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Your new Mac: This is the best way to set up your Apple computer

Setting up a new iMac or MacBook Air takes time, but we'll walk you through what you need, and offer some advice along the way to make it a painless process.


New Mac? Don't hit that power button just yet! 

Sarah Tew/CNET
This story is part of Holiday Survival Guide 2019, featuring tips on the best ways to manage the holiday season.

Getting a new MacBook Pro, iMac Mac Pro, or a Mac Mini is downright exciting. Whether you're replacing a worn-down MacBook ($1,149 at Amazon), or getting rid of a tired PC, it's only natural to want to tear open the box, hit the power button and cruise through the setup prompts. But before you do that, take a deep breath and a step back; there are some things you need to know about setting up a Mac.

For starters, the process can take several hours if you plan on transferring your data from another computer. Then there are aspects to consider such as FileVault and if you need it, or how you get information off of your old Mac or PC and onto the new one.

Those questions are exactly why we're here.


There's something special about getting a new computer. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What you'll need

Make sure to set aside around an hour to get your Mac set up. The process will take longer if you plan on restoring your Mac from a Time Machine backup of another Mac.

In addition to a reliable internet connection, you'll need your Wi-Fi network information, your Apple ID username and password, and the Mac's charger or power cord. 

Having a piece of paper and a pen nearby is helpful. During the setup process, you'll be asked to create a user account, which includes a username and password. We don't recommend storing passwords on paper -- it's much safer to use a password manager -- but a piece of paper is helpful for temporarily storing this kind of information until you can enter it into your password manager. Just make sure to destroy the piece of paper when you're done. 

Once you have everything in order, connect the charger or power cord to your Mac and turn it on. 

Mac Setup Assistant.png

Setting up a new Mac isn't hard, but it can take some time. 


Apple's Setup Assistant walks you through most of the process

The first time your Mac turns on, a setup assistant will greet you. The assistant will walk you through selecting your country and language, and connecting the Mac to the internet. You'll also be tasked with creating a user account on the Mac and signing into your Apple ID. 

Throughout the process you'll be asked if you want to enable services like FileVault, iCloud Keychain or Find My Mac. You'll also be asked if you want to enable Siri or provide any logs to developers when issues are detected. Here's what they mean.

FileVault encrypts your Mac's hard drive to prevent unauthorized access to the information you store on it. If you aren't sure, you can always enable or disable it in the future.

Now playing: Watch this: MacOS Catalina: 5 best things

iCloud Keychain is Apple's password manager that's built into all of its devices. If you use iCloud Keychain on an iPhone ($699 at Amazon) or iPad ($350 at Walmart), those usernames and passwords will also be available on your Mac. iCloud Keychain also stores your Wi-Fi network credentials, meaning you won't have to log into a Wi-Fi network on your Mac if you've previously connected to it on your iPhone. It's a good idea to turn on iCloud Keychain. 

Find My Mac works with the Find My app to help you track down a lost Apple device. I recommend turning on Find My Mac, even for a rig as large as an iMac that's less likely to disappear, because you never know when you'll might end up with a lost or stolen MacBook. Find My Mac takes very little time to sign up and there's no drawback to turning it on.

Continue to follow the prompts, entering any required information such as your Apple ID or creating a user name. 


Migration Assistant makes it easy to transfer all of your information. 


Restore from a Time Machine Backup

During the setup process, you'll be asked if you want to restore your new Mac from a Time Machine backup of another Mac through Migration Assistant. If so, you'll need the hard drive your Time Machine backup is stored on. 

If you haven't backed up your old Mac through Time Machine, it's not too late. We have a guide that walks you through the process. Or if you'd rather directly transfer your files and settings from one Mac to another, Migration Assistant can do that, too

Follow the prompts in the Migration Assistant tool, selecting that you want to transfer your information from a Time Machine backup. Select the Time Machine hard drive that's connected to your new Mac, and select the most recent backup.  

Next, you'll be asked to confirm which information you want to transfer -- including home folders, applications, settings and other miscellaneous documents. 

The process can take several hours, depending on how much you have to transfer. If it's going to be awhile, you don't have to babysit it. It's perfectly fine to leave your computer and go watch a show, let it process overnight, or even run some errands. 

If you're switching from a PC to a Mac, you can use Apple's Migration Assistant, but the process is a little bit more involved and technical (just at the beginning). Apple walks you through the process in this support article


MacOS Catalina is the latest operating system for the Mac. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Install any software updates

Once you've completed the Setup Assistant and find yourself looking at your Mac's desktop, it's a good idea to check for any pending software updates. 

To do that, click on the Apple logo in the top-left corner of the screen followed by System Preferences > Software Update

Once your Mac's software is up to date, you'll also want to check and make sure all of the preinstalled apps are updated in the App Store. Find the App Store icon in the app dock along the bottom of your screen. Click on it to open the App Store and then select Updates and then update any apps with pending updates. 

Now that you have your Mac all set up, it's a good idea to be prepared for any hiccups you may run into. Here are system tweaks you may want to make right away. If this is the first time you've used MacOS Catalina, you'll be surprised that iTunes no longer exists and you'll have to learn how to listen to music or sync your iPhone with your computer. And when your Mac inevitably slows down, learn how to speed it back up again


Once you have your Mac all set up, it's time to get to work! 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Originally published earlier this month.