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Backing up My Mac

My posts about cloning at Boot Camp drive and swapping hard drives in a MacBook are the most popular, according to Google Analytics. Today’s special treat, therefore, is a quick overview of an easy, successful, inexpensive backup routine for all your Mac owners.

Our goals:

  1. Create a bootable backup of a Mac,
  2. Update that backup occasionally, updating only the stuff that’s changed rather than copying the whole drive again, and
  3. Not spending much money.

What you’ll need (besides a working Mac):

  • SuperDuper! – the free version
  • ChronoSync – latest version; $30 until v4.0 comes out, then price goes up to $40. v4.0 is already late, so the price could change any day.
  • An external hard drive* – something bigger than your internal drive. I use a 3:1 ratio of external:internal storage

Steps to make bootable and differential backups:

  1. Make a bootable backup using the free version of SuperDuper! (see the SuperDuper! user’s guide for compete instructions; it comes with your download)

    SuperDuper main screen

  2. Schedule syncing with ChronoSync; tell ChronoSync you’re syncing two Macs (see the ChronoSync help menu for complete instructions)

    ChronoSync main page
    You’ll see that “cannot locate target” message in the ChronoSynce window if you forget to plug in the external drive.

  3. Remember to leave your computer running when your backups are scheduled. I set a reminder in Google Calendar. It reminds me every week to leave my laptop running overnight so it’ll backup.

Making the bootable backup with SuperDuper! took just over 3 hours on my MacBook Pro with 192GB of files. ChronoSync usually takes about 2 hours to sync – only about 45 minutes if I exclude my VMWare virtual machine from the backup. My virtual machine is over 40GB now, and since it always appears as “changed” in ChronoSync’s analysis, it gets backed up every time my sync task runs.

I’m experimenting with backing up over a network using rsync and scp. When I get that worked out, I’ll post the instructions here. I’m obsessed with backup now that my dissertation is coming along. I don’t want anything to happen to those files (or my pictures), so I have them (both) in quadruplicate and on 2 continents. I suggest you set up something similar for the files that are really important to you.

*Notes on shopping for hard drives
Prices on external hard drives are dropping pretty fast, and you should be able to get a good deal. You can build your own external drive by buying an enclosure and an internal drive, or you can buy a ready-made external drive. Sometimes internal drives go on such a huge sale that building your own is cheaper, but ready-made externals are now competitively priced. Building your own has advantages like making the drive swappable and maybe helping you get a FireWire port for less money, and it’s not hard. If you find a great deal on an enclosure and internal drive, go for it!

Where are these deals? I recommend checking the forums at Fat Wallet first to see if any site is having a big sale. I often buy drives from NewEgg because they have great prices, really fast shipping, and reasonable return policies. I use only Western Digital and Seagate drives. PC Mag has a good review site for hard drives.


  • Noor |

    Same question – as a new Mac convert, I’ve just been using Time Machine with my external hard drive. Any reason why I should use something else?

  • Carolyn |

    Read your other post. Yep, that was my problem with Time Machine. I left the laptop alone *all day* and it only copied over 20 GB. What a waste of time!

    I don’t get why you use ChronoSync though. SuperDuper (at least the paid version) allows you to update files…or am I missing something here?

  • libbyh |

    I can’t remember exactly why I chose ChronoSync in the first place; that was a couple years ago. I know now that I prefer the advanced options in ChronoSync. It allows me to easily exclude certain files and to review the syncing that will happen before it does, both options I use regularly. ChronoSync is $30 for now, and SuperDuper! is $27.95. I think the “analyze” and “exclude” options in ChronoSync are worth the $2.05. ChronoSync’s price is about to go up to $40 though, and I’m not sure if I’d pay that much.

    My Rocstor ROCKRAID just arrived, and I’m testing out Time Machine again. I’ve setup the RAID as a RAID 1 (mirror) and set Time Machine to use the primary disk as its backup location. We’ll see how TM does with 1,024,856 items and 114.76 GB of stuff to deal with. I connected via FireWire. I’ll report the time and performance data when available. Yeah, nerd outs!

  • libbyh |

    Early reports suggest Time Machine FAIL. I left my computer running only Time Machine, went downstairs to play a game of NCAA07, and came back up to find my computer frozen. I had to do a hard reboot just to get the thing to respond. Does not bode well for Time Machine. Noor, how did you get it work?

  • Dan |

    ChronoSync 4 now does bootable backups as well, so no need for SuperDuper. It’s well worth $40, and much better than Time Machine. Just updated to Snow Leopard and Time Machine constantly fails. Apple is aware of this problem but it is still not fixed. Can’t take chances with backups of irreplaceable files like family photos, finances, etc. Now I backup wirelessly to two different USB drives connected to an Airport Extreme Base Station. One holds my bootable backups, the other holds clones of my home directory and my family’s home directories. I back up an iMac, plus my MacBook – all with Chronosync. The scheduler with ChronoSync wakes my iMac up in the middle of the night, syncs the files, then puts the computer back to sleep. ChronoSync rules! Buy it!

So, what do you think ?

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