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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

How to Set Up Network File Sharing on Your Home Windows Network

If you're wondering how to copy files from PCs over the network on Windows, it's not too difficult. I do this for every PC I build, which has been quite a few over the years.

First, you need to know the other PC's network name. You can find this by checking your system information. Opening up the Control Panel, then System and Security, and then System will get you the appropriate page. Far easier: Press Win+X, release both keys, then press Y for System (Win being the Windows key on your keyboard).

You can see the network ID of the PC on the System page under Device Specifications, then Device name. For this particular PC, the network name is "XPS15" (it's an old Dell XPS 15, I'm not that creative with my network names). If you've never specified a name for your PC, it's probably something lame like "Desktop-A8LDK09" or something you'd never remember without looking it up. Go ahead and change that if you want, but you'll need to restart the PC for it to take effect.

You're only half way through accessing PC's storage over your network, sadly. Next, you need to share a folder on the PC. I fly fast and loose and just share the whole damn drive. It's a home network, I don't invite people over and give them the network password unless I trust them, and I also require authentication to access shared folders. You should, too!

So, open Windows Explorer (shortcut: Win+E). Find "This PC" on the left and click that. Then right-click the drive you want to share (ie, C:). Choose Properties, then click the Sharing tab, then click the Advanced Sharing button. Give the share a name (C is default), then press the Permissions button. Select "Everyone" and click the Remove button. Then click the Add button. For the name, type "Authenticated Users" and press the Check Name button. You should now have the share with access permissions set to Read for Authenticated Users. Again, I fly fast and loose so I give Authenticated Users the Full Control option. If your PC has multiple drives, you can do this for each drive you want to share.

You're still not quite done. Your user account needs a password, and you need to know the user account name. You can use the full Microsoft account email address (eg, johndoe@hotmail.com) and password, if your PC is set up with a Microsoft account. Otherwise, open your C:\Users folder to find out the abbreviation for your user name (which you'll need to use for local accounts). You also must have an account password. It can bet a dumb password, but give it something you'll remember that isn't too easy to guess, so not "password" hopefully. "ThisIsMyPassword" should be fine (except it's not now that I've publicly suggested it).

Repeat all of these steps for each PC on your network. Congratulations! You're starting to become an IT professional! (I'm not really joking. This is SysAdmin 101 stuff, but it's very useful!)


Now you're ready to access another PC over the network. Open Windows Explorer (Win+E), and in the address bar (which should say "Quick access" by default), type in the network name of the other PC, but with two backslash characters before the name. So in my case, I type:

\\xps15

Alternatively, on the left side of Explorer, scroll down to Network and click that. Hopefully the other PCs on your network show up, but without the extra step of sharing folders you likely won't be able to see anything on those PCs.

That's it. The first time, you might get a prompt for the user name and password. You can save it if you don't think any hackers or other 'bad' people will get on your PC on your home network, which is a reasonably safe bet. You should now see the "C" folder you shared earlier, which is the entire drive of your other PC. You can even map the folder to a network drive if you want it to always be accessible. Either way, if you browse to the Steam folder (or whatever other folder you want), you can now copy, paste, and delete files.

Simple! Okay, not really that simple, but I do this stuff all the time and it quickly becomes second nature.


How to Transfer Steam Game Downloads Between PCs

Anyone with multiple PCs has probably ended up in a situation where they want to transfer a Steam game from one PC to another. Steam is perhaps the easiest of all digital gaming platforms when it comes to moving games around—better than GoG Galaxy, Ubisoft Connect, and certainly much better (for now at least) than the Epic Games Store. The same process that can be used to move Steam files between two different drives on the same PC extends to copying game files between different PCs.

First, close down Steam on both PCs. Then open the Steamapps folder on the source PC, and the Steamapps folder on the destination PC. By default, this will be:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Steamapps

If you're like me, it will be C:\Games\Steam\Steamapps, but whatever. You should see a few subfolders, plus some .ACF files. You'll need to copy over both the ACF file for whatever game you want to transfer, plus the actual game files, which are located in the Common subfolder. 


But which ACF file(s) do you need? You'll have to open them up with a text file viewer like Notepad++ (seriously, no one should still be using Notepad!) to figure out which game each file corresponds with. Alternatively, browse to Steampowered.com and search for the game you want to copy. Open the appropriate page and you'll fine the Steam app number in the URL. For example, Cyberpunk 2077 is app number 1091500. Copy the ACF file to the other computer, then go to the Common subfolder and copy the game folder (which can be quite large).

Once the copy is finished, launch Steam on the second PC and it should automatically detect the new game files. You're done! You might need to wait for Steam to sync your cloud saves, but otherwise that's it.

Of course, the above assumes you already know some basic networking stuff. If not, check out my How to Set Up Network File Sharing on Your Home Windows Network guide.

Why wouldn't you just download the game on both PCs, though? Simple: Data caps. They suck, but many of us still deal with them because we have no other alternative. Comcast / Xfinity has a 1229GB per month data cap, which is 205GB more than the unofficial data cap that's been in place for nearly 20 years. My Internet connection (via Comcast the entire time!) has gone from 50Mbps down/6Mbps up to 350Mbps down/12Mbps up over that same time.

