How I upgraded my music workstation and lived to tell about it

Tips

As another snowstorm developed outside during this record-setting winter, inside I had set a record of my own: it had been more than six years since I had purchased my main music workstation. An early 2008 Mac Pro, it had served me well; but as you may have seen in last week’s post, a sleeker, rounder, and much faster version has recently arrived to take its place.

Mini-me, more powerful and quieter
Mini-me, more powerful and quieter (even if you’re tempted to throw your trash into it)

The task, then: get fully running on the new Mac Pro “with all deliberate haste”. I was still running Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6.8) on the old computer with many years of applications and data squirreled away on it. While I could have used Apple’s Migration Assistant and let the work be done behind the scenes, being now three OSs removed from the current version I wanted to start fresh — which meant a manual migration.

Through a combination of collegial advice (especially from Mike Benoit of MPB Music and Sound) and online research, I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly everything went. So much so, that I thought I’d share what I found.

What follows is hardly an exhaustive list of what to do – it’s specific to my needs and preferences. But if you find yourself faced with a similar task, hopefully you can find some helpful information here. Mac users will obviously have more in common with my experience, but many of the applications and accessory information applies to PCs as well.

With the exception of the computer itself, which I bought from an authorized Apple reseller, I purchased everything else from Amazon, so I’ve linked to those products directly. (Those are affiliated links, which constitute advertising; if you’d like to learn more about what that means, please see our privacy policy, section 4(b).)

The task

Upgrade the old to the new, transferring data and applications, updating where necessary.

 OldNew
ComputerMac Pro (Early 2008)Mac Pro (Late 2013)
OSMac OS 10.6.8 (Snow Leopard)Mac OS 10.9.1 (Mavericks)
ProcessorTwo 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5
Memory14 GB 800 MHz DDR232 GB 1866MHz DDR3
StorageTwo 480GB SSD; two 500 GB HDD1 TB PCIe-based flash storage

Prepare

Backup

My old Mac Pro has 4 internal storage bays, which I was using as follows:

  1. 480 GB SSD: OS, Applications and Data
  2. 480 GB SSD: Music sample libraries, very large media, photo library
  3. 500 GB HD: Backup of 1
  4. 500 GB HD: Backup of 2

In addition, I have a 2TB OWC Mercury Elite Pro which was connected via FireWire 800, partitioned to backup everything.

I’ve relied on SuperDuper for many years for easy backups. You could also use Time Machine or other backup solutions, but whatever you use, don’t even think about proceeding without backing up first!

Serial numbers and software authorization

It seems as though every software product comes with its own authorization scheme. And what of all the online accounts one needs to access for registrations and product updates? It’s a necessary evil in the upgrade and installation process, and you’ll need this information at the ready.

I use 1Password to keep all this information together. I had to train myself at first to habitually save a serial number or authorization license here every time I installed something new, but I’m glad I did. You can easily drag an application icon to 1Password and enter the product’s code, or license key. 1Password also securely stores your internet passwords, credit card numbers, and other secure data should you wish to entrust it with that information.

Mavericks includes iCloud Keychain, which handles internet passwords and credit card data – but keep in mind I was upgrading from Snow Leopard, and in any event it wouldn’t have helped with all the software authorizations.

Connect

I had both computers running, each with its own display, keyboard, and mouse, for the entirety of my upgrade process. This made it simple to connect both of them to the internet and to each other, and to use either one to quickly locate something if needed.

You’ll definitely want a hard-wired internet connection for this; wireless won’t cut it. So many installers are online now that I easily downloaded hundreds of gigabytes of data while upgrading, not to mention transferring everything from my old computer to the new (more on that in a bit).

I bought a 50-ft AmazonBasics Ethernet cable for $7; it plugged into an available port on my cable modem and worked nicely.

Optical media is on the wane, and the new Mac Pro (like all of Apple’s new Macs) doesn’t include a CD/DVD drive. We still use optical media, though, so I picked up a $34 Samsung read/write external DVD drive. It’s powered through the USB, is tray-loading, and did the job – although in the end I was surprised how little I used it (keep in mind my frame of reference is setting up the last machine six years ago!).

Sure, there’s Apple’s SuperDrive at more than twice the price, and if you need Blu-ray and USB 3.0 support, Asus makes a model — but it wasn’t necessary for me.

