The best way to transfer files to a new Windows PC or Mac


Congratulations! You got a new computer. If it’s your work computer, your IT department probably installed all the business applications you need on it. But it doesn’t have any of your files on it; those are still on your old computer. So you’ve rolled up your sleeves and are preparing to spend a lot of time and effort moving your files from your old computer to your new one.

Stop! There’s a better way, at least most of the time, and it works whether your old and new computers are Windows PCs, Macs, or a combination of both.


Traditional file-transfer methods are complicated

Those old, tried-and-true methods to transfer files from one computer to another are:

  • Using file-transfer utilities or an external drive to copy your files to your new computer. But you have to find and buy a file-transfer utility (like the Windows-to-Windows Laplink PCmover), then run it. Yes, Mac users can use the free Migration Assistant utility that resides in macOS’s Utilities folder to transfer files from a Mac, a Windows 7 PC, or a Windows 10 PC, but you have to network the computers, which can be difficult if one is a Windows machine, plus you have to install Apple’s software on the Windows PC to transfer files from it.
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  • Getting an external hard drive, thumb drive, or SD card and copying your files. If you are going from a Windows PC to a Mac and using an external drive, it has to be formatted for Windows’ MS-DOS or NTFS, not the Mac’s APFS, so the Mac can read it and the PC can write to it. If you are going from a Mac to a Windows PC, you have to format the drive as MS-DOS so the PC can read it and the Mac can write to it. (Or you need to find and buy software that reads the “alien” file system so a Windows PC can work with an APFS drive.)
  • Restoring your backup on your new computer. (You do have a backup, right?)