"backup" means duplicating your entire internal
drive to a secondary volume
(usually an external drive),
using a backup utility such as Time Machine,
Retrospect, SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner
(covered below). By having all data stored on
two drives, your files will not be lost when a drive fails - and they
all do - as long as your backup has been properly configured, kept
and stored safely.
Cloud backup is not good enough. Here's why:
all your data into space puts modem, router, internet service provider
(ISP), passwords and servers
in the way of recovery.
Most cloud backup services only store
unique files to save space. This means you'll have
to install OS, apps and updates to a new drive, then restore network
settings before you can even begin to recover files from
cloud storage. You'll need all your passwords and all your patience.
Security is always an issue. In
fact, there are more than a few scammers out there offering bogus
"cloud backup" in hopes you'll send 'em all your info. If you go the
cloud backup route, use only Apple's iCloud.
Having a full and
complete backup copy of your drive (safely stored in your possession)
will literally save you days of
grief. We recommend keeping an external backup
drive up-to-date by using Time Machine or one of the other apps
discussed below, stored offsite if necessary.
Q#1: Do you care?
If you tossed your computer from a
high-rise window, would you miss it? Family photos? Your music library?
Bank records, vacation videos, love letters, bookmarks, docs and
emails....? If you answered 'no,' good for you! There _is_ more to life
after all. But, if you count on your computer, you should know that all
your data is stored on a device that is certain to fail eventually. Having a backup is only
Another reason to create and maintain a proper backup has to do with OS
upgrades, program installations and software updates. If you make a
full/complete/proper backup _BEFORE_ applying upgrades or making major
modifications, you'll have an "undo" option if something goes wrong or
you find you can't tolerate the change.
Q#2: How much storage
capacity do you need?
Gigabytes, terabytes or exebytes? Got a
humongous music library? Loads of video? Maybe
it's time to look into a RAID setup (Redundant Array of Independent
Disks); multiple drives which may be arranged to backup files on the
fly. Professional photographers, videographers, musicians, designers
and the like may have storage requirements far beyond the needs of
"normal" computer users, in which case a RAID array is the way to go.
For the rest of us, a single 1, 2 or 4 terabyte
drive is more than adequate. Take a look at your current
drive's storage capacity and available space to get an idea of what
your requirements are and how much room you'll need for future
1024 bytes = 1
1024 kilobytes = 1 megabyte (1MB)
1024 megabytes = 1 gigabyte (1GB)
1024 gigabytes = 1 terabyte (1TB)
1024 terabytes = 1 exebyte (1EB)
Q#3: Is Security a concern?
haven't thought about it, you really should - and not just because
someone might get into your personal information. Your files and
Operating System could accidentally be damaged by allowing others to
have access to your computer, an upgrade could go haywire, or the
machine might sustain damage. You should at least protect your admin
account with a proper password (especially on portable devices). When
letting others borrow your computer, logout as admin and use the guest
account provided by your OS. Make sure your backup drive is safe and
Priority, at any cost. You have two choices (basically):
Encrypted, continuous and complete backup offsite over a secure network
- or - hand-carried physical volumes rotated periodically thru a secure
offsite location. Recovery from a total disaster should take no longer
than a restart from your backup volume or server.
is appreciated: Automated, scheduled onsite backup with password
protection and limited physical access is adequate for most of us.
Backup schedule is determined by acceptable loss and/or convenience.
Security isn't an overriding concern here, so a proper password and
backup should be sufficient.
is not important (workstation, casual user): Data loss is always
an issue, regardless of security concerns. Occasional backup based on
completed jobs, work schedule or major changes/upgrades might be okay,
depending on potential setback from data loss. The easier your backup
plan is, the more likely you will use it, but any
workable plan is better than none.
It has to be dependable and
If you use a MacPro tower (any except the newest tubular
models), you may have unused drive bays ready for internal
backup. This will protect against data loss from a drive failure, but
it won't protect you from a fire, flood or other disaster that might
destroy the entire machine - only offsite backup can do that. On the up
side, this backup plan is the easiest and cheapest of all. (The newest
MacPro machines use internal PCIe flash storage so any backup would
have to be external.)
and notebooks, of course, have no provision for additional internal
drives, so an external backup is your only option, but it's an easy
you travel with a notebook, a 2.5" USB backup drive is your best bet. Small, portable and self-contained, these
drives are easy to connect, pack and use. If portable backup isn't
necessary, a full-size 3.5" desktop unit (or RAID array) will happily
stay behind as backup volume for your machine. These have higher
capacity and 3.5" drives generally less expensive per GB than their
HARDWARE HALF of
making a backup:
An external FireWire, Thunderbolt,
or USB connected drive of equal or greater capacity as your Mac's
(internal) drive is ideal. USB is the most common type of connection,
but if your machine is equipped with FireWire or Thunderbolt you may want to take advantage of the
additional speed of these ports.
