that comes with their new machine and restore everything else.

Sadly, that’s not an option. The problem is that there is no definition of where the operating system ends and “everything else” begins. Some things are obvious, but the devil is most certainly in the details, and the details absolutely matter in a situation like this.

There’s just no way to restore everything except Windows.

But that doesn’t mean your image backup is useless.

Image backups are good for many things

Remember, that image backup was protecting you from all sorts of failures on that old machine.

  • Had the hard drive died, you could have replaced it, restored the image, and been on your way.
  • Had you suffered an infection of malware, you could have restored an image created prior to the infection and been on your way.
  • Had you lost a file, you could have fetched it from the last image backup on which it had been captured.

And it’s that last item that keeps the image backup useful when you get a new machine.

Do this

After you get your new machine:

  • Complete setting up your new version of Windows that came pre-installed on the machine.
  • Install all the applications you’ve been using from their original installation media or downloads. If the software required a setup on the old machine, you’ll be running that setup again on the new one.
  • Copy the data from your backup (or elsewhere) to your new machine.

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8 comments on “How Do I Restore a Backup to a New PC?”

  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!

  3. Macrium Reflect V8 can be used to restore a system image made on one computer to another, with a big caveat.
    I have done so to transfer an image made on a Dell laptop to a HP laptop and also on a old Dell PC to a newer Dell PC. The caveat is that all computers were using the same operating systems. The older machines had been upgraded from Windows 10 Pro to Windows 11 Pro, which was already installed on the newer machines. Windows installed generic drivers on the target machines, requiring the re-installation of the manufacturer’s drivers. Prior to redeploying the images, I had already downloaded copies of the appropriate drivers and had those readily available. I removed license keys for programs I had on the original machines that required them, made a system image, and used that image for redeployment. Then I re-entered the license keys on the original machines and the new ones. This avoided getting messages that the license wasn’t valid on this machine. I made system images of the new machines using Reflect’s rescue media before starting in case something went wrong.
    I am not one to try to keep a machine running with an operating system that has reached end-of-life. If the hardware supports it, I keep Windows current. If not, time for a new machine.

  4. Leo, your correspondent asked:

    How Do I Restore a Backup to a New PC?

    QUICk ANSWER: You don’t.

    LONGER (But Sill Quick) ANSWER: You might try restoring your backup to a Virtual Machine. (Leo can explain what that is better tha I can.)

    Either way, good luck to you — you’re REALLY gonna need it.

  5. If you use a program like Macrium Reflect’s Redeploy feature and it works, you can then upgrade to the latest version of Windows using Microsoft Update or downloading the latest Windows and install preserving data and programs. It might take some tweaking to get the right drivers.
    Before attempting this, perform a system image backup of the new machine in case it doesn’t work.

  6. Just like Larry Ray I am pushing 80, I have been with Msft since Msft Works. I have used Macrium since who knows when and I have restored countless images without any problem. When I was forced to Win10 (aaaugh!!) I upgraded a spare PC, which went without a hitch to my great surprise, polished it to my liking, and when the crunch came I moved the image to the main tower, no problem at all. Both 64bit.
    Using Macrium free, living on 1k/m is OK, but no frills.
    Keep your chin up Larry, don’ let the bastards get you down!!
    The years I mean, of course!!


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