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How to Migrate Data From Your Old Computer to a New Mac

Deciding which Mac is right for you is only half the battle.  Once you finally get that new Mac (s aapl) in your hands, you’ll want to get up and running fast.  Migrating all of your applications, preferences and data can be a daunting task, but there are options available  to help make your transition as painless as possible.

Preparing Your Old Mac

Moving from an old Mac to a new one can be a nightmare, similar to restoring from a backup. There are some very basic steps that you should take before even considering a data migration from an old Mac to a new one:

Maintenance: You should perform routine maintenance on your old Mac before you attempt to migrate. This includes performing tasks like resetting Safari to clear its cache, emptying the trash, ensuring that your software is up to daterepairing disk permissions, and even repairing your disk itself with Apple’s own Disk Utility or something like Micromat’s Tech Tool Pro.

Backup: While there are certainly several online options available for backing up your data, when transferring data to a new Mac, a local backup is the best way to go. Beyond using Time Machine to help keep a historical account of your Mac’s files and settings, I would strongly suggest cloning your old Mac to an external hard drive to ensure you backup everything.  This is also your last chance to check that your backup solution is actually working.

Cloning Your Old Mac: While using a utility like Bombich Software’s Carbon Copy Cloner or Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper is a great strategy to mitigate the risk of a hard drive failure, it doesn’t just let you duplicate your OS X installation.  I would however recommend using this option with the Migration Assistant’s “From another volume on this Mac” option, which will let you import the settings and data from that drive.  Simply connect an external drive to your old Mac and backup everything.

Software Licenses: It is very likely that the registration and license keys of some software titles will need to be re-applied on the new Mac. Gather all of you installation media and updates for the software you intend to keep using.  I like to use an online service like MacUpdate to manage my updates, and a program like Kedisoft’s AppShelf for my license keys.  If most of the apps you care about are now being managed by the Mac App Store, then you may not need to use any additional programs.

Transitioning From Mac to Mac

When you first power on your new Mac, you will be presented with the option to copy your applications, user preferences and data from your old Mac to your new Mac.

Install From Another Mac. You have three options when it comes to copying an installation of OS X from one Mac to another:

  • From another volume on this Mac — My favorite option of the three is to use an up to date a clone of your old Mac.  Simply attach the external drive with the cloned volume (made using one of the tools mentioned above) on it and select which information you what to migrate over.  The data transfer rate of this option is also the fastest.
  • From a Time Machine Backup — This option is best used in emergencies to recover from a disaster or if you do not have the means or the time to clone your old Mac.
  • From another Mac — Your choices to connect to another Mac will be over a network connection via FireWire, Ethernet or AirPort.  If you do not have the means or the time to clone your old Mac to a local drive, and you are not using Time Machine to backup your existing Mac, then this is the only viable option.

Using Apple’s Migration Assistant: If you did not opt to use the Migration Assistant during the initial install, you can still run it later on.  Personally, I prefer to install fresh and use the Migration Assistant straight from the install process itself. Using the Assistant after the fact is basically just a good way of copying a user profile from one Mac to another.

Transitioning From PC to Mac

If you’re switching teams, there are also a number of options for keeping your data largely intact.  Both VMware and Parallels offer solutions to create a virtual copy of your existing PC, and run Windows (s msft) on your Mac, so you won’t miss a beat.

VMware Fusion’s Migration Assistant:  After purchasing VMWare’s Fusion for Mac, you can execute the Migration Assistant on your PC to create a virtual copy of your PC.  You’ll need to download and install the Migration Agent on your old PC before you get started.  There’s an advanced tutorial on YouTube that shows how it works.

Parallels Switch To Mac Edition: With Parallel’s you need to be aware of which version you purchase.  Be sure to buy the Switch to Mac edition. Like VMware, you will need to download and install the Parallels Transporter Agent on your old PC.

Whether you’re coming from a PC or an older Mac, the best path to bringing your old world into your new is through some sort of “cloning” process.  Whether you use Carbon Copy Cloner to make a ‘real’ clone of your old Mac, or the Migration Assistant in Fusion to create a virtual clone of your old PC, you shouldn’t have too much trouble making sure your new world has all the comforts of home.

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5 Responses to “How to Migrate Data From Your Old Computer to a New Mac”

  1. Recently got a new iMac and had data transferred from old iMac.
    So I now have a “data backup” file on desktop. How do I get info
    such as all my old email contacts and Safari bookmarks from the file ?
    Thanks !

  2. I am upgrading from an older MacBook to a MacBook Pro. I use Time Machine to backup my computer. As long as my latest backup is the most current why can’t I simply restore from Time Machine?

  3. Migration Assistant claims to be able to transfer data over a LAN (From another Mac), but it doesn’t work. It’s best used to migrate your account from a bootable clone that is directly attached to the computer you are updating.

  4. I just did this yesterday, but I just used the Migration assistant and did a data dump. I wish I had looked here first for some tips. Although, hopefully, I am upgrading to a new macbook pro as well, so now I have a reference guide! Thanks!