Move Windows PC Data to Your Mac Manually

Move PC Files the Migration Assistant Left Behind

OS X includes a Migration Assistant that can help you move your user data, system settings, and applications from a previous Mac to your brand new one. Starting with OS X Lion (released in July of 2011), OS X has included a Migration Assistant that can work with Windows-based PCs to move user data to the Mac. Unlike the Mac’s Migration Assistant, the Windows-based version can’t move applications from your PC to your Mac, but it can move Email, Contacts, and Calendars, as well as bookmarks, pictures, music, movies, and most user files.

Unless your Mac is running Lion (OS X 10.7.x) or later, you won't be able to use the Migration Assistant to transfer information from your PC.

But don't despair; there are a few other options for moving your Windows data to your new Mac, and even with the Windows Migration Assistant, you may find that a few files you need didn't make the transfer. Either way, knowing how to manually move your Windows data is a good idea.

Use an External Hard Drive, a Flash Drive, or Other Removable Media

If you have an external hard drive that connects to your PC using a USB interface, you can use it as the destination for copying all of the desired documents, music, videos, and other data from your PC. Once you have copied your files to the external hard drive, disconnect the drive, move it to the Mac, and plug it in using the Mac's USB port. Once you power it on, the external hard drive will show up on the Mac Desktop or in a Finder window.

You can then drag-and-drop the files from the drive to the Mac.

You can substitute a USB flash drive for the external hard drive, provided the flash drive is large enough to hold all your data.

Drive Formats

A note about the format of the external drive or USB flash drive: Your Mac can easily read and write data to most Windows formats, including FAT, FAT32, and exFAT.

When it comes to NTFS, the Mac is only able to read data from NTFS-formatted drives; when copying files to your Mac, this shouldn't be an issue. If you need to have your Mac write data to an NTFS drive, you can use a third-party app, such as Paragon NTFS for Mac or Tuxera NTFS for Mac.

CDs and DVDs

You can also use your PC's CD or DVD burner to burn the data to optical media, because your Mac can read CDs or DVDs you burn on your PC; again, it's just a matter of dragging-and-dropping files, from the CDs or DVDs to the Mac. If your Mac doesn't have a CD/DVD optical drive, you can use an external USB-based optical drive. Apple actually sells one, but you can find them for quite a bit less if you don’t care about not seeing an Apple logo on the drive.

Use a Network Connection

If both your PC and your new Mac connect to the same local network, you can use the network to mount your PC's drive on your Mac's Desktop, and then drag-and-drop the files from one machine to the other.

  1. Getting Windows and your Mac to share files isn't a difficult process; sometimes it's as easy as going to your PC and turning file sharing on. You can find basic instructions for getting your Mac and PC talking to each other in our Getting Windows and Mac OS X to Play Together guide.
  1. Once you have file sharing turned on, open a Finder window on the Mac, and select Connect to Server from the Finder's Go menu.
  2. With a bit of luck, your PC's name will appear when you click the Browse button, but more than likely, you'll need to manually enter your PC's address in the following format:
    smb://PCname/PCSharename
  3. The PCname is the name of your PC, and the PCSharename is the name of the shared drive volume on the PC.
  4. Click Continue.
  5. Enter the PC's workgroup name, the user name that is allowed access to the shared volume, and the password. Click OK.
  6. The shared volume should appear. Select the volume, or any sub-folder within the volume, you wish to access, which should then appear on your Mac's Desktop. Use the standard drag-and-drop process to copy files and folders from the PC to your Mac.

    Cloud-Based Sharing

    If your PC is already making use of cloud-based sharing, such as the services provided by DropBox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or even Apple’s iCloud, then you may find accessing your PC’s data as easy as installing the Mac version of the cloud service, or in the case of iCloud, installing the Windows version of iCloud on your PC.

    Once you've installed the appropriate cloud service, you can download the documents to your Mac just as you've been doing with your PC.

    Mail

    Nope, I’m not going to suggest you email documents to yourself; that's just too cumbersome. However, one item just about everyone worries about is getting their email transferred to a new computer.

    Depending on your mail provider, and the method it uses for storing and delivering your emails, it may be as simple as creating the appropriate account in the Mac’s Mail app to have all of your email become available. If you use a web-based mail system, you should be able to just launch the Safari browser and connect to your existing mail system.

    If you wish to use Mail, the built-in email client that's included with your Mac, you can try one of the following methods to gain access to existing email messages without having to transfer mail data to your Mac.

    If you're using an IMAP-based email account, you can simply create a new IMAP account with the Mail app; you should find all of your emails available right away.

    If you're using a POP account, you may still be able to retrieve some or all of your emails; it depends on how long your email provider stores messages on its servers.

    Some mail servers delete emails within days after they're downloaded; and others never delete them at all. The vast majority of mail servers have policies that remove email messages somewhere in between these two extremes.

    You can always try setting up your email accounts and seeing if your email messages are available before you worry about transferring them to your new Mac.

    Migration Assistant

    We mentioned at the beginning of this guide that starting with OS X Lion, Migration Assistant works with Windows to help bring over most Windows-based data you may need. In all likelihood, if you have a new Mac, you can use Migration Assistant. To check which version of OS X you're using, do the following:

    From the Apple menu, select About This Mac.

    A window will open displaying the current version of OS X installed on your Mac. If any of the following are listed, you can use Migration Assistant to move data from your PC.

    If your Mac is running one of the above versions of OS X, then you have the option to use the Migration Assistant to make the process of moving data from your PC to your Mac as simple as possible.

    Published: 8/2/2011

    Updated: 2/24/2016