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I will be replacing my current Mac with a newer model, at which point I'll restore my Time Machine backup to it, then wipe the old Mac. However, I considered that it might be a good idea to keep the old Mac in case something happens to the new Mac, but for that to be useful I would need to be able to restore the new Mac's Time Machine backup to the old Mac temporarily.

Is it possible to restore a newer model Mac's Time Machine backup to an older model Mac with the same OS version? What about different Mac OS versions?

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Yes, depending on the options you select when doing the migration.

In terms of documents and other data this will usually be fine. I'll provide an example below of when documents/data may be a problem.

In terms of software, this will depend on its compatibility with the version of MacOS you're running. For example, if you're running XYZ software that is only compatible with macOS Sierra and then restore that to a Mac running El Capitan, it will be copied across but won't run. Another potential issue is that you may need to re-register some 3rd party software (but if so, this is a minor inconvenience and does not result in any increased expense).

Now for my example of when data may be an issue. Your data will be copied across fine, but if the data is from a newer version of software that has actually changed the format of its data, then accessing that data from an older version of the software may be a problem. In any case, the data will still be there and is backed up.

On a final note, you would normally ensure the other Mac has an OS already installed when you restore your applications, documents etc.

  • When you say migration, you mean using Time Machine, correct? – wst Nov 2 '16 at 0:18
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    Yes, depending on your circumstances. For example, if you're reinstalling macOS on the other Mac first it will ask you whether you want to migrate data at that point or not. Also, if the other Mac already has macOS installed and you just want to migrate your data from your TM backup, you can do this by manually running Open Migration Assistant, which is typically found in the Utilities folder (within your Applications folder). – Monomeeth Nov 2 '16 at 0:35
  • Ah, interesting. Since I have no idea what apps may change, my disaster plan was to simply boot into the Recovery console and restore the old Mac with the most current Time Machine backup. – wst Nov 2 '16 at 0:42
  • @wst Well, if you mean that you'd install everything from the "Restore from Time Machine backup" option from the OS X Recovery partition, this is fine as long as you keep in mind that your old Mac supports the OS etc from the newer computer. This shouldn't be a problem unless the old computer is quite a bit older and your new computer is running a version of macOS that the older computer doesn't support. For example, a mid 2008 MBP can run El Capitan but not Sierra. If you tried doing a full restore from a TM backup with Sierra, it wouldn't work. – Monomeeth Nov 2 '16 at 1:02
  • @wst Also, you'd have to factor in hardware requirements. For example, you're new Mac is capable of running certain software because it has enough CPU power or enough RAM, but your old computer doesn't. Or, you're old computer only has a 500GB HDD while your new one had a 1TB drive which was 2/3 full. – Monomeeth Nov 2 '16 at 1:03

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