This article was first published on 2007-08-30. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
OK, you’ve made the switch, but you want to move some files from your old PC to your shiny new Mac. Setting up a network seems like overkill for just the few things that will make the transition. So what’s the easy way? Let’s take a look!
To begin with, there are several easy ways to move files between computers (and this includes Mac to Mac as well). The key variables are how many files you want to move, how big those files are, and how fast your internet connection is. In all cases, you might want to create a folder for all the files to move on your source computer. Having them together will make keeping track of them easier.
If you have email access set up on both computers and a broadband connection, email is the best way to move just a few small files. Just drag them into an email and send it to yourself. I usually try to stick to around a 5MB files size per email because some email systems will kick back emails with too big of attachments. If you are using web mail like Gmail, you won’t have these size restrictions.
TIP: If you have a bunch of files you want to send this way, try making a zip file of the group and sending that. It’s easier than trying to track a large number of files in an email. It also stops the email program from trying to display the files in the email when possible.
Another TIP: if you have 10-100MB to move, try a service like yousendit.com. It’s made for files that are just a little too big to email but still small enough to send over the internet.
SneakerNet is an old term for moving files by putting them on a disk and then walking them over to the target computer. In this case, I recommend a USB flash drive. That’s one of those little key-chain size flash drives. This is the least mentally challenging way to move files.
If you don’t already have a flash drive, maybe it’s a good time to get one. They are the floppy disks of this decade. I have a 4GB one I got from Buy.com for just a few dollars. There always seems to be specials on these things. You should be able to get 2-4 GB ones for $5-$20 these days.
Just insert it into the source computer, copy files to it, eject and then insert into the target computer. Now just move the files to their final destination.
You can also use a CD or DVD for this, but burning these, especially DVDs takes a bit longer than than using a flash drive.
Lots of Large Files
If you’ve got more files than a couple trips with a flash drive can hold, you should look to an external hard drive. These hold anywhere from 80GB to 1 TB (that’s terabyte. 1000GB). These aren’t as convenient as flash drives because they are bigger and usually need to be plugged in to operate. They also have moving parts, so you can’t handle them as casually as a flash drive.
If you don’t already have one, you might want to get one to use as a backup drive once you move your files. When Leopard comes around this fall, there will be a super easy backup program called Time Machine in it, but you will need a second drive to take advantage of it.
TIP: Got on iPod? You can use the unused space on it as an external hard drive by selecting that preference. If you have a full size one, there is probably many gigs available on it.
WARNING: With both flash drives and hard drives, PCs won’t read them if they are formatted for the Mac. But your Mac will read them if they are formatted for the PC.
Mac to Mac
When I’m getting ready to backup a Mac in preparation for a reinstall or something like that where I need to copy most of a hard drive, I’ll copy straight from one Mac to another via FireWire in Target Disk Mode. The upside is that there is only one transfer involved this way (no intermediary) which cuts your copy time in half. The downside is the time to restart one computer twice. You can gauge where the break even point is for you.
If you have a T1 or T3 connection to the internet, you might also try online storage such as Mozy. If you are going from Mac to Mac and you already have .mac service, don’t forget your iDisk. Large files will take a while on broadband, but if you have a super-fast connection, online storage might be worth a look.
Email: best for few, small files like office documents.
YouSendIt: best for a zip file 10-100MB in size.
USB Flash Drives: Best for 15MB to 4GB of files.
External Hard Drives: Best for several GB on up.
CD/DVDs: Cheapest but slowest route. CDs are faster to burn, but are limited to about 600MB. DVDs go to 4.7 GB or 9GB for dual layer ones.
Mac to Mac Target Disk: Fastest but you will do two restarts in the process.
Online Storage: use for small files unless you have a super-fast connection
Do you have any questions, or suggestions that you have found to be successful? Let us know in the Comments section below!