Quick Tips: Replacing a Computer with Almost No Downtime

At least for me, when a computer dies, the biggest pain in the keister is not the cost of a new unit, but the much greater expense in terms of time spent installing all the necessary programs and drivers to get it back on par with the computer it is replacing. Inevitably I pull out my the installation CD to install, say, Outlook, and I find that the license code card is missing. Then, since I use four different monitors with either landscape or portrait orientation, I have to set all those up within Windows settings. There are dozens of these tweaks. Sometimes months after I have installed a new computer, I’ll go to call up some program that I seldom use, only to find that it never got installed on the new system.

So when the inevitable happens and your computer finally dies, here are two systems I have come up with to minimize the pain of having to replace a computer:

Keep all your software and license codes in one place (or two).

At least when it comes to reinstalling my software, I’ve taken a lot of pain out of that process by keeping all of the software and license codes in my dropbox. I almost never receive a physical copy of the installation disc for any software I purchase. If I purchase software on Amazon, I receive only an electronic download version, and Amazon maintains a download library and all the license codes for all the software I’ve ever purchased.

In the case of other software that I buy directly from the publisher, such as the Dragon software I bought from Nuance which I’m using to create this article, that too comes only as a downloaded electronic version. In those instances, the publishers will attempt to make extra money by charging a fee to maintain that download for you on their server. I skip the fee and instead immediately transfer a copy of the software to my dropbox. At the same time, I create a PDF document with the license code and place that in the dropbox as well. In the (now) rare cases that the software came on an installation disc, I cut and paste the license code onto a label and stick it on the disc.

Now when it comes time to configure a new computer, I first go to my Amazon account and download all the software I purchased there, and next visit my dropbox for the same purpose. I finish up with the physical discs.

Very rarely I’ll run into an error message, stating that I’ve already reached my license limit, but a call to technical support to explain that this is not an additional installation, but rather is an installation on a new computer, has always solved the problem.

Buy the identical computer and swap the hard drive.

I had this brilliant rainstorm recently, and it permitted me to avoid all of the above and replace a broken computer with almost no downtime.

One might think you can avoid software and driver installation issues by simply pulling out your old hard drive and slapping it into a new computer, but that really doesn’t work. The new computer will have different hardware (video cards, sound card, etc.), so you’ll still be faced with having to update many drivers. Worse, Windows keeps people from installing its operating system on multiple computers by tying the installation to the hardware. When your registered copy of Windows wakes up in a new computer with different internal hardware, it assumes you are trying to pull a fast one and at a minimum makes you reactivate Windows.

But I beat the system. I had an uber powerful HP computer that I really liked, and way before its time the mother board crapped out. I could probably replace the mother board (and still may do so), but what a costly hassle. HP doesn’t offer that particular model anymore, but I went on Craigslist and found the exact same model. I paid about $1,800 for the computer new, but this replacement was listed for just $400, and I negotiated him down to $300. I put the old hard drive from my computer into the “new” one, and fired it up. Windows woke up, looked around, saw all the old familiar hardware, and loaded without complaint. All my programs were ready to go.

It turned out that the computer has an easy pop-out system for the hard drive, which made it even less painless. In about five minutes (plus the five minutes it took me to do a search on Craigslist and negotiate with the seller), I was up and running. (If interested, write to me and I’ll tell you how I’ll actually end up turning a profit on the deal.)

Bottom line: Start your computer break-down insurance policy now by putting all your software installation files and license codes in one place. And in the event of a breakdown, assuming you were using a decent computer in the first place and that the problem is not your hard drive, see if you can find the exact model and just swap the hard drive.

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