Cool and quiet

Prologue

I just migrated my home computer from a late 2011 17” MacBook Pro permanently connected to Apple’s Thunderbolt display, to a 2014 Mac Mini connected to the same display.

I really liked the 17” when it was my only computer. I was – and am – a big fan of its high resolution 1920 1200 screen. That said, I affectionately refer to it as the “tanker” for a reason. It’s huge, and it took up significant space on my desk – space that was wasted since I never used the keyboard or trackpad on the horizontal side. It’s also very heavy (2.99 kg / 6.6 lbs), making its portability questionable even before we knew what it’s like to carry a feather-light MacBook Air around.

But, by far the most unfortunate thing about it was the heat and fan noise (foreshadowing the comparison to the Mac Mini). The slightest action got the temperatures into the high 60-70 °C range and spun the fans up to the 4000 rpm mark or higher. I was willing to try anything to make that better. Anything.

Ventilation

This radical solution didn’t help me nearly as much as it did Sterling from iFixit. But never mind that, this post isn’t about how the 17” MacBook Pro overheats, it’s about migration.

Migration

I’ll start with my conclusion. If you want to migrate, cloning your drive is the best and safest option as of the date of this post, period. Specifically, I used SuperDuper! I’ve been using SuperDuper! to make nightly backups of my machine for months, and with both that use and the migration in mind, it works perfectly.

Apple offers Migration Assistant as a way to migrate your old Mac to a new one. Frankly, I don’t trust it to work without breaking, especially after this demonstration of how they can mess up an OS upgrade, and so I have never tried. Coincidentally, Brett Terpstra was doing his own migration recently and tried Migration Assistant. It didn’t go well.

For someone who used to spend days starting fresh on a new computer and migrating everything manually, the steps are almost too easy:

  1. Connect Mac Mini to power source. Connect display and keyboard + pointing device.
  2. Connect Mac Mini and old computer via Thunderbolt cable.1
  3. Boot Mac Mini into target disk mode.
  4. The Mini mounts as an external drive on the old Mac.
  5. Launch SuperDuper! on old Mac and clone entire drive to the Mac Mini.

That’s it. Boot the Mac Mini normally. If you had FileVault2 turned on, the encrypted state will not transfer to the new Mac. You will be prompted for your account password before you can log in, but the drive will not be encrypted. Once you log in, you’ll have to turn FileVault on yourself.2

Post-cloning issues

A couple of easy-to-solve “things” came up after migration.3

  • iCloud was signed out and for some reason my attempts to sign-in were failing for a while before suddenly deciding to work.4
  • Text message forwarding from the iPhone to the Mac stopped working. Whenever this happens, it is a pain getting it to work again. No matter how many times you turn forwarding on and are told to expect a number to come up on your Mac’s screen, it just doesn’t. The solution involves signing out of iMessage on Mac, signing back in, maybe turning iMessage off on the phone, turning it back on, and prayer to the iCloud deities atop Mount Cupertino. It took a while, but the verification number finally showed up on the Mac and all was well.
  • Even though I disconnected my old computer from the network before turning the new one on, the new one was still assigned the old one’s name with an appended “ 2” to the end. You can just go to System Preferences > Sharing and change the computer name there.
  • A few programs forgot that they were registered/licensed and I had to re-enter their licenses:

Not that it bothered me much, but I am curious why most programs carried their licenses over perfectly while a couple lost the license and had to be re-registered.

One possibility is cued by this disclaimer shown by SuperDuper! before cloning:

All files on Macintosh HD will be copied to [backup drive name], except the temporary and system-specific files that Apple recommends excluding.

It could be that those temporary or system-specific files were responsible. It could also be – and this is very much speculation on my part – that the applications tied their licenses to the specific computer hardware, and considered the license void because the hardware was different, even though the license file was present.

Epilogue

The Mac Mini is great. Apparently this upgrade was a bit disappointing for some, which made me hesitate, but I am very happy with it. I had put an SSD in the old MacBook Pro and got used to near-instantaneous response under any kind of load, and yet I decided to go with a 2 TB Fusion Drive on the Mac Mini. I was worried it would be a jarring downgrade in speed. Truth is, I can’t tell the difference.

But by far the thing I appreciate the most about it – as foreshadowed earlier – is how cool and quiet it runs. I never got the fan to spin up above its minimum 1800 rpm speed, even when using XLD to transcode music files. The temperature is almost always in the low 50 °C range.

  1. The early and late 2011 MacBook Pros were the first to have Thunderbolt ports, which means that the 17” went through only two generations that had the Thunderbolt port, and I’m glad mine was one of them. I’m not sure how else I would have connected it to the Mac Mini since this generation of the Mini gets rid of the Firewire 800 port.

  2. System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault tab.

  3. Can’t bring myself to say “issues”.

  4. Let’s be honest, this could have nothing to do with the migration and everything to do with iCloud being iCloud.