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Taking an old hard drive to a new computer can easily be done with a USB hard drive enclosure. There are a few things to watch out for.

I'm buying a new laptop. Can I take the hard drive out of my old laptop, put in an enclosure with a USB connection, and plug into my new laptop? I want to play the games which cannot be transferred. Will the operating system on the USB hard drive interfere with the operating system on the new laptop? Any help will be appreciated.

In this excerpt from Answercast #77, I look at using a hard drive from an old laptop as an external hard drive. It probably won't play games.

Taking an old hard drive to a new computer

So, the answer to the two questions that you've asked is yes and yes - but the answer to the very important question that you didn't ask is no.

Let me walk through that.

Can you put that old hard drive in an enclosure and connect it up to your laptop? Absolutely! In fact, I recommend it as a very convenient way to be able to move data - and to actually have a useful hard drive out of what would otherwise be a dead laptop. So yes, absolutely, you can do that.

Using the old software

Will you be able to play the games that can't be transferred? No. The problem is that anything that required a set up (which almost all games do) needs to have that set up run when the game is to be played on a different computer.

Basically, you need to reinstall the game.

You can't just plug in the hard drive that contains the images and expect it to work. It's not going to.

The problem is that the game is going to need to have things installed in Windows. It's going to have settings that it expects in the registry; it's going to need a number of things that all happen when that program is "set up" for the first time from the setup disc or from the installation media or from the installation download.

None of that will be there if you just plugged the disk in. The only way to get those games over to this other computer is to reinstall them from scratch.

Competing operating systems

And then finally, "Will the operating system on the USB hard drive interfere with the operating system on the new laptop?" No, not necessarily.

The only thing that I can think that might cause a problem is if your computer is set up to boot from USB. In other words, if it checks for a USB device to boot from before it checks the hard drive, it's possible that it might try and boot from the external hard drive.

There are two solutions to that.

  • One is don't plug in the USB external hard drive until after you've booted.

  • Or you go into your BIOS and change the "priority order" of the boot devices. Make sure that the BIOS, when it's boot time, will look for something on the hard drive (or maybe the CD ROM) before it looks for something on USB.

If you ever need to boot from USB, of course, you'll need to change the order back. But to avoid booting from USB, you just want to make sure that the hard drive is in order before the USB device.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6115 - December 10, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

December 10, 2012 2:18 PM

Of course if he did boot to his USB drive, then he could play those games. But it might be a bit slower than from the C:\ drive. :)

It's unlikely booting from that old hard drive would work as the Windows install has drivers for the old laptop, and it may not be able to reconfigure itself on the fly to the configuration of the new laptop.

December 11, 2012 9:48 AM

Another possibility should be to use partitioning software like Easeus Partition Manager to make the (now external USB) drive NOT be "active" any more.

December 11, 2012 10:07 AM

It depends on how old the game software is. Try running it and see what errors you get. It could be a stand alone game that doesn't update the registry, and all you need to do is install something like DosBox to get it to run, or some type of software to allow very old games to run on your system.

Robin Clay
December 11, 2012 1:24 PM

If it boots from the USB drive, will it regard that as Drive C: ? And will it use the Registry on the USB drive - which will have all its references aiming at Drive C:.

Or am I wrong (again) ?

December 12, 2012 2:03 AM

Will these USB enclosures accomodate a hard drive from an old desktop PC?

Mark J
December 12, 2012 3:25 AM

Some enclosures accommodate 2.5" laptop drives, others are made for 3.5" desktop drives. Or you could get a SATA/IDE to USB cable which should work on all common drives.

December 12, 2012 10:34 AM


The 'old' hard drive may TRY to boot in the USB position, but it won't complete.

Consider: Old machine..a chipset, a processor, drivers for all sorts of things #audio, NIC...# to make it work. New's pretty much a given that IT will be 100% different.

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