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:

1 Like

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.

1 Like

Before you try to migrate, it can be useful to download and run the free Go64 app. Go64 will scan your drive for 32-bit apps that won’t run on current versions of macOS.

You also can get this information using Apple’s “System Information” app, but I like the way that Go64 presents the information and includes links to software sources where possible. The links can make deciding which apps to upgrade (and how much it will cost) a little more efficient.

I would change that to say you get “most of” this information using Apple’s System Information app. The latter does not find apps that are partially 32-bit but Go64 will. These apps will often run on macOS Catalina+, but may lack some feature. In my case those features were not critical to my needs.

Agreed! Thanks for the comment.

As you mentioned, Go64 definitely includes useful additional information. A good example of the situation you describe is seen on a Mojave machine I have, which includes a 64-bit version of Amazon Music. Apple’s System Information indicates that Amazon Music is 64-bit, but Go64 indicates that Amazon Music includes a 32-bit auto-update component.

You’ll find a full range of experiences by people using (or trying to use) Migration Assistant over the years. Some people say it worked fine for them.

I can only say that every time I’ve tried it, Migration Assistant has been a disaster. Never completed its mission, and messed up my systems big-time.

My own recent method has been to just clone the system to the newer Mac (if that’s possible), and then update it in place. Never perfect, still more manual work to do, but better than the alternative. Of course, this may not be possible, depending on degree of hardware and OS differences.

One thing that has made such transitions much less nerve-wracking for me over the years has been to keep all my documents, and even some of my utilities (apps) and app-ancillary files, on a completely separate drive (not just a separate volume). That way there’s no “migration” of my own documents, anyway (although of course they may not all open successfully in the new environment).

Good luck!

I can only say that every time I’ve tried it, Migration Assistant has been a disaster. Never completed its mission, and messed up my systems big-time.

Which is why I said just migrate the user and maybe other and/or printers. This leaves behind all those low level system things that tend to be what mucks things up.

1 Like

I’ve gone another way. When I bought my 2022 MBA earlier this year, I had earlier prepared a list of disaster recovery things I’d need to do if my old MBA failed without the ability to migrate. It’s about 39 steps of items to restore, in a OneNote note (so I can access it from any other device if I need to) - lists of apps to install, which are from the Mac App Store, which need to be download, some other setups to do (I use the app syncthing to sync various folders on my machines between all of my Macs - it’s like Dropbox I suppose, except it’s peer-to-peer, and files never hit a cloud storage service) , the email accounts to install, etc.

I had previously set it so that I was using Dropbox to store all of my documents (though I have a few less important things in iCloud Drive. I preferred DB because they keep 30 days worth of file versions.) I’ve since changed my cloud storage provider to Sync.com from Dropbox (I just don’t like Dropbox’s client on MacOS), but it’s the same thing. Files with really private info are in encrypted .dmg files, mostly in iCloud Drive (though the most critical ones are on Sync.com because, again, they have a Time Machine like ability to restore items within I think 30 days.)

So basically I set up my new MBA from scratch following that list, and it’s worked out perfectly. I’ve likely reduced the amount of crud that I’ve tested and uninstalled from my last system, and it’s no longer a big deal for me if I have a disaster that would prevent a migration.


Obviously everyone has different needs…but posting that list might be a good idea…’it’s a good starting point for the rest of us.

Many thanks to everyone for the advice. Eventually I took the lazy way out and used Migration Assistant with a direct ethernet connection between the two computers. It all went well, except for a minor glitch with Apple Mail where the contents of all the “On my Mac” mailboxes were consolidated into a single “Import” mailbox. I gather this is a known bug with Ventura, inconvenient but not catastrophic.