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I am considering purchasing a 2010 27" iMac to replace my 2007 MacBook Pro as my everyday development machine. Ideally, I would like to work on the iMac when I am in my home office and work on the MacBook Pro when I am out at a clients office, coffeeshop, etc. I would like both machines to be in sync so I don't have to worry about not having an application installed, missing project files, etc.

Is it possible to use the internal drive on the MacBook Pro as the boot drive of the iMac? This would enable me to simply shut the machines down, disconnect my MacBook Pro and have a less powerful but functionally equivalent machine to go. If it is possible what are the drawbacks? Are things like system updates machine specific which would prevent me from updating the OS using the iMac and then trying to boot into the MacBook?

I am not interested in using an external drive to boot the MacBook as it would be too cumbersome, nor am I interested in using the iMac as merely a display for the MacBook since the iMac will be significantly faster.

If using the laptop as a boot drive is not feasible are their other options I should consider?

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2 Answers 2

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It may be possible, but not recommended. While you don't really have to worry about drivers so much - there may be minor incompatibilities. That is if you get it to boot - especially if the MacBook Pro isn't running the latest version of the OS thats after whatever originally came on the iMac.

System updates can be used across machines, but when the install is being done it does check the hardware. You may end up installing iMac specific things on your MacBook Pro, which may cause issues.

You really have two routes:

  1. Buy a new MacBook Pro instead, and an external monitor. Therefore you have the same machine, and can go wherever.
  2. Sync the two machines using items like Dropbox, etc. I understand maybe application differences, but thats a very small issue (almost a non issue). Keep most of your files on dropbox, and everythings always in sync.

I would go (and do use) the second solution. My primary machine is a 27" iMac, but I constantly use my wifes 13" MacBook Pro when going out or not at my desk. I then keep most all active documents in Dropbox and sync between. Both are outfitted with the software I need (in my case, Aperture, TextWrangler, Xcode, etc).

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I too use this solution, although most of my data is in the cloud anyway. It is just a case of making sure that updates are applied to both. I used to use the laptop for everything (with monitor keyboard etc at my desk), as I was offsite more often than not, but that's changed now. –  LC1983 Feb 9 '11 at 17:09

I'm slightly surprised that this problem hasn't been solved yet for home use. It must be a fairly common problem. Or possibly just a problem that people wish was solved but never get around to doing anything with.

I'm not sure how to solve you're actual problem of booting off the MacBook Pro hard drive. But I have two other options shown below.

For a while, I was using Unison File Synchronizer to sync between my MacBook Pro and a Hackintosh netbook I had. Wasn't a bad solution and seemed pretty quick to sync but I never trusted it 100%, assuming that I would probably lose everything if something went wrong.

As another option, I wonder if you can set up a Portable Home Directory. This is where there is a copy of your home directory on the server. Each computer that you use creates a local copy which is synced back to the server. It can either be connected to the network (as the iMac will be) or synced later if you take it out of the house (like the MacBook Pro). This seems to be suited more to a workplace or similar but you could probably get it working at home. At fairly decent looking guide is available here but clearly YMMV. I'm tempted to try this at home at some point but haven't bothered yet.

As another option, it might be possible to automount the MacBook Pro home directory from the iMac and use that as your home directory... but that sounds a little messy.

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