With or without cable
Upgrade Commander comes in two flavors: a 3.7MB download, sans cable, for $40 or the boxed version, with a parallel cable, for $50. Both install easily, though we had trouble getting the cable to work properly with XP. (You must set up a direct cable connection to be able to migrate to or from XP with the parallel cable.)
Like competitors, such as Aloha Bob, Upgrade Commander uses a wizard-style approach that shows you several screens--they vary depending on whether you're sitting at the source or the target PC--then automates the really hard work.
The utility migrates Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, or XP, but with the usual caveat: only to the same or a later edition of Windows. You can migrate from a Me machine to a new XP box, but not in the reverse direction. That's OK, since it's rare that anyone wants to downgrade to an older computer.
Upgrade Commander takes the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to digital migrations. Like Aloha Bob and pc2pc, it moves settings, document files, and the actual applications from one machine to another. As a result, Upgrade Commander suffers from the same problems: there's no way to not migrate something, say an application that you don't want on the new PC, unless you delete it from the old PC before you begin the migration.
Upgrade Commander boasts one edge over the competition, though: its ability to make the migration using removable drive disks, such as Zip and Jaz. (It also transfers data via parallel cable, a LAN configured for the TCP/IP protocol, or any network, no matter what the protocol, with a shared drive accessible by both PCs.) This file-transfer route is awkward--we needed six Zip disks to pack up the contents of a puny laptop drive--but it's one way to migrate when you can't get your machines together. Aloha Bob doesn't have a similar tool.
Use a network for faster migrations
Upgrade Commander uses the same basic techniques as every other migration utility. It snoops through the old PC, packs up a virtual moving van with the necessary data, then moves it to the new machine, unpacks, and, at the end, reboots the PC.
It'll take hours to migrate machines with a parallel cable, lots less if you use a LAN. Upgrade Commander doesn't support USB, though you can, as we did, use a PC-to-PC USB cable to create a TCP/IP network. That's a technical challenge, though, so don't bother unless you're comfortable mucking around with Windows network settings. When we used Zip disks, a 1.5GB migration took more than two and a half hours. After switching to a TCP/IP network link between the old and new PCs, though, we trimmed that time in half.
Bad move rising
When we migrated a Windows Me machine to an XP Home system, Upgrade Commander's work trashed the XP machine, and it wouldn't boot. (Fortunately, we were able to resuscitate it using XP's Last Known Good Configuration feature.) Upgrade Commander says up front that, "in extremely rare cases, a hardware or software incompatibility may cause a problem when a full migration is performed." We reran the migration, this time choosing Upgrade Commander's Limited Migration option, which omits hardware-specific Registry settings. That migration went smoothly. Still, the experience was unnerving.
When Upgrade Commander did work, it blended the old with the new as successfully as did Aloha Bob. The copy of Word on the new machine matched the settings of the one on our old, e-mail messages and address books made the transfer intact, and out-of-the-ordinary applications migrated without a hitch, saving us from tedious reinstallation.
But our XP migration snafu was all the more creepy because Upgrade Commander's support reps keep banking hours: you can reach the phone help desk only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT on weekdays. That doesn't make any friends here. To top it off, it's a toll call and free phone and e-mail support evaporate after 60 days from the first time you contact Vcom. (After the 60 days, it'll cost $30 for each additional 30-day increment. Ouch!) The only other option is the online help, which consists of a meager number of FAQs.
Upgrade Commander costs the same as Aloha Bob's PC-Relocator, and, except for that one disaster, blended old and new PCs just as well as that competitor. But we give Bob the nod, based on its better support policy, its ability to move data over fast USB cables, and its smooth-as-silk performance during our tests.