Jan 07


Some of the newer macbooks and macbook airs do not have an ethernet port or firewire port, so you can’t connect them to an older macbook to copy your old files and settings accross. What do you do?

You buy a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter!

Read on for more info!

Apple has a great piece of software called ‘Setup Assistant’  that automatically transfers all your settings and programs from your old Apple computer to your new one. You connect the two computers with an Ethernet (or firewire) cable, run ‘Migration Assistant’ on your old computer, and then ‘Setup Assistant’ on the new computer does the rest.

Here’s the hitch, Apple have removed both the ethernet and firewire connectors from the newer Macbooks. This limits the options you can use for ‘Setup Assistant’ to connect the two computers together…

1. Firewire is no good as the newer MacBooks do not have firewire. :-(

2. Ethernet is no good as the newer Macbooks do not have ethernet.  :-(

3. Thunderbolt is no good as the older Macbooks don’t have thunderbolt.  :-(


So what do you do?

Here are 5 options listed from fastest and simplest to slowest or most complicated….


Buy an Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter (they are approx $30). This gives your new macbook an Ethernet port and then you can plug in an ethernet cable from your old Mac directly to to your new Macbook.



Personally I think it’s poor form on Apple’s part that they don’t include one of these adapters with every Macbook or Macbook Air, at least while we transition from Ethernet.  The ‘Setup Assistant’ on the new Macbook Pro actually tells you to connect to an Ethernet network, but there is no Ethernet port on the Macbook Pro!!!

If it’s boxing day, and you have your little Macbook Pro ready to go, but the Apple store is closed, then you can’t get a firewire to Ethernet adapter. Very sad. You’ll have to try one of the next options!



If you have a time-machine backup you can simply connect the time-machine backup (USB or wi-fi) to the new macboook and ‘Setup Assistant’ can import from there.



The next quickest way if you don’t have a Time Machine backup of your old computer would be to make one. Grab a USB drive and make a Time Machine backup, it might take 5-10 hours or so, but then you can use  ‘Setup Assistant’ to import from the time-machine backup.



If worst comes to worst, you can use an existing wireless network (eg a wireless router) and if you have no ethernet connection this is what ‘Setup-Assistant’ will try to use, but this may be very slow. For example I had a friend and it said it would take over 100 hours to do the Migration!

If you do use a wireless network it will be best if it’s an Apple Extreme network or other very fast 802.11n network. Also if you have any other computers being used on the network (which you probably do) then it will slow everything down. So only do this as a last resort. And turning off all the other wireless computers, ipads etc in the house will make it faster.



If you don’t have access to a fast wireless network, then you can use  a ‘computer-to-computer’ network with ‘Migration Assistant’ (but not with ‘Setup-Assistant’).  ‘Migration Assistant’ is in Applications/Utilities/Migration Assistant.  ie if you skip through all the ‘Setup-assistant’ steps without importing your settings, then you can manually use ‘Migration Assistant’ on the new mac. You need to ‘Create Network’ on your old mac, then tuen on ‘Internet Sharing’ in the control panle of your old mac, then use Migration Assistant on both macs.  See this good article for more info on this!


More information:

If you are unsure about what Migration Assistant is, Apple have an article here.

If you’d like some more detailed info on Migration Assistant check out podini.org.


20 Responses to “How to transfer your data from an old macbook to a newer thunderbolt macbook or macbook air.”

  1. virginia says:

    I want to buy a Macbook Air and transfer absolutely everything from my Macbook Pro. I have a lot of information on my Family Tree maker program Can I transfer program and all to the new Mac?

  2. Tony says:

    Hi Wayne, I’ve enjoyed reading your various articles these last weeks while trying to dig myself out of problems with my mac. Thank you. I just bought a macbook pro retna 15″, and need to transfer the content off an old 17″ macbook pro, that I can no longer boot up. The screen boots up through the apple icon phase, but otherwise has a scrambled display of digital squiggles. Can and should I take it into a genius bar, and will they assist? Or can I simply buy a thunderbolt to ethernet cable and will the hard drive and desk top show up on my new retna?

    Reaching out to you because your dialogue is so user friendly and common sense based. By the way your picture of you and toddler is refreshing. Reminds me of time I got to spend with my son in the mountains of N. Carolina. Our children grow so fast, its so important to spend real and quality time every day with them. Thanks so much. Tony

    • Wayne says:

      I don’t suppose you had a time machine backup? Id not.. in order of simplest options.. (1). Take to genius bar and I’d say they should assist for free seeing as you just purchased a new mac. or (2) Try to boot old mack in firewire target mode which just turns it into a big hard drive, ( press and hold down the T key while booting up old computer until the FireWire icon appears), then transfer data to new mac using thunderbolt to firewire adapter. (3) you method might work if it’s just the screen that’s faulty, but you’d need to work out how to launch the immigration assistant app on the old mac.

  3. ARCHIE says:

    I backup my 2009 macbook to an Iomega drive via the firewire 400 port. I am going to buy a 2014 macbook pro 13” retina. I think apple makes a Thunderbolt to firewire 800 cable. Can I migrate old to new using a firewire 800/400 adapter or do I have to use the Thunderbolt ethernet cable?

  4. Tony T says:

    I have just bought a new macmini I7. (awesome) Need to transfer my word and excel files . Only have USB on the Macair. What do you suggest. I have an external drive and also an HDMI to ethernet adaptor.

  5. Millicent says:

    How do i transfer data from an old mac to a new one, when the old version’s screen is cracked and unreadable?

  6. Rick says:

    Hi. Any idea why my MacBook Pro seems to revert to step 1 of the setup assistant AFTER I’ve gone through the necessary steps in migration assistant on my old MacBook and everything appears ready to sync? Thanks!

  7. Tim says:

    I’m transferring approximately 350gb of data from my old MacBook to a newer MacBook Pro (late 2012) via an ethernet connection. How long (ball park) should I expect this to take? It’s been running about 2 hours now and there is no “estimated time remaining” message to refer to. Thanks!

    • Wayne says:

      Plug Ethernet directly from Mac to Mac (not though network) if you have 1Gigabit Ethernet it should take in the ballpark of 2-4 hours or somewhere around that.

  8. bayo says:

    Hi I am trying to transfer data from my old Mac book pro to a newer one using a thunderbolt cable it has spent the last 20 minutes looking for the other source am I doing something wrong?

  9. Joseph says:

    hi my mac book pro screen will not work it will start up but no screen is there a way to transfer my data to my mac desktop do i need a wire or something that easy

  10. Rachael says:

    The screen on my 2009 Macbook just died a few days ago. I’d been planning to replace it soon anyway and just bought a Macbook Air. Thing is, most of the programs on my old Macbook haven’t been updated for a few years. Is there a way to transfer my files but not programs? I’ll put a newer version of Office, etc. on the Air. Also what about my Safari bookmarks? Thanks for your help!

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