Move Data Directly from One Mac to Another with Share Disk or Target Disk Mode

There are many reasons why you might need to move data from one Mac to another, two of the most common reasons being you’re either migrating to a new machine or one Mac is dying and you need to get data off of it. But how you get data off of your machine is dependent on whether your Mac is an Intel-based Mac or an Apple Silicon-based Mac (e.g. M1, M1X, etc.). In this article, we’ll go over both Macs.

And don’t worry, you can move data from an Intel Mac to an Apple Silicon Mac as well as from the Apple Silicon Mac to the Intel Mac. It’ll just be the method that’s a little different.

What Kind of Mac Do I Have?

A picture of the "About This Mac" window with details about the Mac.  This Mac is an Intel Mac
This is an Intel Mac

This is a very important first step. If you don’t know what kind of Mac you’re using, you may accidentally start using the wrong method for getting data off your machine and not succeed.

Assuming the Mac is still usable, click on the Apple logo in the top left corner of the screen, then hit “About This Mac”. A window should appear and the second or third line should read “Processor”. If it says “Intel…”, then you have an Intel Mac and will be using “Target Disk Mode”. If it says anything else, such as “M1”, then you have an Apple Silicon Mac, and will be using the “Share Disk” option to get data off of it.

If you’re having trouble getting the Mac to boot, you’re not 100% out of luck. You’ll just need to find the serial number of the Mac and type it into checkcoverage.apple.com, Apple’s warranty checking website. It’ll tell you the model of that Mac, though it won’t tell you the processor, but you’ll be able to look up that model and see the processor it comes with.

Getting Data Off an Intel Mac – Target Disk Mode

This is mode most people are familiar with, and is the mode you’ll use when getting data off the Intel Mac, which we’ll called the Source. To get started, connect both machines either with a FireWire cable or a modern Thunderbolt cable. Adapters will work either between FireWire and Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3. Just connect each end into the appropriate port on each machine.

Turn off the Source Mac. Once it is completely turned off, hold down the T key on the Source’s keyboard while turning on the Mac. Keep holding it until you see the FireWire and/or Thunderbolt icon appear on screen (note that this will be in place of the Apple logo and loading bar). Once this is done, go back to the destination Mac, the one you’re going to be putting data on, and you should see the machine in either the Finder sidebar, as a drive icon on the Desktop, or in “Migration Assistant” if you started your Mac in this mode. Now you can navigate the full contents of the Source’s hard drive and move data off or on it as you wish.

Getting Data of an Apple Silicon (M1) Mac – Share Disk

If you’ve got one of the new, modern M1 or later Apple Silicon Macs, then you will need to use Share Disk Mode, which functions a little differently. Like with Target Disk Mode, this only applies if the Mac you’re getting off of is an Apple Silicon Mac. The Destination Mac that will be receiving the data can be either an Intel or Apple Silicon Mac. The only other requirement is that the Destination Mac will need to be running at least 10.13 “High Sierra” or newer. On the flip side, for this you can connect the Macs either with a Thunderbolt, USB-C data cable, or USB-A (i.e. traditional USB), 3.1+ cable. So even if you don’t have Thunderbolt, you can still do this.

Turn off the Source Mac. Once it’s off, press and hold the power button. The Apple logo should appear and say to keep holding it if you want to get to Startup Options. Keep holding it, and then it’ll load the startup options. Once the Options button appears, click on it and hit “Continue”.

The options will load, after typing in an admin password, and you’ll hit the Recovery menu. At the top of the screen, in the menu bar, hit the “Utilities” button, then select the option that says “Share Disk”. You’ll be asked which disk you want to share. Select the Mac’s internal drive (typically labeled “Macintosh HD”), then hit “Start Sharing”.

Go back to the Destination Mac, and open a new Finder window. In the left sidebar, click the “Network” label (it may be hidden under the “Locations” section of the left sidebar. You may see a list of machines on your network, but also the Mac that’s in Sharing mode. The machine will be listed by its model. So if it is a MacBook Pro, you’ll “MacBook Pro” in the listing rather that “My MacBook Pro” or whatever else you’ve named your machine. Double click on the Source Mac in Finder, hit “Connect As”, and then select guest. Now you’ll have access to the Source Mac’s hard drive and can move data across as you wish.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, the Share Drive thing provides a few extra steps of security, though it comes with the downside of being a little harder to navigate, especially if you can’t see the screen on the Source Mac (think if the display port or screen is broken). But the good news at least both modes are compatible with each other.

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