Migrating to a new Mac

Christopher Breen
23 November, 2010
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Reader Sam is trading up his Mac, but wants to do so cleanly. He writes:

I’m getting a new 27-inch iMac and want to transfer all the email, calendars, and documents over to it from my MacBook Pro. However, I’m afraid to move everything because my laptop has crashed a couple of times and I’m concerned that some of its files are corrupt. Am I paranoid?

I’m not licensed to make such determinations of your psyche, I’m afraid. So we’ll call you cautious. Let’s try to bring some perspective to that caution.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. When you fire up your new iMac you’ll be offered the option to transfer the data from your old Mac to your new one. Should you agree to this you can transfer – over a network, USB or Firewire – some or all of the contents of your user account, your applications, network and computers settings, and files stored outside your Home folder.

Specifically, within your user folder, you can choose to copy the contents of your Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Movies, Music, Pictures, Public, and Sites folders. (You may see other folders that are also currently stored in your Home folder.) Nothing in these folders should cause your Mac to crash (though a corrupt library or file could cause an application to misbehave). The contents of the Library and System folders at the root level of your old Mac won’t be transferred to the new one as the new Mac will have its own fresh copies.

However, regardless of whether you choose a selection of these folders or all of them, the contents of the Library folder within that user folder will also be transferred. And this Library folder is where I’d focus my attention.

It’s possible that there’s something in it that’s mucking up your MacBook Pro. One easy way to find out is to create a new user account on your laptop, switch to that account, and see if your MacBook Pro crashes in the way it has previously. If not and you can predictably make it crash in your regular account, the ~/Library folder is suspect.

More often than not, however, application crashes are due to a problem with a specific application and kernel panics (the big crashes that bring a Mac to its knees) are hardware related. Given that, you might not wish to migrate your applications but instead install fresh copies. And before jacking in a dozen peripherals, try running the new Mac with just its mouse and keyboard. If it fares well, feel free to use your peripherals. If it then crashes, look for updated drivers and, failing that, unplug the peripherals, plug in one at a time, test each one, and try to determine which is doing The Bad Thing.

Or, do as I do. Run Software Update on the MacBook Pro to be sure it’s completely up to date and then migrate everything on it to the new Mac. Afterwards, if it doesn’t work as you’d like it to, whip out the iMac’s installation disc and take it back to like-new condition. At that point you can use some of these hints for a more selective migration.


3 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Stephen Dutton says:

    Is it possible to transfer to a hard drive, then to a new mac, I need to sell my old mac before upgrading to a new one, so won’t have both at the same time?

  2. AMW staff says:

    The best way to do that would be to backup your current Mac to an external hard drive using Time Machine, then restore the new Mac from your Time Machine backup or migrate files across from the backup using Migration Assistant.
    Hope that helps.

  3. Stephen Dutton says:

    Thank Xavier, I forgot about Time Machine even though i am looking straight at it!
    But will it do library embedded stuff as well like fonts, internet drivers, applications with passwords or registrations?

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