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I have an older Macbook Air. I'm trying to transfer the data onto my new Macbook Air using a Thunderbolt cable. The Apple Store employee assured me that you can connect a Thunderbolt cable to a mini display port. However, using Migration Assistant does not recognize that the two Macbook Airs are connected via the Thunderbolt cable. I learned that you might be able to put the old one into "Target Disk Mode" and treat it like an external start-up disk. However, I can't seem to get it to work. I have shut down the old Macbook Air and started it up while holding down the T key. I have also tried enabling it through System Preferences, but there is no Target Disk Mode option. Both Macbook Airs are running Mavericks.

How can I enable target disk mode so this migration doesn't take days?

2 Answers 2

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All non-vintage MacBook Air support target disk mode, including the Apple Silicon based MacBook Air released in 2020.

Many vintage and obsolete Air still support target disk mode as well. Target Disk Mode is not supported on older Macbook Air that lack a Thunderbolt port. The Mini DisplayPort is purely a video out port, and cannot be used for data transfer, despite the identical connector. Since thunderbolt is far faster than gigabit ethernet, it’s preferred due to speed as mentioned in the comments below.

Any MacBook Air that have Thunderbolt 3 or 2 support target disk mode.

For all devices - regardless of ability to boot to target disk mode, an additional supported option for transferring data between two Macs is using a wired connection and Migration Assistant. Since MacBook Air have no ethernet ports, you will need to purchase the Apple USB to Ethernet Adapter for the older model MacBook Air which does not have a Thunderbolt port, an Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet Adapter for the newer model which supports Thunderbolt or one of the many third party USB adapters.

If you do not want to purchase the adapters, you could migrate the data off the Air using file sharing or have the Mac opened by a service technician to remove the storage and assist with a converter or another Air to house the drive while it's being accessed.

By deleting all files that are non-essential you can speed up the time of transfer, but the USB to ethernet adapter is 100MB speed and likely the fastest you could transfer files on your Air from 2014 or before. Since 2014, much faster WiFi and Ethernet adapters mean faster transfer speeds than before.

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  • Hi @JasonFB - Thanks for the ping, The 2020 Air still have target disk mode and things keep getting faster by my measure. WiFi on the Air get 400 Mbit easily - so a 12 hour transfer at fast ethernet speeds went from half a day to a couple hours.
    – bmike
    May 19, 2020 at 1:10
  • Reviewing the post - I can see why it had aged poorly - hopefully my edit keeps the answer from 2014 relevant to older macs but doesn’t make the impression that today’s options are so limited or slow.
    – bmike
    May 19, 2020 at 2:02
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    500GB at 100Mbit/sec: 500*1024=512000MB. 512000*8=4096000Mb. (4096000/100)/60 = 682 seconds. 11.3 hours. Not that bad. Nov 25, 2020 at 21:19
  • @LiamProven check out the M1 Air speeds in the 1 GB/s range - eclecticlight.co/2020/12/04/how-fast-is-an-m1-target-disk
    – bmike
    Dec 22, 2020 at 3:22
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In the "startup disk" section of system preferences, you should have a button to restart in target disk mode. If this is missing/ disabled then the machine doesn't support Target Disk Mode.

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  • @JasonFB The T key works for all my cases where the Firmware Lock isn’t engaged. See my updated answer with a link to that in Catalina docs. If you’ve got a mac where the T key doesn’t work, that might be worth asking how to solve that case if we don’t have that question already asked and answered.
    – bmike
    May 19, 2020 at 2:04
  • ahh yes you are correct I keep my macs in Firmware lock. didn't occur to me. Thank you.
    – Jason FB
    May 19, 2020 at 11:30

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