Get a new Mac? Here's what you need to know about setting it up

It might take you a little bit longer, but this is the right way to set up your Mac. Trust me, it's worth it.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
5 min read

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

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Apple's newest computers -- MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini -- are fast, have impressive battery life and can even run iPhone apps. The difference between this crop and previous models? These are powered by the Apple Silicon M1 processor. It's the same kind of processor the company uses in the iPhone and iPad. If you spoiled yourself and picked up a new Mac this holiday season, or were lucky enough to get one as a gift, don't rush through the setup process. 

Whether you're replacing a worn-down MacBook 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 other things to consider: Do you need FileVault? How can 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. 

Dan Ackerman/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 some of those features mean for you.

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.

iCloud Keychain is Apple's password manager that's built into all of its devices. If you use iCloud Keychain on an iPhone or iPad , 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 might end up with a lost or stolen MacBook. There's no drawback to turning it on.

If you have a MacBook, you'll also be tasked with setting up Touch ID, the fingerprint reader that unlocks your computer, lets you sign into apps or approve Apple Pay purchases. All of it is pretty straight-forward, just continue to follow the prompts, entering any required information such as your Apple ID or creating a user name, to finish the core of the setup process. 


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


Restore from a Time Machine Backup

During setup, 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 storage device 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 drive that's connected to your new Mac, and select the most recent backup.  

Watch this: Hands-on with the entire new Apple Mac M1 lineup

Next, you'll be asked to confirm which information you want to transfer -- including home folders, applications, settings, user accounts 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. 

One thing to keep in mind, and Migration Assistant will remind you if you run into this, is that your new Mac needs to be on the same OS update as your old Mac (or vice versa). So you may have to finish the setup process without using Migration Assistant, then update your OS (directions covering how to do that are below), and then run Migration Assistant. 

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


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

Sarah Tew/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 Big Sur , we have plenty of tips to help you get started. When your Mac inevitably slows down, learn how to speed it back up again