Connecting two Macs to migrate data from one to another

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Migrating data from one Mac to another

Connecting two Macs in order to migrate data (user files, applications and settings) from one to another is pretty much straightforward and uncomplicated process.

As long as you can find the right cable that links two Macs together, you can start moving files in a few clicks.



Before you start, make sure the storage space in the target computer is large enough to hold the data from the old computer otherwise the migration process will fail.

How to start data transfer to your new Mac

STEP 1.

Find the right cable that fits both, your old computer (source) and new computer (target). I will discuss different cables and adapters in greater details later in this post.

STEP 2.

Power up your new computer. I assume it has freshly installed OS and boots to the OS X Setup Assistant as shown on the following picture.

If the user account on your new Mac has been configured already, you can force it to re-run the OS X Setup Assistant and start fresh.

Alternatively, you can make a bootable USB install drive and reinstall Mac OS from scratch.

Turn on target Mac

STEP 3.

Power up your old computer in Target Disk Mode.

Hold down the “T” key and push on the power button. Keep holing the “T” key down until the Target Disk Mode symbol appears on the screen.

It can be a Thunderbolt or FireWire symbol depending on the type of cable in use.

Turn on source Mac in Target Disk Mode

STEP 4.

Now go to the target Mac and follow the OS X Setup Assistant until you get to the “Transfer Information to This Mac” page.

Select “From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk” option which is NOT selected by default.

Click Continue.

Select "From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk"



STEP 5.

On the next page you should see the source hard drive detected by the target computer.

Click Continue.

Note: If the source hard drive is not detected, there could be a problem with the source hard drive or file system on the source drive.

Source hard drive detected by target Mac

STEP 6.

On the next page you should see all the information available for transfer to your new computer (user files, applications, computer and network settings, other files and folders).

If you want your new Mac to be configured exactly as the old one, select everything and click continue.

Now just wait until the data transfer is completed.

Select the information to transfer

Now I will discuss different ways to connect one Mac to another.

As an example I will explain how to connect different laptop models but you can use it for iMacs and MacMinis because they have similar ports.

Connecting two MacBook Pros (2008-2010)

Connecting two MacBook Pros (2008-2010)

The only port available for linking two laptops to each other is the FireWire 800 Port.

In this case you should use FireWire 800 to FireWire 800 cable shown on the following picture.

FireWire 800 cable

Connecting MacBook Air (2011-2017) to MacBook Pro (2008-2009)

Connecting MacBook Air (2011-2017) to MacBook Pro (2008-2009)

In this case we run into mismatching ports. One of the laptops has the Thunderbolt port and the other one has the FireWire 800 port.

In order to link these computers to each other you will have to use a FireWire 800 to FireWire 800 cable and FireWire 800 to Thunderbolt adapter.

FireWire 800 cable and Thunderbolt adapter

Connecting two MacBook Pros (2011-2012)

Connecting two MacBook Pros (2011-2012)

In this case we have two different options available because each laptop has two different ports.

I would suggest using the faster connection link which is Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable.

FireWire 800 cable and Thunderbolt cable

Connecting MacBook Pro (2011-2012), MacBook Air (2011-2017) and MacBook Pro Retina (2012-2017)

Connecting MacBook Pro (2011-2012) to MacBook Air (2011-2017)

MacBook Air (2011-2017) to MacBook Pro Retina (2012-2017)

Connecting two MacBook Airs (2011-2017)

Connecting two MacBook Pro Retinas (2012-2017)

All newer laptops have at least one Thunderbolt port (version 1 or 2) available.

Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable is the best way to go.

Thunderbolt cable

Connecting MacBook Pro Retina (2012-2015), MacBook Air (2011-2017) and MacBook Pro (2016-1017)

Connecting MacBook Pro Retina (2012-2015) to MacBook Pro (2016-1017)

Connecting MacBook Air (2011-2017) to MacBook Pro (2016-1017)

In the latest MacBook Pro (2016-2017) models Apple introduced Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports.

In order to connect the latest model to the previous models you’ll have to use a Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt (version 1 or2) cable and USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) to Thunderbolt 2 adapter.

Thunderbolt cable and USB-C adapter

Connecting two latest MacBook Pros (2016-1017)

Connecting two MacBook Pros (2016-1017)

If you are transferring data between two latest MacBook Pros (2016-2017), you should use the  Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) cable. This cable supports Thunderbolt 3 data transfer up to 40 Gbps.

Do not confuse it with USB-C Charge Cable which looks identical and also works for data transfer but does it at a much lower speed.

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cable

Migrating data into new Mac from old hard drive

If your old computer failed but the hard drive is still available and healthy, you can migrate data directly from the hard drive removed from the old Mac.

It’s the exact same data migration procedure as I described at the very beginning of this post (going though OS X Setup Assistant) but you’ll have to use an external hard drive enclosure or adapter instead. Take a look at the following pictures as an example.

Migrating data from 3.5″ iMac hard drive using USB enclosure

Migrating data from 3.5" iMac hard drive

Migrating data from 2.5″ HDD/SSD using USB enclosure

Migrating data from 2.5" HDD/SSD using USB enclosure

Migrating data from MacBook Pro/Air SSD using USB enclosure

If the source SSD has been removed from a newer MacBook Pro/Air laptop, you can use OWC enclosures for Apple SSDs.

Migrating data from MacBook Pro/Air SSD using USB enclosure

Connecting external SSD to latest MacBook Pro (2016-2017)

You cannot connect an external USB enclosure directly to the latest MacBook Pro (2016-2017) with USB-C ports.

You will have to use a USB-C to USB adapter, for example this USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter.

USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter

Connecting Apple SSD to MacBook Pro (2016-2017)

Connecting 2.5" SSD to MacBook Pro (2016-2017)


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2 Responses

  1. Stephen Weil

    If I’m not mistaken, an number of your steps seems to have reversed the references and pictures.

    Step 3 says to put the “old” machine in “target mode.” Isn’t the OLD machine the “Source” and the NEW machine the “Target?”

    In Step 4, you initially fail to mention that you’ve now moved from the OLD machine to the NEW machine before saying “Follow the OS X Setup Assistant until you get to the “Transfer Information to This Mac” page.”

    In Step 5, you say “On the next page you should see the source hard drive detected by the target computer.” The page you’re referring to is displayed on the NEW (target) computer, but previously, you specified that the Target drive was the OLD computer.

    Have I missed something here?

  2. IML Tech

    @ Stephen Weil,

    Step 3 says to put the “old” machine in “target mode.” Isn’t the OLD machine the “Source” and the NEW machine the “Target?”

    I didn’t say the old machine is the “Source”. I said you have to activate “Target Mode” by holding down the T key and basically turn this machine into an external hard drive so you can access the data.
    Yes, the old machine is the source and the new one is the target.

    In Step 4, you initially fail to mention that you’ve now moved from the OLD machine to the NEW machine

    You are correct. I fixed that.

    In Step 5, you say “On the next page you should see the source hard drive detected by the target computer.” The page you’re referring to is displayed on the NEW (target) computer, but previously, you specified that the Target drive was the OLD computer.

    Again, I said to activate Target Mode on the old computer. I didn’t say the old computer is the target.

    Thank you very much for your input.

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