How to transfer data between Macs with Migration Assistant

Here's how to take the drudgery out of transferring all your films, photos and music from your old computer onto your shiny new Mac.

Curtis Moldrich
2 min read

If you've recently upgraded your Mac -- perhaps drawn in by the ultra-sharp screen of the MacBook Pro with retina display or the idea of getting the new Mountain Lion OS on a sparkling MacBook Air -- you'll be eager to get your photos, music and films loaded up.

Taking the sheen off your aluminum-clad beauty is the tedious prospect of transferring gigabytes of data from your battered old workhorse. Thankfully, if you're swapping stuff over from a Mac, you're in luck -- using Migration Assistant, the process is smoother and easier than ever. You can even download it to a PC if you're switching from a Windows computer.

What you'll need

The transfer between your brand spanking new Mac and your old one can take place via Firewire or a standard Ethernet cable if your Mac has a port. But for the sake of simplicity, this tutorial will use Wi-Fi for moving your files -- so make sure both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

First steps

The Macs do not need to be running the same version of OS X (in this tutorial, one has Mountain Lion while the other runs Leopard), but they do need to have the latest updates and patches installed. So make sure you run Software Update before anything else.

After ensuring both Macs are up to date, double-check they're both connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Once the two devices are up to speed and connected, it's time to crack on with the transferring.

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Migration assistant

Migration Assistant is pre-installed on all Macs as standard and is downloadable to Windows for free. It presents one of the easiest ways to move your data from one computer to another.

On the new Mac, load Migration Assistant and you'll be prompted to close all running programs. After clicking Continue, select 'From a Mac or PC' and load Migration Assistant on the computer you'd like to transfer data from. On the old Mac, select 'To another Mac' and wait for them to detect each other.

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Once they find each other, make sure the passcodes match up and then click Continue.

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After a short time, Migration Assistant will helpfully provide a list with the contents of the old Mac's hard drive. If you've enough space on your new Mac, it's possible to import all your data over in one fell swoop. You also have the option of picking and choosing folders to transfer -- so you can leave the unwanted clutter behind. In this case, we'll only be transferring those treasured movies and photo albums.

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Migration Assistant gives you the option of importing the files on their own, or importing them along with the user account from the last machine too. Doing the latter is often more sensible, as it keeps your old and new folders separate to begin with if needed. After you've renamed the user account you're transferring (to Curtisold in this case), all that's left to do is click Continue and Migration Assistant will take care of the rest.

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