Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Migrating from the Macbook Air to the Macbook Pro

My Macbook Air started to show wear and tear after a couple of years of heavy use. Five of the keys on the keyboard broke and had to be replaced, despite my light touch typing--honestly, and the battery has moved from the warning that it needs service to retaining electric charge for shorter and shorter periods of time, to not holding a charge at all.

For my next device I contemplated getting another Macbook Air with the highly enviable 12hr battery life, or switching back to a 15 inch Macbook Pro, and enjoying a more powerful machine, with a retina display and a respectable 8 hours of battery life. The prospect of more screen real-estate, and more processor power was too enticing, so I ended up getting the Macbook Pro despite the weight difference.

Since I accumulated 3+ years worth of data and software on the Air, I did not want to repeat the process of reinstalling apps from scratch and searched for an easy way to migrate the data to the new machine.  Most of the online recommendations were to use the Migration Assistant during the initial install phase. I decided to give it a try. I ran through the install process, created an account on the new new Macbook Pro, and started the Migration Assistant on the old Air and the new Pro. I chose migration over Wifi since I did not have a firewire cable handy, which turned out to be a mistake. Either due to a bug or an unreliable Wifi connection, the migration assistant would crash on both computers when it tried to migrate data between the machines.

I did not give up on the Migration Assistant, and decided to try another method: migration using a Time Machine backup. I took a full backup of the Macbook Air, which took roughly 8 hours to finish, and used the Migration Assistant to transfer that to the new Pro. The migration initially failed since my user name existed on the new machine--an easy fix by renaming the user, but then after starting the migration again,  the data copying was stuck for almost 11 hours with no progress. A quick search online revealed that this is a widespread problem, and not an isolated instance.

I decided to try my luck elsewhere. Although Apple does not recommend restoring a computer from a backup of another computer, I decided to give that a try,  especially since some of the applications I have installed including VPN and MacPorts store their data in non-standard locations.

I booted the new Macbook Pro in recovery mode, and  chose restore from Time Machine. I left the machine running overnight--the full restore took about 6 hours to finish, and by the end I had an identical setup to the one I had on the Macbook Air. I had to re-enter my license information for my applications, and apart from a couple of minor glitches with the Kindle App, and iCloud accounts which were easy to fix, everything worked like a charm, and I am very pleased with the result.

Hopefully I won't need to migrate computers anytime soon, but if I have to, now I know how to do it using Time Machine backups.

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