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I have a an old, mid-2007 iMac running 10.11.6 and a new 2017 iMac running the latest 10.12 release.

The old iMac has 800 GB of data on it, spread across three user accounts, that I'd like to migrate to the new iMac. It has an up-to-date Time Machine backup on a USB 2.0 hard drive. FireWire 400 and 800 ports. Gigabit ethernet. I also have an external USB 2.0 hard drive with enough space on it to hold the contents of the old iMac's drive and I own CarbonCopyCloner.

Most of the data is one user account and is generally iTunes media (ripped from CDs, so DRM-free on the hard drive of the old iMac) and Logic/GarageBand project data.

I'm uncertain of my options for transferring the user data from the old iMac to the new iMac.

Can I use migration assistant and attach the Time Machine drive to the new iMac? Can I boot the old iMac into Target Drive mode and mount it, over the network, to the new iMac and rsync the files on to it? Should I clone the the hard drive to an external USB 2.0 drive with CCC and then import that data onto the new iMac?

The data set is sized large enough that I'd like to not have to restart this process several times. What's my most efficient option for transferring everything from one machine to the other in this case?

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You've enumerated the options quite well there, most of which are described in greater detail by this Apple support document.

rsync-ing the three home folders across might not preserve all meta-data (which may or may not matter to you), and there are aspects of a user account that exist outside /Users/<username> so rsync alone wouldn't result in working user accounts. Don't be tempted to rsync anything outside /Users!

Plugging the Time Machine drive into the new machine and using Migration Assistant is likely to be the simplest and fastest option. If you want to take the opportunity to leave some cruft behind, it might not be best suited - I don't recall what level of granularity is offered.

  • To preserve most metadata with rsync, I recommend installing a more recent version than the one shipped. 3.1.2 via Homebrew is fine. I recently used a spell along the lines of: sudo rsync -avhXNWS --info=progress2,name0 --fileflags --stats /Users/user/stuff /Volumes/Drive/stuff/ to move a bunch of files. (NB. default rsync's -X flag points to a different option contra 3.1.2, and some other options might not be available.) – Jari Keinänen Jul 28 '17 at 8:36
  • Migration Assistant from the Time Machine was indeed fast and straight forward. I had hesitations about this approach because the Genius at the Apple Store thought it wouldn't work across the versions of OS X but only a handful of app incompatibilities were found post-migration. – Ian C. Jul 29 '17 at 5:34
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If the old iMac really has gigabit ethernet you can also connect both Macs to a gigabit switch (which is connected to a router of course) and use the migration assistant. Could be even faster than through USB 2.0 with the external HDD.

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    Both have GigE. I didn't realize migration assistant would work over GigE. This is good news. – Ian C. Jul 28 '17 at 14:28
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    This would be my solution of choice too - Migration really is pretty good [I've even migrated from an old WInXP machine successfully]. However - caveat - do the migration at first boot, when asked, before the setup is complete. Don't do it later or you will end up with duplicate accounts which then need to be manually merged. Not fun. Edit btw, I'd go for smooth over fast any day. – Tetsujin Jul 28 '17 at 19:44
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    @Tetsujin headed your advice and did it at first boot. No duplicate accounts. Worked nearly perfectly, really. – Ian C. Jul 29 '17 at 5:46

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