Switching to a new MacBook Pro
November 19, 2019 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I’m planning on buying a new MacBook Pro later this week when the one I want goes on sale at Costco. Current MacBook is 10 years old and barely functional. What do I need to know about switching and what is the easiest way to handle transferring data from old to new?

I understand these are some pretty basic questions but I appreciate the help. It’s been ten years since I got a new laptop, and that was to replace one that died catastrophically, so I have no experience moving all my stuff from one laptop to another. Most of what I want to transfer over is a large collection of pictures, music that’s in iTunes, and some writing (primarily Word documents).

It looks like MacBooks have a different type of USB port now. Is it as simple as getting the right cord with the right ends/adapters?

What else do I need to know about newer MacBooks? I see they don’t have a disc drive anymore, which boooo because I have a lot of physical CDs I’d prefer to put on my laptop for listening to there or on my iPod (yes I am An Old why do you ask). Any other big surprises waiting for me from the last decade of MacBook updates?
posted by skycrashesdown to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The main thing I've been seeing is, the "butterfly" keyboards they've been using for all Mac laptops for the last several years are very bad and prone to breaking. Just last week, Apple finally debuted a new Macbook Pro with a better "scissor" keyboard. For the last few years all the tech reviewers have been saying to hold off buying until they fix the keyboard, it was that bad. So I would take a look for those reviews and be aware of the keyboard as a factor in your decision about what model/year to get. Right now it's only the newest Pro model that has the good keyboard.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:36 PM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

There were significant improvements in the butterfly keyboard over time. The 2018 keyboard isn’t that bad, and Apple put a free extended warranty on it... so I don’t necessarily think the butterfly keyboard is a deal breaker. If the 13” ones are a better fit I wouldn’t feel that concerned about buying one.
posted by doomsey at 12:48 PM on November 19, 2019

Do you have a backup of your current mac? If so, you'd need a usb-c to usb hub to plug that backup drive into your new MacBook during setup and you can import your data and some programs. You'll probably want an adapter like this anyways. I like the ones with USB ports and HDMI in case you want to plug in a monitor. This one is basic and fine. This one is a nice upgrade pick.
posted by advicepig at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2019

To clarify one point of LobsterMitten's—it's only the new 15" MacBook Pro that has the improved keyboard. All of the smaller models still have the "bad" keyboard.

I have no experience moving all my stuff from one laptop to another.
So Apple has a tool called Migration Assistant that will let you move your files, passwords, settings (etc) over from an old machine. It works very well with the caveat that you will still need to handle upgrading many things yourself afterwards for compatibility. Coming from a vintage machine this works best with a Thunderbolt connection, but your old laptop (if it's circa 2009) is probably...too vintage. It might be easiest for you to buy an inexpensive USB drive, use it to run a Time Machine backup of your current laptop, then connect the drive to the new computer and use it as the source for Migration Assistant. As a bonus you'll have a handy USB drive for running future backups, which you should unquestionably be doing if you like keeping computers around for a decade.

It looks like MacBooks have a different type of USB port now. Is it as simple as getting the right cord with the right ends/adapters?
Yes, if you have USB peripherals like card readers or the aforementioned USB hard drive or whatever, you can get an adapter or a new cable very easily. You do not need to pay the Apple tax for these, it's a standard port and many companies make them.

I see they don’t have a disc drive anymore, which boooo
DVD drives went away on laptops quite a while ago, but you can get an external USB DVD writer for $20-$30 on Amazon. Note that it may still come with a regular old-style USB cable so you'll need an adapter.

