Mac Life|April 2021
Bought a new Mac? Well, here’s how you set about moving across all of your old data from your old Mac or PC — it’ll be (mostly) painless. Promise!

WELCOMING A NEW family member is always a joy, and there’s nothing quite like the rush of excitement you get from unboxing a new Mac.

But like all newborns, your pristine new Apple machine needs some help with the basics: while every Mac comes fully loaded with Apple apps, it doesn’t come with your stuff or your settings. Don’t worry, though. As we will discover here, whether this is your very first Apple computer or the latest in a long line of Macs, it’s really easy to get everything just–so.

Although our focus is on data, moving to a new Mac might raise some hardware issues. For example, if you’ve just moved from an iMac to the new MacBook Pro, you will have lost a lot of ports. Where the iMac had four USB and two Thunderbolt ports, the M1 MacBook Pro only has two Thunderbolt/ USB–C — and the charger needs one of them. If you require more ports than Apple provides, you’ll need a hub or docking station.

If you have external accessories, check that they’re compatible before you switch. Most hardware will be fine, but we’ve found that musical equipment in particular often suffers from compatibility issues until its software is updated.

In this feature, we’ll look at how to clone your Mac, create comprehensive backups, opt for the right method of migrating if you’re moving from Mac or PC, and examine any issues that might arise.

Clone your Mac

Make a copy of everything on your Mac before you start — here’s how

THIS IS PARAMOUNT. If you want to make a perfect copy of your old Mac on your new one, the best option is to clone it. That means copying some or all of your existing Mac to a fast external disk or SSD and then copying the clone to the new computer.

There are three key apps that can help you to do that: Apple’s Time Machine and the third–party apps SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner. Each can copy your entire system to an external drive, then transfer that copied data to your new Mac. SuperDuper! (shirtpocket.com) and Carbon Copy Cloner (bombich.com) are paid apps, but they have trial versions you can use to do a simple clone. As they’re good backup apps too, it’s likely you’ll want to buy them to keep using them or access their advanced features.

One of the key differences between third–party apps and Time Machine was that full or partial clones created by third–party apps were bootable. If something went wrong with a new Mac’s drive or data, you could boot from the clone or get up and running on a different Mac. Apple’s security settings have made that more complex. It’s still possible to make a bootable clone via Apple Software Restore, which Carbon Copy Cloner uses, but it has to be a complete clone.

If you’re already using Time Machine and want to stick with it for the transfer, make sure it’s backing up everything you want to take to your new Mac. Go into System Preferences > Time Machine and click on Options to see what, if anything, is excluded from your backups. For example, we normally exclude our Applications, Downloads and cloud storage folders from our Time Machine backups but we’d want to copy the contents of those folders to our new Mac.

One issue you might encounter is lack of space, especially if you’re moving from a desktop computer to a mobile Mac. For example, our MacBook Pro has a 512GB SSD, but the iMac we’re moving from has a nearly full 1TB Fusion Drive. So we used Apple > About This Mac > Storage > Manage to identify the files, folders and forgotten apps that were taking up space on the iMac. We then deleted unwanted apps, media and other files and moved old files to an external drive — a different one than the drive we were cloning our Mac to.

The speed of the cloning process will depend on three things: how much data you’re cloning, the speed of the drive you’re cloning to, and how that drive is connected to your Mac. A Thunderbolt or USB 3 drive will transfer more quickly than a USB 2 one. Data transfer speed is only as fast as the slowest component: if you connect a USB 2 external drive to a USB 3 Mac, or have a USB 3 drive connected via a USB 2 hub, you’ll only get USB 2 speeds. In theory, a USB 2 drive could transfer 1TB of data in about four to five hours, but in practice it’s slower than that. We cloned 500MB of data over USB 2 and it took over 17 hours. USB 3 and Thunderbolt are faster, but cloning is still a big job.

HOW TO Make a clone

1 Choose the drive

To make a clone you’ll need an external drive with enough space to fit everything on your current Mac: a bootable clone has to be an exact replica of everything. Click Allow CCC to Erase “Drivename.”

2 Check your settings

Once you’ve set the options, you’ll see this screen with a summary of what’s going to happen: CCC is going to clone your Macintosh HD volume on your backup disk and it’ll make an exact copy of the source.