FireWire 800 is backwards-compatible with
400, and 800 to 400 adapters are readily
available (also known as
FireWire 9-pin to 6-pin). Many external drives will also have eSATA ports, some have Thunderbolt, but
practically all are USB equipped, giving you plenty of connectivity
options. Complete external drives are available at office supply
stores, or find a suitable (empty) enclosure and install any hard drive
The drive enclosure
pictured at left is for a desktop 3.5"
(full-size) hard drive. This example has two
FireWire 400 ports and one USB. Like most of these, it requires a power
brick (not shown) and cools by convection thru its case. Some
enclosures have fans, some are stackable, some are made from plastic
and others, like this example, are made of aluminum. Solid state drives
(SSDs) are becoming more common as prices begin to stabilize, but these
typically have lower storage capacity at much higher cost than
conventional drives and thus are not a practical choice for backup
Compact, pocket-sized 2.5" external
backups like the one pictured here are commonly available from all drive manufacturers.
Powered directly thru its USB connection, these
may be found at Staples, Fry's, Best Buy, and most other office supply
stores. Enclosures are also available for 2.5"
bare drives with FireWire, Thunderbolt and
other connectivity options if you'd prefer to assemble your own backup.
All backup drives will likely need to be
formatted, and be advised: Many ready made backup units come with an
annoying utilities partition that you neither need nor want - erase the
partition and its utilities when formatting a new drive (if you can) and never use that stuff
- you have better backup and maintenance options on your Mac.
RAID arrays are
becoming necessary, as storage and backup space
requirements explode. Pictured here is the business end of a 4-bay RAID
array containing 3 full-size hard drives. These may be configured as
backup and/or storage with up to 12 bays in a single enclosure - but be
prepared for sticker shock. A good choice is the Drobo pictured here with Thunderbolt
and gigabit ethernet connections. Other models may employ USB,
Firewire, or even a high-end SCSI interface option for high-speed video
and enterprise server applications. Please note that RAID arrays
require special formatting and setup that is beyond the scope of the
simple backup schemes outlined here.
SOFTWARE HALF of making a
iCloud: As mentioned at top of this page, cloud backup has its
problems, but it's certainly better than nothing. If this is your
choice, keep the nonsense to a minimum by using Apple's iCloud service.
An iCloud account provides cost effective online backup and also allows
you to synchronize your files across multiple computers, iPads, iPhones
and such; the sync function of iCloud can be pretty attractive for
managing workgroups and multiple devices. If your equipment is up to
date and you prefer online backup, give iCloud a go.
Be advised: There are bogus cloud "backup" services and software
floating around out there that must be avoided. Know who you are
dealing with before sending all your data out into space. Use Apple's
Time Machine: Apple has addressed the need for
backup by including their Time Machine
backup utility with the MacOS, providing easy automation, once an
external storage drive has been setup. Time Machine is slick, fast,
requires no attention, operating unobtrusively in the background while
keeping your backup current. Once
configured correctly, Time Machine operates flawlessly and couldn't be
easier to use. Restoring your data from a Time Machine backup requires
a few unique steps, so get acquainted with the restore process while
you're at it. We use a variety of methods here at the shop, but highly
recommend Time Machine as best choice for most Mac users.
Retrospect: One of the very best backup applications ever, this
venerable long-time Macintosh standard has recently been re-released
after a long absence from the Mac platform. It's expensive, with
periodic updates and various license agreements available, depending on
your equipment and circumstances. We've yet to see or test the new
versions of Retrospect, but it claims to support
encryption, work flow options and backup to a wide variety of media
(incl. tape). May be best suited for high-end corporate use supporting
multiple servers where speed, security and dependability are critical.
Carbon Copy Cloner: Drag-and drop installation, ease of use and a full
compliment of automated features, CCC has everything you need to create
and maintain a bootable backup with a minimum of hassle and maximum
convenience. Download is fully functional for a limited evaluation
period, and comes with a comprehensive user manual. This app has been
around for a very long time thru many OS versions over the years and is
still going strong. Quick and reliable, its easy interface hides a
sophisticated core that has matured over the years and managed to keep
pace with all the latest changes in the MacOS.
From our friends at Shirt Pocket,
SuperDuper! has a clear and simple interface, it's quick, easy and
seemingly bulletproof, with an outstanding feature set at a very
reasonable price. (SuperDuper is still available for older Systems
including PPC machines, too.) Free to download, it can be used
immediately to make a full backup, but purchase and registration is
required to unlock its full capability, including incremental and
scheduled (automatic) backup. Comes with a full PDF manual and
installation is a simple drag-and-drop to your computer's Applications
Test your backup _before_
To test a
Time Machine backup you must have an available (empty) drive to use
since it will overwrite any volume it restores to - and you don't want
to risk data on your primary hard drive for the sake of a test. The
restore process cannot be interrupted and results won't be known until
The other utilities recommended above all create bootable backups that
requires nothing more than an open port to plug into. Once the backup
mounts, you can compare both volumes side-by-side; these should be
nearly identical if backup was made recently and correctly. Comparing
volumes shows backup is complete; starting up from the backup volume
only takes a minute and will prove it can be used as a boot volume as
The rest is up to you.
If you are
capable of sorting thru all the details and setting up a proper backup,
the info above should at least get you started and help you on your
way. By all means, _do_ create and use a backup plan if you don't have
one already; if you do have a backup, take the time to keep it current
and test it now and then. If you find all this too complicated to deal
with, know that you're not alone and we're here to help.