Migrating a Windows 7 installation to New / Different Hardware

Moving a user (or yourself) to a new PC or laptop can be a royal pain, especially when you have a lot of customisations and installed programs – it could take hours to get the new machine set up right.  There are tools for both IT professionals and consumers to help accomplish this task, but while effective, these tools aren’t a panacea for the computer moving blues, as they still require time, effort and possibly frustration.  The method described here takes 10 – 15 minutes, is pretty much risk-free and has always worked like a charm for me.

On the machine you’re migrating FROM, open an elevated command prompt and change directory to C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep, then run sysprep.exe:


Sysprep was historically a tool for preparing a system image for medium to large scale automated deployments of Windows.  Using sysprep one would prepare a Windows XP installation that was set up as desired in terms of settings, user accounts, domain membership etc. and use the sysprep tool to make it a generic image that could be applied to various different computers without driver, hardware or other issues.  In this case we can use sysprep to ‘genericise’ (possibly not real word) the Windows 7 install that we wish to migrate.  This will remove the driver and hardware dependencies that may prevent the install booting on a different system. sysprep3.14

In Windows Vista onwards sysprep is bundled with the operating system, hence we can use it on any Windows 7 box 🙂  Simply select the ‘Out of Box Experience’ , tick the button to ‘Generalize’ the image and select ‘Shutdown’ on completion.  Click ‘OK’ and sysprep will do its thing and shut down.  Now you can simply remove the hard drive and transfer it to the target machine.  Alternatively you could clone the disk onto the target machine.  Boot up the new machine, and it will appear like a brand new (Out of the Box) Windows 7 install – it will spend some time auditing the hardware and applying suitable generic drivers, it will prompt for a computer name, username and password, just as if you were setting it up for the first time. Win7-enterusername

But when you complete the setup process you’ll find all your existing user accounts, programs, applications and settings are intact!  There are a few caveats though:

  • Windows will require activating again – if the product key from your Certificate of Authenticity doesn’t work then you’ll need to perform a telephone activation, as described at the bottom of here.
  • You’ll need to install drivers for the hardware you are now running on – although Windows can do most of this automatically
  • The computer name will change, therefore it will need to be rejoined to the domain (if applicable)

And that’s pretty much that.  Easier than the old days!


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