The new Mac Pro doesn’t come with a display, or even with a keyboard or mouse; just about any kind will do. I had an HP 23-inch display which I was able to connect to the computer with a Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable from Cable Matters. The Mini DisplayPort end plugs into the Thunderbolt ports, 6 of which are included on the new Mac Pro.

(A side note: my main workstation – the one I eventually moved my new Mac Pro to – uses two 30-inch HP ZR30w monitors. Because they were connected to the old Mac Pro via DVI, for a while I thought I would have to get two of Apple’s pricey – and bulky – Mini DisplayPort to dual-link DVI adapters to connect them to the new Mac Pro. Luckily the HP ZR30w monitor has a DisplayPort, so I can use the Cable Matters cables here instead.)

A view of the Hudson River, from a Mac Pro
A view of the Hudson River, from a Mac Pro

For the keyboard, I recently connected a $60 Mac-specific Logitech K750 wireless solar keyboard (the older photo above shows my standard-issue Apple wired keyboard). Apple doesn’t make a wireless keyboard with a numeric keypad, which is essential for working with Sibelius and Finale. The Logitech model is solar-powered, and while the solar panels take up a bit of space, it’s nice to never have to re-charge it or use batteries. The keyboard connects via a wireless USB receiver.

Although I configured the Mac Pro with 1 TB of internal storage (up from the stock 256 GB configuration), I still wanted to keep some sample libraries on an external drive. I’ve been very happy with the Crucial m500 line of SSDs — the 480 GB version goes for about $260 — but I was dismayed at the limited options for connecting the drives to the new Mac Pro via Thunderbolt. Drobo makes a storage array for $300 that connects 4 drives – but you still have to supply your own drives!

So I started looking into connecting the drive via USB 3.0 instead. When you consider that the SSD SATA transfer speeds max out at 6 gbps, the USB 3.0 limit of 5 gbps was not much of a hit (it’s still faster than the 3 gbps I was getting in the old Mac Pro). I found another Cable Matters product: the $29 SuperSpeed USB 3.0 to 2.5″ SATA hard drive docking station. It features a built-in 3-port USB 3.0 hub, includes the USB 3.0 cable in the box, and has its own power source. It was easy to set up with no tools. So this became my drive for my sample libraries. I haven’t done any fancy hardware tests (and don’t plan to), but it seems plenty fast to me.

For good measure, I also purchased an $18 enclosure case made by Inateck for a second SSD to use as a backup to the storage on the Mac Pro. This enclosure draws power directly from the USB port; it doesn’t have its own power supply but it does have a power switch, to avoid unintended mounting of the drive. It also includes a short USB 3.0 cable.

On the subject of USB 3.0, a hub was a necessity – the new Mac Pro only includes a paltry four ports. I got two 9-port hubs by Anker, for $60 each. If you get a USB hub, be sure to get one with its own power source, like this one does. This hub has a built-in surge protector, and it also features a tenth port, which is intended purely for charging devices and doesn’t connect to the computer.

With the computer and accessories in place, it was time to start setting up the new computer.

First, on my old Mac Pro, I used a handy utility called Print Window to print a list of all my applications. There were some I forgot I had, and some I didn’t even remember installing in the first place. So I went through the list and crossed out any that I didn’t want to install on the new Mac Pro.

A bit of pruning after six years was in order
A bit of pruning after six years was in order

On my new Mac, the usual Apple setup is straightforward; I entered in my information and Apple ID, created a local user account, and was off and running. Next, I went through the list of applications on the new Mac and compared them with my printed list; I crossed off anything that was already pre-installed on the new Mac.

I knew I was going to be mucking about with my home library folder (known as ~/Library) , which is hidden by default in Mavericks. So the very first thing I did was show it permanently by showing my home folder in the Finder, choosing View > Show View Options and checking “Show Library Folder”. This Macworld article has more information.

Now it was time to start installing applications. This being the Sibelius blog, after all, let’s start with Sibelius.

Comments

  1. Henry

    Thank you for an incredibly useful resume of the upgrade process, which I expect will be of great help to me …. when I can afford to move on like you did! Best wishes.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Henry. It had been a long time coming!

  2. Mike

    What a fantastic and detailed writeup, Phil! Lots of very valuable and helpful tips here. I wish I had known about that solar-powered Logitech keyboard a few months ago. Not knowing about it, I ended up with the Apple wireless keyboard, a separate Belkin numeric keypad (also wireless), and a bunch of rechargeable batteries. It works fine and looks OK, but…yuck!

