How to migrate data between Macs
How to migrate data between Macs
Getting ready for the big move
It’s best to think of replacing your existing Mac as moving house – hopefully not as traumatic, but it’s a half decent analogy! How big is your house, who lives there, what do you use it for and how much stuff do you have (and how much stuff do you want to take with you)? Like your house, your Mac may have accumulated piles of redundant data you can’t even remember, and equally have things in it that you use every day that you just take for granted. So how do you use it?
I’m a music industry professional:- my studio iMac Pro is stuffed with 3rd party (ie non Apple) software, much of which requires some sort of authorisation. I really don’t want to take a day (or two) out of my working life to manually reinstall everything. I have six kids (I know, I was away that day at school):- their usage is variously very different to mine, and they may use very little non Apple software, so their moving strategy may be simpler than mine. For the purposes of this article, ‘simple’ will refer to users who aren’t heavily 3rd party software dependent, and ‘Pro’ will be people like me - who are!
Backup, backup, backup
If you don’t backup already, then please start doing it. Now. USB disks have become very cheap, so….do it.
Before you start:
- Update your old Mac to the latest OS that you are intending on using (and that your new Mac will run). NB. This does necessarily NOT mean the latest Mac OS!! Pro users will know only too well that Apple has a habit of releasing a new OS before 3rd party software developers have had a chance to make their software compatible. Be warned.
- Backup your Mac in either Time Machine, or make a clone of your hard disk (my weapon of choice for this is Carbon Copy Cloner). Or preferably both.
- Make a note of any serial numbers/ logins etc for any 3rd party software that you use. Many people (including myself) use a 3rd party app for this – I use KeyPass XC, which is very secure – and free!
If you have a sick or dead Mac, you hopefully have a backup already. If not….have I made my point yet?
Long term Mac users will know that Apple have a habit of upgrading the physical connections on their machines – you can find yourself with a house full of peripherals and cables that just won’t connect to your new pride and joy. Check the specifications of your new machine – you may need to buy a 3rd party connection solution to run your old disks (including the one that holds your data that you want to migrate). A 3rd party connection solution won't break the bank, and will keep all those old peripherals perfectly usable.
Data migration method 1 – Migration Assistant
Migration Assistant is by far the most straightforward way of pulling old data across to your new machine. You can use it via WiFi (relatively slow), or via a physical disk (faster). Either way, it will take a while (depending on how much data you have), so put the kettle on. Or if doing it via WiFi, go for a very long walk.
For me, the only case for not using Migration Assistant would be if you were a long time Mac user and had done this several times upon upgrading machines. Migrating this way will inevitable import redundant files, and whilst these are rarely damaging, they can bloat your computer over time. As a Pro user, I find it quickest to use Migration Assistant and search for any redundant files afterwards.
You’ll find Migration Assistant in Applications > Uitlities.
- Make sure that you’re connected to a wiFi network on the source machine (your old Mac)
- Launch migration assistant on the source machine and click the ‘To another Mac’ checkbox
- Your new machine should come with an OS preloaded. It will give you an option to migrate data on the 4th setup screen: - click the checkbox ‘From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk’
- Select your source disk
You’ll then be able to select what data you want to transfer. If in doubt, I’d transfer everything.
Via a physical connection
If your old and new computers share a common connection (like Thunderbolt), and you have the cable, you can migrate your data following the instructions above (and selecting your old hard disk). Or, start your old machine in ‘target mode’ – hold down the ‘T’ key whilst restarting, and your old computer appears as a hard disk on the new one, then follow the steps above.
Equally, if you have a Time Machine backup or a disk clone, you can plug that in and follow the steps above.
If your new computer has already been 'set up', you can still use Migration Assistant - it will do the same job, and add your old User account.
Data migration method 2 – Time Machine Restore
Time Machine has been a Mac OS feature for many years now, and will also get things done.
Once your new machine is up and running, plug in your Time Machine disk from your old machine, then click on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar. Select ‘Enter Time Machine’, and follow the instructions. As with Migration Assistant, you can select which data you want restored, or retore your entire hard disk.
Data migration method 3 – Cloud Services
Apple’s bespoke Cloud Service for the Mac is iCloud. As an Apple user, this will give you 5GB free online storage (anything more, you’ll have to pay for). Equally, you can use the likes of Google Drive or Dropbox among many others to achieve the same thing. Cloud services pretty much all use the same method of pulling you in by offering a free account for a relatively small amount of online storage, then persuade you to upgrade to a subscription model to radically upgrade your storage space – iCloud is not too different, except it’s very easy to use as it’s built into the OS.
Depending on how much online storage you have, go to System Preferences > iCloud or System Preferences > Apple id on more recent OS versions. You can check boxes for all your (mainly Apple native) software and data, and since Mac OS Sierra, you can synchronise your Desktop and Documents folders too. This may be enough for ‘simple’ users. My kids’ generation seem to store virtually everything in the cloud anyway – simply login to iCloud on your new computer…and there it is!
As Cloud storage has become bigger, cheaper and more ubiquitous, providers (such as Dropbox) are offering simple one stop solutions for backing up all of your data to the Cloud, thus making total data migration perfectly possible.
The obvious advantage of Cloud Services is that you have a permanent backup off site (as long as you keep up with the subs!). Never lose that embarrassing video of Auntie Vera again….
Data migration method 4 – Manual
You can, of course, just plug in an external disk and copy anything you need to move. Simple, but not effective if you’re a heavy 3rd party software user. You'll also have to know where everything is!
Ready to move?
As a Pro user, I’d recommend one form or another of Migration Assistant every time. I just have too many 3rd party apps, and need to get up and running quickly. One caveat, though. Be prepared to spend time re-entering serial numbers!
You may also want to use this opportunity to do some spring cleaning before you migrate. Old apps you no longer use, redundant downloads, bin them. If you have a spare external hard disk lying around, you may want to just archive all those old videos of Auntie Vera. Sorry Vera.
One further recommendation:- once you’ve migrated to your new Mac, don’t erase or sell your old one for a few weeks. Run as many apps/ activities on your new machine as you can think of, and make sure that it’s all there and running smoothly. Only then erase your Mac and move on. I’d then keep the old Time machine backup or clone (just in case), and buy a new USB drive to back up onto. Insurance is everything.
Welcome to your new home. Now back up!
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