Mac Daniel's Advice

Mac File Transfer

Charlie Ruggiero - 2001.06.13

Q: How do I transfer my files from my old Mac to my new Mac?

A: There are many ways to do this besides popping floppies in and out. Here are some of the most common ones.


If your computers both have ethernet, this is one of the easiest ways to transfer data. It's fast and cheap, and it doesn't require restarting. In order to transfer data you need to get an ethernet cable called a 10Base-T crossover ethernet cable. This crossover wire basically reverses the order of the wires on one end. You can also accomplish the same thing using a hub, but they cost a lot more and require two ethernet cables (not crossover cables). The hub does the crossover for you.

Most newer Macs (Power Mac 7200 and up) have 10Base-T ethernet - it looks like a wide phone connector. 10Base-T, 100Base-T, and 1000Base-T (available on the new G4s with "gigabit ethernet") use the same connector. 1000Base-T is backwards compatible with 100Base-T and 10Base-T; 100Base-T is backwards compatible with 10Base-T.

Older Macs (such as Quadras, early Power Macs, and some PowerBooks) may have an AAUI connector, which can be converted to a 10Base-T connector with a box that sells for $30-40. Note that using this box still requires the use of a crossover ethernet cable.

In order to transfer your files, you will need to turn on file sharing, but first you must make sure your settings are ready.

  • Open the AppleTalk control panel on your old Mac and change the setting to ethernet. You may or may not have a zone listed; this is not important.
  • Next go to your file sharing control panel and enter a name for your computer, a password, and user name (if there are none there.)
  • Click on "Start" to enable file sharing. You do not need to turn on "Program Linking."
  • Open the AppleTalk control panel on your new Mac and set it to ethernet.
  • Open the Chooser.
  • Click on AppleShare and choose your old Mac.

Once you have connected, the old Mac's hard drive will show up on the desktop.


If you are dealing with older Macs that don't have ethernet, or one computer has ethernet and the other does not, then you can use your serial port on your Macs to back up your files. This method is not as fast as ethernet, because serial ports on Macs are very, very slow. You will need two Macs with serial ports (Beige G3 or earlier) along with a serial cable or a pair of PhoneNet connectors and a connecting cable (it looks like a modem cable).

  • Connect the serial cable or PhoneNet connector (a small box with serial cable and phone line connected) to the printer port on each Mac. (Some Macs allow LocalTalk on the modem port, but all Macs allow it on the printer port, so it's always best to use the printer port.)
  • Open the AppleTalk control panel and set the pulldown menu to whatever port you plugged the cable into. Do this on both Macs.
  • Next go to your File Sharing control panel and enter a name for your old computer, a password, and user name (if none are listed.)
  • Click on "Start" to enable file sharing. You do not need to turn on "Program Linking."
  • On the new Mac, open up Chooser.
  • Click on "AppleShare" and your olds Mac should show up.

Once you have connected, the old Mac's hard drive will show up on the desktop. Anything over a few megabytes will take a long time, so try to avoid LocalTalk if possible.


You can use either the FireWire or SCSI connector (if they exist) to have most PowerBooks emulate a hard drive. For FireWire PowerBooks you shut down the PowerBook and connect a FireWire cable from the PowerBook to the new Mac an boot the PowerBook holding the "T" key. The PowerBook's hard drive will show up on your desktop.

SCSI PowerBooks need a special cable that is designed for SCSI disk mode. Turn off the PowerBook and your new computer, connect the special cable, and turn on the two commuters. The laptop should display a diamond pattern, and it's drive should appear on your new Mac's desktop.

For more on these options, see SCSI and FireWire Disk Modes.

Other Ways to Transferring Data

  • Floppies: For small amounts of data, these are still useful.
  • Zip: Much better than floppies. You can sometimes share an external ZIP drive if both do not have them.
  • Hard Drive Swap: Take out your SCSI or IDE drive and put it in the Mac. Note that some Macs may not be able to have slaved IDE drives nor the room for the second drive. Proceed with caution if you plan on doing this.
  • AirPort/Wireless: There are wireless cards for many ranges of Macs out there. PowerBooks must have a PCMIA slot for wireless, and desktops need a PCI slot for wireless. Exceptions would be computers with Airport (iMac, iBook.)
  • External SCSI or FireWire drive: Connect the external drive and transfer your data.
  • CD-R: Burn your data to CD and just pop it into the new computer's CD-ROM/DVD drive.
  • Infrared: Slow as mud and unreliable, but an option if both Macs have an IR port.
  • Removable drives: Jaz, Zip, Superdisk (slow), ORB, SyQuest.
  • Server: If your Macs are in different locations, you can put all your data on a server and later copy it to the new Mac. LEM

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Not sure if you should upgrade your old Mac or replace it? Check the Mac Daniel index to see if we've already addressed your problem.

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