Migrate to a New Mac in 10 Steps

Migration Assistant

This article describes the preparations I made in advance to the migration from my old PowerBook G4 (Aluminum) to a shiny new MacBook Pro C2D (both running Tiger) and the steps required to migrate your data. It is intended to help you prepare some things while waiting for your new Mac to arrive and to save time in the actual transfer procedure.

The process (summarized in ten easy steps) involves cleaning your hard drive from all the stuff you no longer need, updating your software and letting your new Mac handle the data transfer automatically. It’s likely you won’t even notice a difference other than the speed increase on your new computer as all your data, all applications and nearly every setting will be transfered from your old Mac.

Step 1 — Clean Up That Mess


The first step is very simple: get rid of all the junk you’ve collected over the years. Clean you old Mac’s hard disk to speed up the transfer of all your data.

Do you still have applications on your hard disk you’ve never used or no longer need? Do you really need those megabyte-eating GarageBand, iMovie and iDVD experiments you weren’t brave enough to show anybody? Delete them! (If in doubt, burn a backup CD or DVD first.) This is also a good opportunity to sort all your documents and have a clean start on your new Mac.

Disk Inventory X (click to enlarge)

A very easy way to find all those large files is to use Disk Inventory X. As you can see in the screenshot it gives you a graphical overview of all files and makes it easy to identify large files and folders.

Also don’t forget to delete old network locations, printers and user accounts you no longer need to keep the new system clean from the start!

Step 2 — Stay Up-to-Date

You don’t want old and potentially bug infested applications on your sexy new Mac, don’t you? Older versions are more likely to have security flaws and issues with your new hardware.

App Update widget

An easy way to find updates is the App Update widget. (There is also a Widget Update version available.) The widget scans you applications, looks for new versions on the internet and provides you with download links.

Step 3 — Double-check Your Custom Preference Panes

Rosetta Stone

If you have custom System Preference Panes installed be sure to check for updated versions. In my case nearly all needed an update to work on the Intel CPU. The App Update widget doesn’t check preference panes!

Step 4 — Rosetta, You Don’t Want To Rely On It (PowerPC ⇒ Intel only)

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta “enables applications compiled for the PowerPC family of processors to run on Apple systems that use Intel processors.” While this is a good and overall reliable thing as you can use older programs that ran on your PowerPC Mac it is bad for performance as the translation of the PPC program’s instructions take a bit of your systems performance.

If you’ve followed the step to update your applications it is very likely that most (or at least many) of your apps are now universal; i.e. contain a PowerPC and an Intel binary. To identify those programs that are still PPC-only click on About This Mac in the Apple menu and select More Info. You’ll find information whether an application is universal under Software → Applications. Order by column Kind to get a quick overview of PowerPC-only applications that still need an update.

Step 5 — Developers Have to Do More

MySQL logo

As expected I had to reinstall and configure MySQL and import the needed databases I’ve used on my old Mac. You can use PHPMyAdmin to simplify this procedure. Also don’t forget to enable PHP support (edit the httpd.conf via sudo vi /etc/httpd/httpd.conf) if you need it and start your local Apache via Personal Web Sharing in the System Preferences.

If you save your exported databases to an archive in your home folder they will be transfered automatically during migration which will save you some time on your new computer.

Step 6 — Prepare for the Transfer

Apple Firewire cable (6 to 6 pin)

Unwrap your new Mac, jump around in pure joy, calm down and get your Firewire cable (6 to 6 pin) ready. The best time to transfer all your data is the first boot of your new toy/workhorse.

Step 7 — First Boot

Boot your new Mac and tell the setup assistant that you are a loyal Mac user. Connect your two Macs using the firewire cable and follow the on-screen instructions. It took my PowerBook and MacBook Pro about 90 minutes to transfer all data.

Step 8 — The Big Surprise

Happy Mac

The first login on your new Mac will hopefully surprise you (if you’re a first-time Migration Assistant user) as you should find Mac OS X the way you left it on your old Mac. Only if you look very carefully you should be able to notice some missing settings or applications (on the ones which plug themselves deep into the system; though Growl was transfered without a problem).

While all applications in the Applications folder will be transfered by the Migration Assistant, my X11 installation wasn’t copied to the MBP. Check for other applications and data not transfered (just to be sure before formatting your old Mac’s hard disk).

Step 9 — Umm… I Couldn’t Wait and Booted Directly Into Mac OS X

So you had to test-drive your new Mac without transferring your data on the first boot — despite better knowledge?

You’re lucky: there is the Migration Assistant.app in your Utilities folder. More information and FAQs on the data transfer using Migration Assistant.app can be found at Apple’s website.

Step 10 — Run Software Update

Mac OS X Software Update

After transferring your data and booting into Mac OS X run Software Update to check for further updated software (remember: you’re now on a new copy of your favorite OS which may be missing some updates you’ve already downloaded on your old system).

That’s It — Migration Complete

Enjoy your new Mac!

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Blog © 2005-2018 Daniel M. Gattermann. Logos, trademarks, etc. © by their respective owners.