3 Start the cloning

Carbon Copy Cloner will take you step by step through some system preferences so it can do its job, and it’ll then begin to make your clone. This will take a long time if your external drive isn’t USB 3 or Thunderbolt.

What about Time Machine?

TIME MACHINE HAS a bit of a reputation; in its early days it often slowed down your Mac in everyday use and took ages to restore anything from a backup. Today, though, it’s solid and reliable. For many users we think it’s by far the simplest and most effective way to transfer everything from one Mac to another.

Time Machine can be a pain when you want to do something such as copying one folder from an attached USB drive. It uses exclusion, not inclusion, so to include that folder you need to un–exclude the external drive and then exclude the top–level folders you don’t want backed up. For example, if you want to back up an external Pictures folder but not Applications, Documents, Movies, Music and so on, you must add them all to your exclusions list in System Prefs > Time Machine > Options.

HOW TO Check your clone

1 Show the sidebar

Tap the Show Sidebar icon at the top–left and you should now see a list of available drive volumes in the lower– left corner. The one we’re interested in is Backup Disk — Data where Backup Disk is the name of your external drive.

2 Select the snapshot

To the right of the big blue pane you should see a section headed “snapshot date” (see step 1). If this is your first time cloning, there’ll only be one entry here. Ctrl-click or Opt–click on it and then select Browse In Finder.

3 Browse your clone

Because we’ve cloned our drive, the Finder should contain the same folders, files and data as the original drive — and you can browse it just as you would browse your Macintosh HD or any external drive.

Back up your PC

Moving from Windows to a Mac? Here’s how to safeguard your data the right way before you do

MIGRATION ASSISTANT WORKS on Windows too — although unlike Macs it isn’t already there on your PC. To get it, go to bit.ly/mac362wma on your PC to download the Windows Migration Assistant for Big Sur.

This works in much the same way as it does on the Mac. Close everything on your Windows PC (using apps such as Acronis True Image or Macrium Reflect Free), run Migration Assistant on your new Mac, and run the Windows Migration Assistant on your PC. You can then choose what data you want to carry across from your PC to your new Mac.

The biggest difference between the Windows Migration Assistant and the one on your Mac is that it can’t copy your apps across: Windows apps don’t run in macOS. But you’ll usually find that the apps you need are already on your new Mac, and if not there are either Mac versions or very good Mac alternatives. For example, you can work on Word documents in Apple’s Pages as well as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and many more. Many apps are cloud–based too, so an Apple Music, Spotify or Dropbox account just needs you to download the Mac version.

The Windows Migration Assistant expects to find your content in specific folders, so in the case of a user account called John Appleseed it would give you the option to transfer the Music, Pictures, Movies, Desktop and Documents folders from Users > John Appleseed. It can also transfer Outlook email and contacts, Windows and Windows Live Mail, browser bookmarks, and any iTunes media. It can also find and transfer files (but not system files) from the Windows and Program Files folders. That’s not the only way to migrate data, though. If your new Mac has an Intel processor rather than Apple silicon, you can still run Windows 10 in Boot Camp or in a visualisation app such as Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion, so you might want to create a clone of your Windows drive using an app such as Macrium Reflect Free and then install that clone in Boot Camp. M1 Macs don’t have that option. Boot Camp is only for Intel processors and, at the time of writing, apps such as Parallels are not M1–ready yet. If you’re moving to an M1 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or Mac mini you’ll need to migrate data manually or do it via the Windows Migration Assistant.

HOW TO Get Migration Assistant working

1 Get the right version

There are different versions of the Migration Assistant for different versions of macOS. If you’re moving to a new Mac you’ll want the Big Sur version, but for used Macs you might need an earlier version to match its OS.

2 Download more bits

Although Windows 10 already includes Microsoft’s .NET programming framework, the Migration Assistant is specific about the version you need and will show you this message when you first run it. Choose Download and Install.

3 Run the assistant

Don’t panic if the download seems to have stopped: sometimes it’s very slow. If it does crash, you can restart by killing the task in Task Manager (Ctrl+ Alt+Delete) and running the Migration Assistant again.

Back–up alternatives

MAC CLONING APPS and Time Machine can also do regular system backups, but if your backup is in the same place as your Mac and there’s a break–in or other disaster you can lose your data. That’s why it’s wise to also have an external, off-site backup. Cloud services are great for that.

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