MacBook to Air Migration

I have finally made the transition from a tower to a laptop to a notebook computer. My recently retired MacBook, seemed clunky and heavy, and its hard drive (250GB) was completely full. I was ready for a new computer that was more mobile, but I wasn’t sure if I could switch to an 11″ MacBook Air (MBA) mostly because of its expensive and limited memory capacity (max: 250GB). Solid state Flash memory (SSD) is about $1.60 a gigabyte currently, and non-Flash memory (SATA) is $0.08/GB, significantly less costly.

I knew I had too many pictures and too much video content to fit on the non-upgradeable 160GB or 250GB configurations offered by Apple. The only way I could move to a MacBook Air would be if I could off-load some of my heavy files to other external hard drives. Apple provided a solution for me with their new Thunderbolt displays, which have 3 USB ports, one Firewire port, one Thunderbolt port, and an Ethernet port on the backside of the monitor. This makes the Thunderbolt display an ideal docking station for a MBA with just one Thunderbolt/power cable connecting the MBA to all other devices. I now keep my photos (90GB worth) on a USB drive and my video content (70GB worth) on a second USB drive. I am not a big music collector, so I keep my music files on the Air’s Flash drive, along with my work files. I also have a third USB drive for Time Machine backups of the MBA’s Flash drive with the option to include the photo and video drives in the Time Machine backups. In the future, when the price of Thunderbolt drives come down, I can replace the USB drives with faster (up to 10GB/sec) daisy-chained Thunderbolt drives.

Once I got my hardware connected, I needed to get my files migrated to my computer. I didn’t want to just do a mass transfer of all my files to the new MBA. Apple’s Migration assistant seemed inflexible to my transfer desires, so I did my transfers manually to minimize the amount of junk or obsolete files that might be transferred automatically en-mass.

Here are some observations I discovered as I moved my files to the new MBA with Lion OS installed:

Videos. I use iMovie for video editing and moving video files to an external drive is easy.  Just create an iMovie Events and Projects folder on the external USB drive and drag-copy your video files to the appropriate folder. Nothing saves more disk space than keeping video files off your root hard drive.

Photos. I use iPhoto for organizing my photos. Drag-copying the iPhoto Library file (mine is 90GB) will move your entire picture library to an external drive. You can have multiple iPhoto Libraries and a majority of my photos are in my default library located on an external USB drive. When I travel, I use a smaller temporary library located on my Air’s Flash drive. This is also nice in that the bulk of my photography stays safely at home should my computer get stolen on the road. If iPhoto is launched with the option key down, you can select which of the available photo libraries you want to access.

Music. I thought transferring my music and playlists were the most complicated media to transfer to a new Mac. Not only are there music files, but there is also playlists, play counts, and weird copyright alerts (no, it’s not stolen music). I don’t have a big music collection so I moved my small music library (1.25GB) to the Flash drive. I didn’t want to have to recreate my playlists (too much work), so it was important to include those playlists in the transfer process. Apple offers 5 ways to transfer your music to a new computer. I used the Home Sharing method and it worked well but I recommend reviewing Apple’s Tech support article on how to move music to a new computer and decide which method will work best for your music collection.

Mail. I have alot of it (17GB) as I keep work-related emails each year for future referral. Apple Mail has changed (new folder hierarchies) with Lion OS and I couldn’t simply drag-copy my Mail folder to the new computer. I had to use Mail’s import mailbox feature to get my archived emails added to the MBA.

By storing my videos and my photos on external drives, I am left with plenty of future disk space (188GB free of 250GB) on my Flash drive.  I am lighter and more mobile than ever, no longer needing to carry around a bigger laptop or even a laptop case. I just slip my Air into my carry-on bag, it’s almost like traveling with an iPad.