What To Do With An Old Mac (Part 2)

2/8/2013 3:53:20 PM

If you only need to preserve a discrete set of files no more than a few gigabytes in size, and you do have a reasonably fast connection, you can copy them to a service like Dropbox, assuming you have enough room in your storage allocation. Even a humble USB memory drive can host an ad-hoc backup of your most important stuff as a backup to your main backup. If you’re very disciplined about where you store documents, don’t work with huge files such as HD video, don’t have your main photo or music library on this machine, and don’t mind re-installing apps from disk images or the Mac App Store (which remembers your past purchases) on your new Mac, you might be able to get by with just this.


Mac App Store Produces Thousandaires by Selling Software Like Music

The downside to just keeping your most important files, however, is that you might miss some that you accidentally or deliberately put outside your usual folder. And you’ll not be saving any of your application preferences, or your emails (though they may exist in iCIoud or on your mail server ready to be pulled back in), so after you boot up your new Mac you’ll have quite a few bits to sort out.

It’s also worth checking which of your apps might not make the move from an old Mac to a new one. Apps that were written for PowerPC processors may have run on an existing Intel machine using OS X’s invisible Rosetta translator, but this was made optional in OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and removed altogether in OS X 10.7 Lion, so you’ll need to get updated versions of those apps, if available, to keep using them with a new Mac. If you no longer use the apps, you still need to consider whether you have any documents saved in their native format that you may want to open again: without the app, you’re unlikely to be able to load proprietary files. Using the app, before you switch, to export them in a standard format is a workaround.

The Roaring Apps website maintains an extensive list of which apps will and won’t work in Mac OS X Lion and higher at

With your backup safe, it’s time to transfer your data to your new Mac. Assuming you’re using a complete system backup, the way to do this is using Migration Assistant, which you’ll find in the Utilities folder.

When you set up a brand new Mac from scratch, a version of Migration Assistant called Setup Assistant runs by default. Make sure you either have your new and old Macs connected to the same Ethernet network (Wi-Fi won’t work) or joined together with an Ethernet cable, if you’re going to migrate directly, or your Time Machine or cloned disk connected to the new Mac, then pick the appropriate option.

Running Migration Assistant manually gives you a few more options, including copying data between the two Macs via Thunderbolt, FireWire or Wi-Fi. If you prefer, you can transfer the data directly from a drive containing a clone of your hard disk, or from your Time Machine drive, with no need to boot up you r old Mac. Migration Assistant will copy across all your users, apps, settings and other files and folders from the disk. You can also choose to exclude items if you don’t want them. If you want to connect the two Macs via FireWire or Thunderbolt, you’ll need to restart the old Mac in Target mode, as explained at

Migration Assistant

Moving experience - Migration Assistant, found in the Utilities folder on your Mac, is the key to quick and simple transfer of data to your new Mac) whether directly from the old one over a network or from the backup you’ve prepared on a connected external drive.

When you take the option to import all your stuff, be aware that it can take a while, depending on the amount of data that needs transferring and the connection type you’re using. Thunderbolt is likely to be the fastest approach, but of course the chances are your old Mac, unless it isn’t very old at all, doesn’t have Thunderbolt. FireWire 800 will be relatively quick; Ethernet is fine, and often simplest. Wi-Fi could be a pain unless you have a good connection, so check the signal strength and try to make sure nobody else is using the network at the same time. If you’re migrating from a backup on disk rather than directly from your old Mac, again Thunderbolt is ideal, followed by FireWire 800 and USB 3; USB 2 could leave you waiting a few hours.

Reports from users suggest that the estimated completion time quoted by Migration Assistant can be wildly inaccurate, though reliably lengthy. So if you want to play with your new Mac as soon as it arrives, don’t start your migration straight away; remember you can complete the setup and then go back later and launch Migration Assistant at any time.

Copying all your data to your new Mac is only half the battle. If you’re getting rid of the old one, you also need to ensure the original data is erased before it goes out of your sight. In the age of online banking and one-click ordering, remote working logins and email confirmations, you don’t have to be James Bond to carry information on your hard disk that could be extremely damaging if it fell into the wrong hands.

Before you wipe the Mac, launch iTunes and go to Store > Deauthorize This Computer. You only get five computers Macs or PCs, as opposed to mobile devices - per iTunes account on which copy protected purchases, such as movies and apps (music is no longer restricted), can be used. That may or may not seem like plenty to you, but there’s no point losing one of those slots. If you forget, it’s not the end of the world, but the only way you’ll be able to scratch that machine off your list of five is to deauthorize everything. To do this, show the iTunes Store in iTunes, click Account in the right hand column (logging in if necessary), then click Deauthorise All. You’ll then need to use Store > Authorise This Computer on each of your Macs to enable access to your purchases again.

iTunes: Deauthorizing a Computer

iTunes: Deauthorizing a Computer

Having deauthorised your Mac and checked your backup, it’s time to remove all the data from the drive. Hunting around for all the folders where you’ve put stuff, dragging them to the Trash and then emptying it is definitely not going to cut it: you’d also have to manually delete all your email accounts, iCIoud logins and so on, and even then you’d be leaving crucial data in places like the OS X Keychain that would enable the next user to log into all kinds of services as you. No, what you’re going to do is completely erase the hard disk, operating system and all.

If your Mac has a DVD drive, it’ll have come with OS X discs which you can pass on to the next owner and from which they can re-install OS X. (If you bought a newer version of OS X as an upgrade, it’s up to you whether you install this and pass it on too.) More recent Macs have a recovery partition on the hard disk from which the OS can be re-installed, and you can leave this intact while erasing the partition(s) containing your current system.

You can’t tell your Mac to erase the hard disk on which the operating system it’s currently running resides, so to get the job done you’ll first need to reboot the machine from its OS X DVD or recovery partition, or from the full system backup you’ve made to an external hard disk. If you have a cloned backup on a connected drive, by the way, do take care to erase the right disk, since the original and the backup will have the same name.

With whatever medium you plan to boot from inserted or connected, set the Mac to restart and then hold down the Option (Alt) key while it does so. Choose a startup device other than the one you’re erasing.

Once it’s booted, run Disk Utility from the menu bar if you used the OS X installer discs or recovery partition, or launch it from the Utilities folder as usual if you booted from the full backup. You can now select the disk you need to wipe and click the Erase tab. Note that each drive appears with the partitions it contains indented.

You want to erase the whole drive, including any partitions (perhaps one for Boot Camp if you run Windows on your Mac), so select this; the recovery partition, if present, is hidden from Disk Utility, so it won’t appear in the list or get erased.

Clicking the Erase button at the bottom right will empty the hard disk (after checking that this is what you want to do), but not securely. In fact, all that really happens is that the map that tells the OS where to find each file on the hard disk is deleted. So no files will be visible, but if someone were to run a file recovery utility on the disk, most of your files would magically reappear. That’s why you need to perform a more permanent erase operation, and that’s what the Security Options button is for. In Mountain Lion, it gives you a choice of four options. The default, Fastest, just does the standard insecure erase. The second level writes over everything on the disk with zeroes. There’s an emerging consensus that with modern hard disks, this is actually enough to prevent any data being recovered except by the most exotic forensic methods.

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