Any other big surprises waiting for me from the last decade of MacBook updates?
Yes, the major one is that the latest version of mac OS ("Catalina") has dropped support for a lot of old software. Everything has to be "64-bit" now instead of "32-bit." If you have been clinging to a decade-old version of, say, MS Office it won't work on a new computer.
posted by bcwinters at 12:54 PM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Apple has instructions on how to move content from your old to new computers using the Migration Assistant.
posted by plastic_animals at 12:55 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have you considered upgrading your old Macbook? We upgraded a 2011 Macbook Pro with a solid state hard drive and maxed out the RAM and it made a huge difference in speed and useability, for a cost of ~$200 or so. iFixit has a guide on how to do the replacement (you'll need to confirm the right guide for your model), it was pretty easy to follow along.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 12:58 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

For your music CDs, you can buy an external drive for a new laptop, but you could also rip the music to your old laptop, then transfer it to your new computer along with the rest of your data. This will mean you don't have the rely on the CDs anymore, which is convenient so you don't have to carry them and the drive around, and will ensure the longevity of your music (CDs can eventually become unreadable).
posted by zachlipton at 1:07 PM on November 19, 2019

The new MacBook Pro with the more reliable scissor keyboard and physical escape key is labelled as a 16 inch, not 15 inch.

The increase in claimed screen size comes mainly from making the bezel thinner, the machine itself is only slightly larger than the previous 15 inch model.
posted by w0mbat at 1:15 PM on November 19, 2019

Bear in mind that a new MacBook Pro will likely be delivered with the latest variant of MacOS, Catalina, which is 64-bit only. Here's a link to Go64, an app you can run on your current Mac to identify any 32-bit apps which won't work on Catalina.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 1:54 PM on November 19, 2019

Migration Assistant is great but may be overkill. It's very useful if you want to save a lot of fiddly settings but if you literally just want to move music, docs and pictures you can maybe just import them directly with both computers on a network.

About pictures. Older Macs used iPhoto. Newer ones use Photos. You will have to import your iPhoto images into Photos and it will create a new photo library with them. Be ready for this, it may take a while but should be fairly painless.
posted by jessamyn at 1:56 PM on November 19, 2019

After a lot of research, just bought the new 16" from Costco. (not shipped yet).
I've read reviews that nearly everything is improved.
I, like you, have an old and very slow MacBook Pro 2010!

Cons: I'll use an external DVD drive and external HD for backups, so I'll need to buy adapters to fit the ports. Good info above about the ports
RAM isn't upgradeable in new PowerBooks (ugh), so buy what you'll need.

The 15" has been discontinued.
posted by artdrectr at 4:27 PM on November 19, 2019

The 15" has been discontinued.
Sorry for the misinformation there. The current 16" model replaced the 15"; the outer dimensions are almost the same (when it comes to getting a case or bag), just with a smaller bezel around the screen. I've been typing '15"' since the Titanium model in 2001, yikes.
posted by bcwinters at 6:46 PM on November 19, 2019

RAM isn't upgradeable in new PowerBooks

Well, I can guess how old you are...

Be careful in your purchase. The only 16-inch MBP is the new one, but the prior 13-inch and (now-discontinued) 15-inch models were refreshed only this year and have gotten some fairly steep discounts lately. Be sure you're buying the model you want. (If you're wanting a 13-inch, you might try to hold out until next year, when it will probably get the new keyboard.)
posted by praemunire at 7:12 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you are buying your new computer at the Apple Store, the folks there will happily clone everything from your old computer onto your new one on the spot. I've done this three times and it's been seamless every time. I've never gone ten years between laptops, but if that creates extra difficulties, having the people in the Apple Store who know what they're doing in charge of the transfer seems like a great idea.
posted by escabeche at 7:28 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

The keyboards on the current Mac Pros are so bad that it became a running joke. The fact that Apple has completely given up on that keyboard design and gone back to the pre 2015 design in the most recent Macbook should tell you everything. Apple /never/ does something like this unless they really have no other option.

If you absolutely have to buy a new current Macbook, then do so with the understanding that there’s a decent chance the keyboard will fail on you. There’s a 4-year warranty on the keyboards for precisely this reason. Repair requires replacing half the case of the laptop (Apple welds the keyboard into the case, so it cannot be replaced as a single part) so it has to be sent away to a repair centre which takes a week or two.
posted by pharm at 2:32 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, I would make sure that you use the keyboard on the model you're considering.

Without doubt, current Macbook keyboards are the worst I've ever used and I switched away from the entire ecosystem to avoid them. In a word, they are shit.
posted by dobbs at 8:07 AM on November 20, 2019

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