Here are the best ways to transfer large files between your laptop and desktop

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Computer files in binary code


If you do a lot of video and photo editing on location, you know what a hassle it is to move media files between your laptop and your desktop PC or Mac.

So, what is the best way to transfer those files from one device to another? As with almost every technology-related question, the correct answer is: “It depends.”

Also: Ways to Transfer Data from Android to iPhone: 2 Easy and Fast Ways

Is this transfer something you do once or twice a year? In that case, the simpler option might be to copy the files from the laptop to a portable storage device and then plug that drive into your desktop PC or Mac before copying the files to a folder of your choice. More experienced IT users call this process sneakernetWhich involved dealing with literal stacks of floppy disks — and it was a mind-numbing process.

In the modern age, you can do almost the same thing, although you have much faster options, using portable storage devices that hold enough data to handle the entire transfer in a single swap.

For large video files, your best transfer vehicle is an external SSD or flash drive that uses the highest data transfer standard supported by both devices: Thunderbolt 3 or 4, or USB 3.2 Gen 2 (aka USB 3.1).

Also: How I Recovered ‘Irreplaceable’ Photos from an SD Card for Free

Plug one of those drives into a USB Type-C port, and you’ll be amazed at how fast bits fly from point A to point B. If this is not an option, an external flash drive using USB 3.0 or later will probably be Fast enough to get the job done.

What if you don’t have a handy portable drive? Well, if both devices run the same operating system, you can use wireless options (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) to transfer files. On Windows PCs, the feature is called Nearby Sharing; On a Mac, this is called AirDrop. Send the file from one machine, approve the request on another and transfer your files quickly


Use Nearby Sharing to transfer files between two PCs running Windows 10 or Windows 11.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

The problem with Snickernet, even the wireless version, is that it requires manual labor on your part to copy all the files. What’s more, there are built-in risks. If you make a change on one device and forget to copy that file to the other device, you can end up with edits that are out of sync, where you’ve made changes to two different versions and have no easy way to reconcile them.

Also: This feature allows you to transfer folders between Android and Windows

The best way to avoid this possibility is to store those files using a cloud storage platform (OneDrive, Google Drive, Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox, etc.) and let a software agent on each device take care of keeping them in sync. If your work is primarily asynchronous — that is, if you do most of your editing on one machine and need to transfer your files only when everything is complete — this option is ideal.

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