Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

The best way to transfer large amounts of data between Mac systems, why a Mac is no longer booting after a power surge, and other questions addressed in this week's Q&A.

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which I answer Mac-related questions sent in by our readers.

This week readers ask about how to swap an iMac's hard drive for a solid-state drive, what specifically Thunderbolt and FireWire ports are for, how best to transfer large files between Macs, and what to do about an iMac that no longer boots after a power outage.

I welcome contributions from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, please post them in the comments!

Question: Swapping an iMac's hard drive for an SSD
MacFixIt reader Dave asks:

Can I replace the hard drive on my iMac with an SSD? I have a mid-2010 iMac. I've never taken apart a computer before, but I am ambitious to try it out, but I don't know if I should pay someone to do it either. I was thinking of just buying the new iMac and starting fresh. What should I do?

Replacing the hard drive in an iMac is not a trivial task, since it is buried behind logic boards and needs to be accessed through the screen. It definitely can be done, but requires special tools and techniques, which you can look up on sites like iFixIt.com.

Question: What are the different purposes of Thunderbolt and FireWire connections?
MacFixIt reader Margaret asks:

Will FireWire connect to the Thunderbolt port in a MacBook Pro-Retina Display without an adaptor? Is it used to connect computer to T.V.?? What are these items used for?

You will need a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapter to connect a FireWire port to a Thunderbolt port. Note that there is no such thing as a FireWire-to-Thunderbolt adapter (a reverse adapter).

FireWire is a data transfer port, meaning it is used only to connect two devices that store or stream data, such as a hard drive, video camera, or audio input or output device (as audio signals are data).

FireWire ports can only connect to FireWire devices. There are no adapters that will allow you to attach a USB or Thunderbolt device to a computer's FireWire port.

On the other hand Thunderbolt, which is a newer and far faster technology, is capable of hosting not only natively Thunderbolt devices, but also adapters to connect FireWire, USB, eSATA, audio, and video devices. In this way, it is very flexible and adaptable, and can connect to hard drives, audio input and output devices, monitors, and even special devices that add extra graphics cards and other specialty processors (such as expansion cards) to computers.

Overall, FireWire is older and limited, and Thunderbolt is newer, much faster, and very adaptable.

Question: Transferring large numbers of files between Macs
MacFixIt reader Len asks:

Regarding transferring files to another Mac, I have a very large folder of pictures (59GB) I need to transfer from a MacBook Pro to a new iMac. Should I use Screen Sharing or AirDrop? Or is there an even better way?

For large data transfers, your best bet would be to use standard network file sharing, and preferably over Ethernet or Thunderbolt as opposed to Wi-Fi. To do this, disable AirPort on both machines, and then use an Ethernet cable to connect the two systems. Then enable File Sharing on one of the systems, and on the other you should see it appear as a shared resource in the Finder sidebar. Connect to this resource, supplying your credentials when prompted, and mount the home folder for your account on the shared Mac. Now you can drag and drop your files from the one Mac to the shared one (or vice versa), and copy the files at the fast Gigabit speeds of the Ethernet and Thunderbolt connections.

AirDrop is useful, but generally only for a single file or two. Screen Sharing can also be used, but the screen-sharing service itself is not necessary for file transfers. However, if for some reason you are on a network that restricts file transfers through standard file sharing, then you can likely use either Screen Sharing or AirDrop to work around this restriction. Usually these situations are in corporate environments where IT admins impose the blocks to help prevent malware attacks and theft.

Question: iMac no longer booting after a power surge
MacFixIt reader Dhirendra asks:

Due to sudden power supply cut my iMac is not starting? I have not experienced this problem before. What should I do now? I have 700GB of data on my iMac!

If a power surge occurred then it may have broken the power supply on your iMac. This issue can happen to both Macs and PCs, and regularly does when the systems are not properly surge-protected. If the power supply unit is blown, you will need to take your system in to have it replaced. Luckily, this is likely all the problem is, and the data stored on your hard drive should be perfectly safe.

Questions? Comments? Have a fix? Post them below or e-mail us!
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