Can an operating system be transferred from one PC to another?

Q: For more than six years now, I’ve been running an HP Pavillion using two 500 GB SSD drives. I do a monthly image backup to an external solid-state drive. Everything’s been working fine, but I want to be prepared for a failure that will require moving on to a new PC at any time.

I like to have an idea of what I’ll need to do in advance of this event, so I’ll be more comfortable knowing what to do when the inevitable happens. Will it be possible to transfer my current operating system to a new PC, with everything intact, or will I need to start from “scratch.”

Jim Locatelli

A: By “image backup” I’m assuming you mean a “system image.” A Windows system image is an exact copy of the system partition or the entire hard drive, including the operating system, and any installed programs and data files. Everything will be configured as it was when you upload the system image.

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Creating a system image is great if your computer meets with a recoverable calamity. But if you want to install the system image to a new computer it’s much more complicated. In brief, you need create that system image on an external drive, as you have done, that you can move to the new computer. Then you need to acquire software to make the new computer bootable and able to access your external drive and copy the system image.

What’s more, when you buy a computer with the Windows operating system already installed, the license is generally tied to that hardware. I wouldn’t count on it working if it’s installed on a different computer.

My plan for computer disaster is first to make sure all my data is backed up to a device that isn’t in the same location as the computer. If you back up to an external drive, store it elsewhere so that it won’t be damaged by a fire or flood that may take out your computer. With that in mind, I have my data files automatically backing up to cloud storage.

If you don’t want to reinstall your programs and your old computer is still usable you can purchase a transfer program such as LapLink’s PCmover ($39.95).

Q: I read your response to a reader’s question where you make very brief reference to iPad information, which surprised me. I have been a Mac user from the beginning of its existence. I’m an “old-timer” in my mid-80s and I am always trying to keep up with computer technology, which is a losing battle. I usually skip reading your column because I thought you only discuss the competition. Am I wrong?

Phil Relnick, Woodinville

A: For the past several years, I’ve answered tech questions across operating systems — Windows, iOS, OSX, Android and even on occasion Linux. I suspect, however, that not that many people are aware of this since the vast majority of questions I get are about Windows and Android.

So, ask away. If I don’t know the answer I’ll do what I can to find it.

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