Moving Files from Classic Macs to Modern Ones

As someone who works with classic Macs (Macs that can boot the Classic Mac OS), I get contacted occasionally by people who still have files on the hard drives of their old Macs but aren’t sure how to move them to a newer machine. These are typically SCSI-based systems with floppy drives. They might also be early iMacs or other models without FireWire.

Chooser iconSometimes the old Mac is still working; sometimes not. As long as the hard drive itself isn’t damaged, you will be able to get your files, but the method will vary.

Over a Network

Assuming the old Mac still works and has ethernet, copying files across your local network can be the easiest solution. File Sharing will work between Macs as long as they have compatible versions of AppleShare. The older Mac needs AppleShare IP, which means it must be running Mac OS 7.5.31 or higher. For more on cross compatibility and how to network across generations, see Vintage Mac Networking and File Exchange.

Update: Note that AppleShare from the Classic Mac OS is not compatible with file sharing in OS X 10.5 Leopard or later.

Fetch iconFTP is another option that works across a wide range of Mac OS versions. Mac OS X has a built-in FTP server thatyou can enable under System Preferences –> Sharing. Turn on File Sharing, then click on the Options… button to enable FTP access. Alternately, you can connect over the Internet to an FTP server you have access to.

On the old Mac you can use Fetch, Anarchie, or other FTP software to post to the server. Versions of these programs go back to the earliest days of Mac System software and work over ethernet or dialup modems – good things to have around.

Via the Internet

Using the Internet you may also be able to transfer your files with a Web browser to a site that has upload/download capability. The limiting factor here is likely to be whether the browser on your old Mac supports this feature – it sometimes requires plugins or versions of Java/JavaScript that the old software can’t run. The newest browser you can run on your system is recommended for best results, but it’s worth a try with whatever you have if necessary.

Zip Disks

Zip! disksIf network transfers aren’t an option, Zip disks (available in 100 MB, 250 MB, and 750 MB versions2) make a good interchange medium. Internal Zip drives were offered as options on Macs for years, and external drives are available in both SCSI and USB flavors. Simply copy your files to a disk from the old machine, bring the Zip disk to the new Mac, and then copy the files the newer machine.

I’ll bet you or somebody you know has an unused Zip drive in their closet or bottom desk drawer right now!

Floppy Disks

You can transfer up to 1.4 MB of data at a time using floppy disks. All Macs produced since 1989 support high density floppy drives. External USB floppy drives let you access floppies from your modern Mac. I’ve seen double-speed floppy drives available for as little at $10 (plus shipping). It’s not fast and doesn’t hold a lot of data by modern standards, but it works.

Note that USB floppy drives cannot read 800K Mac floppies. They are compatible with high-density Mac and PC floppies, as well as 720K PC floppies. [Editor’s note: We added this section. Floppy disks were not covered in Adam’s original column.]

USB Drives

Fruit colored iMacsFor Macs that have USB ports (G3 iMacs, old Macs with USB PCI cards, etc.), you can copy data to a USB hard drive or flash drive for the transfer. However, these USB ports are likely to be the original USB 1.1 format, which is rather slow, so expect to wait a while (possibly hours) if you have a lot of data.

Memory Cards

If you have an old PowerBook with a PC Card or CardBus slot, you could use a memory card reader along with a Compact Flash or SD Card, then use a USB card reader to read the data to your modern Mac. [Editor’s note: Also added after this column was first posted on Adam’s blog.]

From the Hard Drive

When none of the above work, or if the old Mac won’t start up, and if you feel comfortable working inside your computer, another option is to open up the machine and pull out the internal hard drive. The drive can then be installed in an external enclosure and connected to another Mac.

SCSI Drives

For SCSI drives, you’ll need another SCSI-based Mac, preferably one with network access or a Zip drive to serve as a bridge machine. This can be an obstacle unless you have multiple old Macs lying around (or are crazy enough to be a collector). You can also try using a PCI SCSI card in a Power Mac without built-in SCSI or a USB-to-SCSI adapter (these are a bit rare, but some were made).

IDE/ATA Drives

Beige Power Mac G3Internal IDE/ATA drives (G3 iMacs, Beige G3 Power Macs, etc.3) can be installed in external enclosures with FireWire and/or USB ports for direct connection to modern machines. They can also be installed internally in a G3 or G4 tower. Since they are about a decade newer in the Mac timeline, IDE drives are typically much easier to work with than SCSI drives, and they can often be reused with the newer machine.

  1. AppleShare IP is included with Mac OS 8 through 9.2.2. You can update the AppleShare client on System 7.5.3 through 7.6.1 to add support for AppleShare IP (download). You must use Open Transport 1.1.2 or later.
  2. All Zip drives can read 100 MB disks, although 250 MB drives write to them slowly and 750 MB drives cannot write to them at all. Any Zip drive can read disks of its capacity and lower.
  3. The first Macs to use internal IDE drives were the Quadra 630 and PowerBook 150, both dating back to 1994. SCSI was introduced with the Mac Plus in 1986 and last used as the default hard drive bus in last-generation of PCI Power Macs (1997). Apple stopped using IDE hard drives when it switched to Intel CPUs in 2006.

This article was originally published on the Vintage Mac Museum blog. It has been adapted and reprinted here by permission.

The Vintage Mac Museum is a working collection of 680×0 and PowerPC Macs from the pre-Intel era. The blog describes working with vintage Macs, maintaining the collection, and tales of performing old Mac file transfers and conversions at Oakbog Professional Services.

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