Everyone’s got their own ideas about how to ensure their personal files are kept safe from disaster, but is there truly a “perfect” backup solution? Here is what I do to keep the photos, music, and other files on my Mac intact — what’s your strategy?
No doubt about it, our lives have gone digital and the computer is the hub of our daily routine. It’s where we store our entertainment, business, memories, and communicate with others. And yet, a large majority of computer users still do not regularly make backups of their important data. While those people like to walk on the wild side and laugh in the face of danger, I prefer to take the safer route in case my system decides to croak at an unfortunate time. Macs are dependable, but just like any computer they’re not invincible.
So, what is the ideal way to backup your Mac? I’ve been trying to figure that out myself and would really like to hear from some of you about your backup plans. In the meantime, here are the two methods I use to safeguard my Mac’s digital files:
Incremental backups with Time Machine
The first (and least hands-on) way I backup my Mac is with Time Machine. Apple introduced this knock-out feature as a part of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in October 2007 and it’s something every Mac user should take advantage of. The beauty of Time Machine is that it requires little to no setup and just as little maintenance once you’ve connected an external hard drive to your Mac. “Set it and forget it” has never been so true. Plus, that cool space-themed interface is both pretty and functional.
I use Time Machine on a daily basis to backup my MacBook Pro and there have already been a number of times when I’ve used it to recover a lost or corrupted file. Being able to literally go back in time to different points in your Mac’s life is simply amazing. That is Time Machine’s strength, but what are its weaknesses? To take care of those, we move on to the second component of my backup strategy.
(Further reading about TM: “Delete backups of certain data and more with Time Machine“, “How to copy your Time Machine backups to a new larger drive“, and “Handy guide for Time Machine tricks and troubleshooting tips“)
Bootable backups in a remote location
Time Machine’s greatest weakness is that it doesn’t allow you to create a bootable copy of your Mac’s hard drive. That means if your internal drive fails, Time Machine won’t do you any good until a new one is in your possession. That could be days or even weeks! A bootable backup lets you use it as if it were your real hard drive, even though it’s connected via USB or FireWire. The other downside to Time Machine is its proximity to your Mac. In the event of a fire, flood, or other natural disaster, your TM volume will likely be sitting right next to your computer. When one goes, the other one is gone too.
The answer to both of these problems is a cloning tool such as SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner. Both programs are free and can be used in addition to Time Machine to give your data added protection. I purchased a second external hard drive to make a bootable copy of my Mac with SuperDuper! (updated every 3-4 weeks) and then stored it somewhere away from my house. The workplace, a family member’s house, or a friend’s place all serve as good remote locations depending on your situation.
As you can see, my current setup divvies up backup duties between Time Machine for daily incremental updates and SuperDuper! for monthly bootable copies. It’s working pretty well, but I know some hard-core Mac users really get into their backup strategies and contend that there are better ways to go. If you’re one of those people, please share your ideas in the comments. Maybe together we can figure out what is the real “perfect” backup solution!