    One small additional tip that some readers may find helpful. My computer is nowhere near my main router, so I had no way to connect the old and new machines to it with an Ethernet cable. Instead, you can connect your Macs directly to one another! If you have a really old Mac, you might need a special cable called a crossover cable to do this, but most Macs sold since 2000 can use a regular cable. More info is here:
    https://it.uoregon.edu/connect-macs

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Mike Benoit. I was (and am) grateful for your advice!

      And, thanks, Mike Klinger!

  3. Mike Klinger

    Awesome! A lot of us are at that same point in time, this will be extremely useful.

  4. Matt Carey

    Thanks Philip! I love reading your posts and this one is very timely for me as I picked up a new computer yesterday. Do you know when Sibelius 7.5 will be released? I’m wondering whether there is any benefit in not installing the current version and just waiting for 7.5 to try and keep my computer a little ‘cleaner’ for as long as I can.

    Thanks also for sharing info about other software you use. I’m going to look into 1Password and a few of the other things you mentioned.

    One more question since this is the first time I’ve commented on your blog. As a ‘power user’ do you use the (piano) keyboard for much of your note input or do you prefer the (computer) keyboard? I’ve been using Sibelius for years and found that (computer) keyboard entry has been faster for me – even for piano/keyboard parts – but maybe it’s worth the investment of time to learn how to use the (piano) keyboard note entry facility more efficiently?

    Thanks again.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Matt! I don’t see any harm in installing Sibelius 7.1.3. In fact you might benefit from keeping it around, should you need it; 7.1.3 and 7.5 seem to co-exist happily on my machine. Plus if you put the Sibelius Sounds on your machine now, your 7.5 install will go more quickly since you’ll have gotten that part out of the way.

      Avid has said “February” for 7.5 release so I predict any time in the next 11 days. :-)

      I was just talking note entry today with a colleague. I generally use step-time entry with the MIDI keyboard, but occasionally use the computer keyboard too. The methods are really quite similar and you can freely use both; instead of typing on your computer keyboard, you just play the note on your computer keyboard.

  5. Dennis

    This is in response to Mike, but might interest anyone who has a similar problem. I also have a router nowhere near my computer(s). But Monoprice.com offers cables that work great at a very reasonable price. I’ve had a couple of the 50′ ones with great results. Having a hardwired connection (even for a temporary connection) is great, and well-worth the money.

  6. Tim Parkin

    Thanks for a great article Philip. I shall need to do a similar transfer here in the UK in the next 3 months and this article will be invaluable.

  7. Peter Roos

    A very cool and entertaining post Philip. I’ll cross post this on other music forums. I’m a PC and I have been through several of these exercises.

  8. Peter Roos

    Edit my previous post — I am not a PC, I am *on* PC (windows). :)

    1. Philip Rothman

      Ha, thanks, Peter!

  9. Alan Knight

    Hi. I think you’re running the (not yet released) Sibelius 7.5 here on Mavericks? Does this fix the problems that (still, months later!) plague the released version of Sibelius on Mavericks?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Alan, until Sibelius 7.5 is officially released, it’s probably best if I refer to statements made on Sibelius’s official Facebook page, regarding Mavericks, where Avid’s Sam Butler said “We have resolved the font problem in 7.5 and are working with Apple on a solution that will resolve the performance for all v7 and v7.5 products all at once.”

  10. Ernie Jackson

    Incredible article. Is there someone who could provide a PC version as well? that would be great.

  11. Mary Jo Disler

    Just curious how long the setup/install process actually took, after the planning and purchases were in place. And thanks for such care and detail. Terrific!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Mary Jo! I did it over a weekend and still had time to write the whole thing up in the blog. But yes, the planning and purchases happened ahead of time.

  12. Jane

    I have the same OLD Mac. I am wondering if I really need to replace it with another pro. I have been hankering to have a Macbook. Would that usable for Sibelius if I added a monitor, synth, keyboard, etc.?

    Thanks.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Jane: Yes, you can add peripherals to a MacBook and Sibelius should run just fine on any of the latest Macs.

  13. John Day

    Hi Philip
    can you please advise how I can download Sibelius 7 sounds
    FYI – I bought my copy online so I don’t have the disks which I understand are usually necessary.
    Many thanks

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