Back in the good old days, Macs used to have a special startup condition called target mode. What it allowed you to do is connect one Mac to another via a cable (usually FireWire), using the non-startup Mac as an “external hard disk” for the startup Mac. This was perfect for transferring files en masse from an old Mac to a newer model.
Target mode became problematic in later years, but Apple has now made it possible to connect an Apple Silicon-based Mac (AKA “M1 Mac”) to an older Intel-based Mac. This can make moving from an older Mac to a speedy new M1 Mac quite fast and easy. Here’s how to do it.
How to Transfer Files Between Your Apple Silicon & Intel Mac
- Using a USB, USB-C, or Thunderbolt cable, connect the two computers together.
- On the Apple Silicon Mac, select Apple () Menu > Shut Down.
- Press and hold the power button on the Apple Silicon Mac until “Loading startup options” appears on the screen.
- Click Options, then click Continue. If you’re asked for an administrator password, please enter it. This opens the Mac in Recovery mode.
- Choose Utilities > Share Disk. If your disk is encrypted on the Apple Silicon Mac, you’ll be asked to unlock it with your administrative password.
- Select the disk or volume you wish to share, then click Start Sharing.
- On the other Mac, open a Finder window, then click Network. You’ll find it below Locations in the Finder window sidebar (see screenshot below).
- In the Network window, double-click the Mac with the shared disk or volume. Click “Connect As,” select Guest in the Connect As window, then click Connect.
- Transfer the files from one Mac to the other.
- When you’re all done transferring files, eject the disk on the Intel Mac.
At this point, you can also disconnect the cable connecting the two Macs and restart the Apple Silicon Mac from the Apple () Menu.
Transferring files between the two Macs—particularly if you’re using a Thunderbolt connection—is ultra-fast with this method. Be sure to give it a try when your Apple Silicon Mac arrives!
Need to know how to use Target Mode on an older pair of Macs not running macOS Big Sur? Here’s a 2017 Rocket Yard article on the subject.