Migrating a Mac Mini Snow Leopard to a Lion Mac Mini

One thing the photography business does is force you to stay in touch technology.  Today’s challenge was to replace a 2009 Mac Mini with the 2011 model running the Lion operating system.  This is quite different largely because in Lion they have decided to partition the startup disk into two pieces – One hidden partition for the base operating system – and another partition for all your other stuff (user accounts etc.).

I had the new 2011 Mac Mini sitting in my office for the past month, being too busy to get back to it as I had a few local photo shoots to do in Charleston, Scott Depot and over in Huntington WV.   When I first got it – I ran the Apple Migration Assistant – which imported all the old computer’s accounts, settings and data into the new one.  Problem was, that since then, I kept using the old 2009 Mini – adding more data onto it.  So the new one was no longer a complete copy.  So you guessed it – I had to do it all over again!  But HOW?  Migration Assistant is a one time – one shot deal and you cannot choose individual bits to migrate over – it’s all or nothing!  Plus I could never possibly remember everything I added over the last month anyway – so – I had to reformat the Lion based 2011 Mac Mini and start over from scratch.

Because of the hidden partition containing Lion, this is different than ever before on a Mac.  Seemingly more complex and intimidating, but actually surprisingly simple.

Restart the Mac holding down the R key (Restore)
Choose to restore the Lion OSX only – or in my case…
Go to Utilities/Disk Utility where you can find the two partitions
Erase/Reformat the MAIN partition (not the Lion bit) using Apple HFS Journaled the default)
Exit Disk utility and then proceed with the Lion OSX restore/install
When the computer restarts (or you restart it) after the full install – go under the Apple Menu and check for System Updates.  It will still have some tasks to do, so run it!

A Big Caveat – 2011 Macs come with 3 extra programs installed (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand) – but they are not included in the base system install – so when you reformat your system – you’ve wiped them out!  Apple’s answer to this is a free download and install of the missing programs via the App Store.  If you don’t have an account – sign up – it’s free though may require a credit card verification.

With that out of the way – the fastest way to get the old data from the legacy Mac to the new one is Firewire Target Disk Mode.  (Assuming your Mac would have a firewire port)

Connect the two Macs directly via Firewire 1394A/B  – Firewire 800 is the current port on newer Macs.
Start up the source Mac whilst holding down the “T” key (Target Disk Mode)
It will enter into a mode where you see nothing on the screen but a giant Firewire Icon – you’re ready!
On the NEW Mac – go to Utilities/MigrationAssistant and run it using the TimeMachine/OtherDisk option.

Over Firewire 800, this took 2-3 hours for a nearly full 320GB Mac Mini transfer onto the new one.
Your old user accounts will all come over – so you may need to switch user accounts from the new one you have on the new Mac – to the legacy account by using “switch users” or the Login Menu.

Some things will need updating – possibly updating or entering license numbers/key codes for software – or in some cases if the software license is machine based, you will have to contact the developer to transfer your authorization.

For further info – the Apple Lion Recovery documentation is located HERE


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