Migration from 2008 iMac

I will soon be migrating my wife’s computer from a 2008 iMac (El Capitan) to a new 24" iMac. Given that her machine is so old, are there any “gotchas” I should look out for, or is Migration Assistant reliable enough to do the job?

in 2020, I migrated from a 2011 Mac mini (running Sierra) to a 2018 mini (running Catalina). I blogged about the experience at the time: Shamino's page: Upgrading A Mac System, part 1: Hardware Purchase

There were a lot of issues, including:

  • Incompatible hardware (FireWire external drives and an iSight camera)
  • Incompatible software (Catalina has no support for 32-bit apps, forcing upgrades for many apps.
  • Multi-generation migration of database-based apps like iTunes/Music and iPhoto/Photos

In the worst case, you can do it all manually:

  • Create user accounts for all your users (at minimum, an administrator account and a non-admin account)
  • Copy the contents of each user’s home directory to the new system. You may want to avoid copying the Library folder, but definitely copy over stuff like documents, music, photos, desktop, etc.
  • Log in to the App Store and download/install all your purchases
  • Install all your apps purchased elsewhere. If you don’t have the original installers, hopefully you can download them from the publisher.
  • Spend lots of time launching the apps and customizing their preferences as you would like.

Or start off using Migration Assistant. Migrate either from the old computer (via a network) or from a backup (a clone or Time Machine). Let it do as much as it can and then manually fill in the gaps. This will be a big time saver. And if it completely fails, you can boot into Recovery mode to wipe and reinstall the computer back to its factory-default condition and try again manually.

I think the biggest problem will be upgrading apps from the old system that aren’t compatible with your new hardware. This means any 32-bit Intel apps, and may include some others. For me, the two big apps that I needed to buy new copies of was FileMaker and Photoshop Elements. Most other apps either just worked (because they were already 64-bit) or worked after upgrading to the latest version. A few (mostly games) had to be abandoned (although I might get around to setting up a VM running an older macOS in order to play them). See also my blog post: Shamino's page: Upgrading A Mac System, part 3: Apps


I upgraded from a 2012-era Mac mini to an M1 Pro 16" MBP. There were several unexpected difficulties, so allow yourself plenty of time. Be sure to make backups first!

My issues were not with transferring files, either by Migration Assistant or manually from backup drives.

  1. as David C. said, most apps need to be updated, at a minimum, if not repurchased. Old code usually won’t run on Apple Silicon, even with Rosetta 2, due to macOS changes.
  2. new apps may operate differently. You may have to re-learn how to configure and use them.
  3. I took advantage of capabilities of iCloud for keeping some folders backed up. That required restructuring my home user folders. That took a lot of time and mental energy! However, I have better peace of mind that current working files can be restored quickly if, for some reason, I need them on a different or replacement Mac.

I feel like I waited a bit too long to upgrade. If I had done it sooner (and more often), it would have been more of an incremental process. :thinking:

I am pleased with the outcome and I am comfortable after tweaking the new environment for a few weeks. :smiley:

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Don’t migrate anything but the user space and “other”. MAYBE printers.

Plan to re-install your apps.

While a bit of a pain upfront, life will be better long term.