This April, the Rocket Yard will provide you with tips and hints on backing up all of your data — not only the information that’s on your desktop or laptop machine, but your iPhone and iPad as well. In the first Backup Month post, readers were introduced to the helpful 3-2-1 Rule. This week the focus is on three of the most popular applications for backing up your Mac — Time Machine, Carbon Copy Cloner, and SuperDuper!
If you own a Mac that’s running any version of OS X from Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) to Yosemite (Mac OS X 10.10), you already have Time Machine. This backup utility is actually baked into OS X, and if it’s enabled through System Preferences, a prompt will appear on your Mac screen when you connect an external storage device to your Mac asking if you wish to use it for Time Machine backups.
Time Machine is hands-down one of the easiest methods of backup available on any platform. When you first connect the external drive and give Time Machine the thumbs-up to back up your primary disk drive, it makes a complete backup — that can take several hours or days depending on the amount of data that has piled up on the drive. Once that is completed, Time Machine automatically keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months.
Your backup drive can be any one of several targets: a USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt drive connected to your Mac, an external hard drive connected to the USB port of an AirPort Extreme 802.11ac, or an AirPort Time Capsule or OS X Server on your network.
To restore a file, an email, or a photo that’s been inadvertently deleted, simply launch Time Machine and you’re treated to a 3D “timeline” view of your data. Scroll backwards in time to the point where that file is available, click on it, and you can restore it easily.
Since all but the largest backup drives will eventually fill up with Time Machine backups, the app automatically deletes the oldest backups when the disk becomes full. If your primary drive fails and you have it replaced, one of the first things that OS X will ask you for during setup of the new drive is whether or not you wish to restore from a Time Machine backup. If you do, everything is restored to the most recent backup.
There are only a few issues I can think of with Time Machine: first, it can slow things down on older, less powerful Macs. Five to ten years ago, it was common for my consulting clients to refuse to use Time Machine because they were tired of watching it slow down their machines. The other issue? Time Machine backups aren’t bootable — in other words, you can’t just select the backup drive during bootup and use it to bring a machine with a dead primary drive back to life. You can, however, boot from the Mac recovery partition and attempt to restore your machine with the backup.
This is most likely to work if you’ve inadvertently overwritten or erased system files and things just aren’t working right, not when you have a faulty disk drive in your Mac. To boot from the recovery partition (assuming that’s still available), restart your Mac and hold down the Command and R keys. You’ll get the option of restoring your Mac from the Time Machine backup, verifying or repairing connected drives using Drive Utility, checking your Internet connection or getting online help with Safari, or installing or reinstalling OS X.
Carbon Copy Cloner
Carbon Copy Cloner ($39.99) is another of the favorite utilities of longtime Mac users, especially those who want to be able to boot their Mac from a backup hard drive. Developed by Bombich Software, the app provides a 30-day free trial so you can determine whether or not it’s to your liking.
By creating a bootable backup, you’re able to immediately reboot from your backup and figure out what’s wrong with your primary disk drive when you have time — there’s no need to stop working. CCC also does smart updates when it runs, so that only files that have been added or modified are backed up again. That means that updates are fast and unobtrusive, and you can schedule them to run whenever you want.
Carbon Copy Cloner can also send you an email notifying you of backup issues or things as minor as knowing that a daily backup has been completed. For businesses, it’s easy to set up CCC to make the backup to a networked drive, and administrators only need to authenticate once.
The app has been available since 2002, and just keeps getting better with every release. The latest, version 4.0, features full compatibility with OS X Yosemite and offers a bunch of new and updated functionality that puts it to the top of the bootable backup must-have list.
While SuperDuper ($27.95) is fully compatible with OS X Yosemite, it has a user interface that hearkens back to the early days of OS X with a brushed metal background that dates back to OS X 10.3 Panther. But don’t let the nostalgic UI keep you from using SuperDuper; under that mature exterior is an app that is all power under the hood.
Shirt Pocket Software, the developers of SuperDuper, position the app as a “perfect complement to Time Machine” since you can store a bootable backup on the same drive you’re using for Time Machine. As with Carbon Copy Cloner, SuperDuper can create a full clone backup quickly, duplicating your boot drive to another drive. The target doesn’t have to be an external drive, it can also be a disk partition or an image file.
Through Smart Update, SuperDuper checks for changes on the original drive and then quickly copies those changes to the destination drive. It’s surprisingly easy to use, gives you a plain English explanation of what is going to happen when you click “Copy Now” or schedule a backup, and it’s less expensive that Carbon Copy Cloner.
In our next Backup Month post, I’ll talk about several cloud storage alternatives. Until then, stay safe and back up your Mac!