Put it this way. Back in 2005, with a 75Mbps connection at the time, it would have required 30.3 hours of continuous downloading at the maximum speed possible to hit my old 1TB data cap. Today? I could chew through my entire monthly 1.2TB limit in just 7.8 hours! Plus, game sizes have massively increased during that same time. 2-5GB games used to be the norm, then 10GB, 15GB, and 20GB. Now, 50-75GB minimum is typical of any major game release, and there are multiple games that weigh in at far more than 100GB. Downloading Cyberpunk 2077 twice would use up 12 percent of my data in less than an hour.

Of course it's not just gaming and downloads. Windows updates, Android and iOS app updates, game updates, and other software updates all take their pound of data. But if you've cut the TV cord and are going full streaming? One hour of 4K content on Netflix or Amazon Prime represents 10-20GB, depending on the encoding quality, and between family members it's easy to use hundreds of GB per month on streaming content. In today's world of streaming video? 2TB is a reasonable data cap, especially considering I already pay $30 extra for a higher bandwidth.

How to Transfer Epic Games Store Downloads Between PCs

If you have more than one PC that you use for gaming—like, say, a desktop PC in the office and a laptop for elsewhere—you might want to have the same game installed on both PCs. For some platforms (eg, Steam, GoG Galaxy, Ubisoft Connect) it's as easy as copying the files from one PC to the other, and sometimes importing the already downloaded folder. Epic Games? Not so simple, but at least it's possible—and it's far better than the Microsoft Store, where you have no option other than to download the full game on each PC.

For the Epic Games Store, the process is a bit more painful. First, before you do anything else, make sure the Epic Games Launcher isn't running (on either PC). Next, you need to copy the game files. These are usually located in your Epic Games folder, but can be installed elsewhere. If you've done a custom install to a different folder, you'll need to put the files into the exact same location on the second PC. (Workaround below.) This is why I create a C:\Games folder and have Steam, GOG, Ubisoft, and Epic all installed in subfolders.

This guide assumes you already know some basic Windows networking stuff. If not, check out my How to Set Up Network File Sharing on Your Home Windows Network guide. Alternatively, you could copy all of the files to a (hopefully fast!) USB drive (I have a Samsung T5 1TB SSD [#affiliatelink] that works great). Either way, step one is to copy the files over:

The next step is where things can get tricky. Go to your C:\ProgramData folder (it's hidden by default, so you might need to tell Windows Explorer to show hidden files and folders). You can try to be clever about what you copy, but I find it's easiest to just copy the entire Epic folder from the first PC where you downloaded over to the second PC (and replace any duplicate files that don't have the same time and date).

Once the above is done, launch the Epic Games Launcher on the second PC and it should pick up any games you have on both the second and first PC. There's a catch, however: If you only have a game installed on the second PC, it will disappear and you'll have to jump through extra hoops. Crap. So, your first PC should be a superset of all the games you want on the second PC. But there's another possibility, which is more work and rather a pain in the rear, but it's still better than the complete redownload of a large game.


To execute the workaround, start the download of the game you want on the second PC, pause it, and exit the Epic Games Launcher (say yes to the warning message). On the first PC, of course make sure the game is fully updated, and then exit Epic Games there as well. Now, copy all of the files from the game folder on the first PC, into the game folder subdirectory named:

[Game Folder]\.egstore\bps\Install

Once the copying of all the files is complete, launch the Epic Games Store and resume the download. It should start "verifying" all of the game files. On a fast SSD, this happens at about 400MB per second, so an 80GB game can still take 3-4 minutes to verify. If you're using a slower SSD or a hard drive, it might take 10 minutes or more.

If you see your network traffic start up again, though, the workaround ... didn't work. Sorry. I'm not sure what causes that, but some games don't seem to like doing things this way. Fortnite is a good example, and it probably has difficulties because it gets updated about every other day. As always, your experience may vary, but if neither approach worked for you, leave a comment with the game name and details of what happened.

Why wouldn't you just download the game on both PCs, though? Simple: Data caps. They suck, but many of us still deal with them because we have no other alternative. Comcast / Xfinity has a 1229GB per month data cap, which is 205GB more than the unofficial data cap that's been in place for nearly 20 years. My Internet connection (via Comcast the entire time!) has gone from 50Mbps down/6Mbps up to 350Mbps down/12Mbps up over that same time.

Xfinity, your data caps SUCK!

Put it this way. Back in 2005, with a 75Mbps connection at the time, it would have required 30.3 hours of continuous downloading at the maximum speed possible to hit my data cap. Today? I could chew through my entire monthly limit in just 7.8 hours! Plus, game sizes have massively increased during that same time. 2-5GB games used to be the norm, then 10GB, 15GB, and 20GB. Now, 50-75GB minimum is typical of any major game release, and there are multiple games that weigh in at far more than 100GB. Downloading Cyberpunk 2077 twice would use up 12 percent of my data in less than an hour.

Of course it's not just gaming and downloads. Windows updates, Android and iOS app updates, game updates, and other software updates all take their pound of data. But if you've cut the TV cord and are going full streaming? One hour of 4K content on Netflix or Amazon Prime represents 10-20GB, depending on the encoding quality, and between family members it's easy to use hundreds of GB per month on streaming content. In today's world of streaming video? 2TB is a reasonable data cap, especially considering I already pay $30 extra for a higher bandwidth.