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I want to transfer files from my early 2015 MacBook air to 2020 M1 MacBook air. Connected with the USB-A to USB-C cord. Tried using target disk method through system preferences. 2015 model goes into target disk mode but M1 MacBook does not show it. Is there any troubleshooting required, or is it not possible to transfer files through this method?

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  • How about AirDrop?
    – lhf
    Nov 24, 2021 at 11:32

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USB target disk mode requires the target computer to have USB-C ports. USB target disk mode does work in spite of Apple apparently scrubbing all mention of it from their website. MacWorld documented it though: https://www.macworld.com/article/225340/got-a-new-macbook-usb-target-disk-mode-works-with-the-right-cable-which-apple-doesnt-sell.html

I've used target disk mode on my MacBook Pro by USB before so this is not some myth MacWorld created. I can only speculate on why Apple chose to hide this feature from users. One possible reason is to avoid having to describe the very specific system requirements and process to people.

A quick check of the system specifications on a 2015 MacBook Air tells me it does not have USB-C ports, that means target disk mode will not work on this laptop by USB. The M1 laptop should support target disk mode by USB, but in reading the Apple documentation on this the laptop shows as a network share rather than a USB device. Link: https://support.apple.com/guide/mac-help/transfer-files-a-mac-apple-silicon-mchlb37e8ca7/12.0/mac/12.0

It looks like all you got wrong is which laptop should be in target disk mode. Are you using target disk mode on the older laptop because it no longer boots? If so then Thunderbolt should still work. If not then try putting the newer M1 laptop in target disk mode and copy the files over USB that way.

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Target disk mode on Intel Macs requires USB-C, Thunderbolt, or FireWire on the target Mac, it does not work by USB-A on the target Mac. Can you try using a thunderbolt cable? (or airdrop?)

from Transfer files between two Mac computers using target disk mode :

If you have two Mac computers with FireWire or Thunderbolt ports, you can connect them so that one of them appears as an external hard disk on the other. This is called target disk mode.

Note: If either of the computers has macOS 11 or later installed, you must connect the two computers using a Thunderbolt cable.

Since the 2020 M1 MacBook Air shipped with macOS 11, this applies to you. You will have to use Thunderbolt if the target is the 2015 MacBook Air, or use the instructions linked to below to use the USB cable you have with the 2020 M1 MacBook Air as the target. Transfer files between a Mac with Apple silicon and another Mac

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  • " Target disk mode doesn't work over USB. " Yes, it does, I've used it myself. The target device must have USB-C ports to get this to work. USB target disk mode is documented here: macworld.com/article/225340/…
    – MacGuffin
    Nov 27, 2021 at 3:06
  • I doubt that an article from 2015 describes 2021 macbooks more accurately than apple's own documentation, but good luck.
    – Cody
    Nov 27, 2021 at 19:55
  • Apple documents how to use target disk mode over a USB connection with M1-based Apple computers here: support.apple.com/guide/mac-help/… The MacWorld article explains how target disk mode over USB works on Intel-based Apple computers prior to 2021, something Apple chose not to document for some reason and describes one of the two computers being asked about.
    – MacGuffin
    Nov 28, 2021 at 7:42
  • That apple support document is specifically about putting the M1 macbook into target disk mode. The question states that they're trying to put the 2015 macbook into target disk mode.
    – Cody
    Nov 29, 2021 at 18:24
  • Cody, I covered my bases here so I'm confused on where your complaint is. I give a MacWorld article that shows how target disk mode by USB works on Intel MacBooks from 2015 and you complain that doesn't cover 2021 MacBooks. I show how target disk mode works by USB on M1 MacBooks and you complain that is not answering the original question. I'm commenting on your point on target disk mode by USB and document that. I'm not answering the original question in my comments here, I'm showing that you are incorrect that target disk mode does not work by USB.
    – MacGuffin
    Nov 29, 2021 at 18:37

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