Keeping files if switching to a Mac
January 3, 2013 3:18 AM   Subscribe

Thinking of switching from PC to Mac: how best to handle old files/drives etc?

It's coming up to time to replace my old XP-based PC and laptop.

I might take the opportunity to switch to a Mac setup; not yet decided.

One thing which is a minor factor is: I have a second internal 1 TB hard drive on my PC which I use for files (music, video, photos, comics etc). This is pretty full. What are my options on using this with a Mac?

Do I buy an external hard drive, copy data over to there, and just plug that into my Mac? (Additional question: what's the best way to transfer 900GB+ of data to an external hard drive? Just drag and drop?)

Alternatively Is there an easy set up that will allow me to remove my hard drive and plug it into a "box" to just carry on using it (it's NTFS formatted)?

If I run iTunes on a Mac, will that work happily with the music being on an external hard drive? (I had a bad experience using external hard drives and iTunes but that was 8 years ago to be fair)

Different question: rather than go the separate desktop/laptop route, if I just got a souped-up Macbook Pro and added external monitors/keyboard etc for the 99% of time when I'm using it at home, is that a daft idea or not? My main concern is reliability and lifespan which I am always a bit dubious about with laptops. Having a single point of failure makes me a tad nervous.
posted by Hartster to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can turn your internal 1TB drive into an external drive by buying an enclosure and installing your drive in there.

Once it's in the enclosure you can just plug it in to your Mac and it should read just fine. I keep all my iTunes music on an external drive and play it from the Mac Mini that also runs my TV, and I've never had a problem with that.

To your other question, that's basically how the several of us using Macbooks at work (in an otherwise PC office) operate. We have our external monitors, mouse, and keyboards for the office, and then just take the laptop with us when we travel. Works just fine. I've had Mac laptops since 2006, and other than just slowing down over time -- more a function of higher-power software being installed on hardware with too little memory than any issue with the hardware itself -- they've been very robust, particularly compared to the Dell laptops my parents and I have had over the years.

I like having an AppleCare warranty just in case; on my first Mac laptop -- the original Intel Macbook that came out -- I had a major hardware failure literally a week before the AppleCare warranty was up. Ended up with basically a brand new laptop that went on trucking for a few years after, before I successfully sold it for 30% of its original purchase price when it was six years old. Not bad.
posted by olinerd at 3:29 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ah -- I just did a little googling and apparently the NTFS thing is still a problem. (For some reason I thought it wasn't any more). You can read from the NTFS drive in Mac OS, but you can't write to it without some tweaking.

So you'll have an easier time of it if you can reformat your 1TB drive as FAT32, but you can make NTFS work if you have to.
posted by olinerd at 3:32 AM on January 3, 2013

(Additional question: what's the best way to transfer 900GB+ of data to an external hard drive? Just drag and drop?)

rsync. That way if anything goes wrong, you just run it again, and it'll pick up where it left off.
If diving straight into terminal is a challenge, coming from windows, there are front-ends like arrsync to simplify things.

The NTFS thing will be annoying. TBH I'd buy another drive anyway, do the copy on to the new drive formatted HFS+, and then reformat the old one and use it for a time machine volume.
posted by pompomtom at 3:52 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would use the old HDD in an enclosure, as suggested, then copy the contents to the Mac's HDD - probably an overnight project. Then reformat the old HDD as FAT32 or as Mac OS Extended and move older photos, etc. back to the old one to save space on the new one. I would recommend keeping the music and video on the Mac's HDD.

What was surprising to me was that data files (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.) are frequently - but not always - usable on both platforms.
posted by megatherium at 4:57 AM on January 3, 2013

As an FYI- the Apple store will transfer all your data from your old PC to your new Mac for free, so that is an option if you don't want to worry about drive formats and such. A 3TB drive on a new iMac will swallow all that you have on your old computer with plenty of room to spare. Then you can get a new drive for your time machine backups. I would advise against swapping your old drive into an enclosure for anything but simple, non-critical tasks. That 5+ year old disk is at the outside edge of its service life at this point.
posted by rockindata at 6:25 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just a thought.... a good Mac laptop and their Time Capsule is a pretty compelling combo. My wife uses nothing but her laptop at home ( or her work laptop) and is wirelessly tethered to an accessible printer, the internet, the backup drive in the Time Capsule. Backups are hourly when the laptop is plugged in (selectable) and the Time Capsule has a USB port for external drives, too. Brain dead configuration. Easily extensiible with Airport Express modules, which also allow remote music at any point you choose.
posted by FauxScot at 6:33 AM on January 3, 2013

Best answer: 1. Put the drive in an external enclosure
2. Copy the data to the Mac's HD
3. Keep the hard drive around for a few months in case you didn't copy everything
4. Buy an external hard drive, format it as 'HFS+ Extended (Journaled)'
5. Use that drive as a Time Machine drive to do backups

Don't format drives as FAT32. There are volume, file size and file name limitations, and no journaling, which can result in the inability to repair damaged files after power outages. Use HFS+ (Journaled) and you'll be in better long-term shape.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:09 AM on January 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks a lot for your help. I'm still not sure whether or not I'll make the switch, but it certainly seems like the file thing isn't an issue either way, which I guess makes me marginally more likely to change.
posted by Hartster at 9:41 AM on January 4, 2013

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