Dear Lifehacker, I'm moving soon, and I want to make sure my beloved computer makes the trip safely. I could trust the movers with it, but is that wise? What's the best way to move a computer and all my gear? Sincerely, On the Move
Dear On the Move,
Moving a desktop computer and all the gear you may have along with it — large monitors, keyboards, mice, headphones, speakers, all that stuff — can be difficult. Sure, you could leave it to the movers, but you might be in for a nasty surprise on the other end. There are definitely better ways.
Move It Yourself
Consider taking your computer with you instead of leaving it in the hands of movers. I've had great movers in the past, but I almost always transport my PC on my own anyway. This method isn't ideal if you're flying or moving really long distances, but make room for your computer if you can. You should still pack it carefully though — just because you'll be gentle doesn't mean the road or flight will be. I've taken the "carefully buckle it into the backseat with a pillow next to it" approach, and while it works for relatively short distances (or if you're not packing down your car), it's not foolproof. All it takes is a bumpy road or a little rattling for RAM to unseat itself or a cable to come loose. Use a box and pad your PC properly. The last thing you want when you're settling into a new home is to spend time troubleshooting your computer.
Pack It Like a Manufacturer Would
When you pack your PC yourself, think about the way a company like Dell or Lenovo would package it. How would they cushion it? What size box would they use? You'll need a thick-walled box, and plenty of bubble wrap and packing paper. Towels also work, as do washcloths and sheets. In the end, you don't want it to move or rattle around once it's in the box. You can pack a mid-tower with its peripherals using packing materials you'll probably have on hand. If you have a custom-built PC, find a box that's the right size for your case.
If you can find actual computer boxes (or you've saved the boxes your computer or its parts came in), use those. You might be able to get them at your office (if you ask your IT department nicely) or from friends who just scored an upgrade. Reinforce the sides and seams with tape. Cushion your PC properly, and it will travel well. Use the styrofoam inserts and packing peanuts that come with new PCs too. You can cut them to fit your system. This video and this guide from RemovalReviews goes into more detail about how to wrap your components with bubble-wrap and tape them down so they don't move.
If there's space, pack your keyboard, mouse and other peripherals in the same box. Just make sure there's cushioning between your parts. Also, consider labelling your cables, and wrapping speakers, mice and other components in their own bags or bubble wrap. Many moving companies will sell you computer boxes and anti-static bags. You don't necessarily need them (plastic baggies or smaller boxes will do just fine), but they offer additional protection. If you're using movers, make sure you get appropriate insurance for your electronics — all of them, including your computer.
Disassemble It For Easier (and Safer) Packing
For those of us familiar with the workings of a computer or with highly customised rigs, disassembling your PC and rebuilding it on the far end might be the best option. It might sound like a hassle, but you can protect individual components like hard drives, motherboards and processors, fans, aftermarket cooling (especially if your system is water-cooled) and other peripherals more easily if they're wrapped and packed individually. If you go this route, make sure to use anti-static bags and to wrap everything in bubble wrap and another cushioning material. It's certainly more trouble, but you get to rebuild your computer on the far end (which can be fun), and you won't have to worry about a component coming loose and flying around inside your case if it's not properly secured.
If you're not comfortable disassembling your PC entirely, or you need to be able to get set up quickly in your new home, consider just removing important components, such as your hard drive. Taking the hard drive with you is a great way to make sure you have your data (in case your PC is damaged, lost or stolen in the move).
The Nuclear Option: Ship It
Worst case scenario, you could have it shipped to your destination. While your local shipping company may not be any more delicate than your movers, taking your computer to a shipping store will get you the right boxes, padding and insurance required to make sure your PC makes it safely (or, if it doesn't, you're reimbursed properly). It will be expensive, even if you disassemble everything and try to ship components separately. However, letting a shipping company pack it, label it and insure it means you don't have to worry about it, which could be a nice weight off your shoulders in the middle of a hectic move.
Whichever approach you take, try to remember to pack your PC as carefully as possible, and think as if you were packing a brand new PC for shipment while you do it. You'd want to make sure it gets to its destination safely, so don't skimp on foam inserts, bubble wrap, packing paper, or towels and cushions. When in doubt, add more. Your computer will thank you for it.
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