MacBook Pro Migration Assistant

 In this first part of a two-part installment, Alex works on his MacBook Pro to cure erratic performance, hidden storage, Terminator processes and the Precambrian-era apps that cause them. He starts with a discussion of migration.

Migration Assistant: Too helpful?

While I moved to this Mac (MacBook Pro 15”, early 2011, 8 GB RAM) over a year ago, it took this long to find out just how much stuff I’d moved—some programs were from two moves earlier! This was part of my mysterious slowdowns, unresponsive performance, and general low-level annoyance, distractions from Getting Things Done.

This is, I suppose, a curse of the modern age. In previous generations, computer speed was slow enough that I’d save up context-switches, changes from one program to another, or other time-wasters, until I needed a break.

Today, systems are fast enough that we, I, rely on instantaneous swaps from Word to Firefox and back. A two-second delay for Word’s “Insert Hyperlink” feature to open, or more than five seconds for MacOS to paste from the clipboard into the Hyperlink window, pulls me right out of writing.

Even though a few seconds is trivial, when I’m on a roll, it breaks my concentration; the imprecations yelled at an unresponsive computer scare the animals; I pick up the phone to look at the latest e-mails, etc. It takes long enough to get into writing mode; I don’t need computer excuses for not being productive.

Still, I had grown used to these delays, or at least tolerated them. When they stretched into seeming minutes, longer if you include the lost ‘what-was-I-doing-anyway’ productivity, it was time to investigate further.

Short of deleting everything from the computer and starting over, how else could I speed up the Mac? Turns out, plenty—including actions I haven’t seen written up elsewhere. While hunting down old code, I learned considerably more about what’s under the covers, too.

Choosing Your Migration Adventure

How should you move from your old computer to the new? There are many ways: Wi-Fi, Time Machine backup, USB drive, FireWire drive, Ethernet.

Migrating over the wire: As Apple mentions in their notes, many current-generation MacBooks and MacBook Pros don’t come with an Ethernet port; you will need a Thunderbolt or USB 3 Ethernet adapter to upgrade over-the-wire from the older computer. Many people buy the Apple-labeled Thunderbolt Ethernet adapters, or the USB 2 adapter, for just such an occasion as migration. USB 2 tops out at 480 Mbps, far slower than Gigabit Ethernet, but plenty fast for most uses. (This MacBook Pro 15” only has USB 2, not 3.)

The new MacBook (not “Pro”, not “Air”, just MacBook) is even more minimal; its only physical connector is a single USB-C—no Thunderbolt. It even charges via this single connector. USB 3.0 is fast (Nominally, 5 Gbps), USB 3.1 (On the MacBook), double that. The MacBook appears to be a trial balloon: Will consumers buy a computer with only one port, or is more better?

Personally, I miss having three USB connectors on the 17” Mac, plus FireWire, Ethernet and a separate video out, but I’m not the target market. I find an Ethernet adapter is essential; I move far too much data to count on Wi-Fi for everything. Sure, it’s another part to lose, but Ethernet is more reliable than wireless, and usually much faster. Yes, 802.11ac Wave 2 is multi-gigabit, but that’s under ideal conditions, and when the Wi-Fi is working.

USB or Thunderbolt adapter? Thunderbolt adapters take up the Thunderbolt/Displayport connector, meaning no second monitor if you need a wired network. (Alternatively, you could use a Thunderbolt dock, but they’re fairly bulky.) There are very nice USB 3 hubs which also sport an Ethernet port; unless you want the smallest possible set of gear to carry, that might be a good choice.

The lost connector: I mentioned FireWire, but it’s quickly being phased out, appearing on none of the current MacBook models. Not a huge loss; while FireWire 800 was almost twice as fast as USB 2, it’s much slower than USB 3 or Thunderbolt. Its other use, connecting directly to camcorders, disappeared long ago, and it will be relegated to guess this connector quizzes in a few years.

Can Migration Be Too Helpful?

When I moved from my finally-dead 17” MacBook Pro, I’d used Migration Assistant, the built-in “move your stuff” program that ships with MacOS. Migration Assistant (in /Applications/Utilities).

It makes the process simple: Connect the two computers (Wi-Fi, Time Machine backup, USB drive, Ethernet), start the Migration Assistant on both, choose “to another Mac” on the source machine, then, on the target, choose the source machine. You’ll be given an opportunity to choose what to move, about which more in a second. Watch for the message “Your other Mac is ready” on the old one, click continue on the new one, and step back.

If your old computer’s dead, the standard rite of passage is to extract its hard drive, stick it in an external case, and run Migration Assistant from there. The old drive then becomes a backup, or kicks around in your desk drawer for ages. (Not that I’m guilty, but exactly why do I have 40 GB hard drives still gathering dust?)

In-place upgrades (No new computer, just a new operating system) happen as part of the MacOS upgrades; they are similarly helpful. Most of the time, they’re completely automatic and transparent, but there are important gotchas, particularly with Apple Mail, as I’ll discuss next time.

Windows Migration Assistant works well for PC-to-Mac migration, though of course it moves files and settings, not the applications themselves. Mac-to-Mac migration with plain old Migration Assistant does move programs—all programs, if you let it. If you don’t just click past it (I did), there’s a selection pane, where you can choose exactly what to move:


Note the “Settings” checkbox and drop-down menu; this will become important in our next article.

In the next installment, Alex looks at leftovers, really old code, and the joyous discovery of a faster computer.