Head to head: Apple's Time Machine versus three local backup utilities for macOS

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2018
Backing up your data to prevent loss in the case of digital disaster couldn't be much easier, but there are choices to make, and things you should to to guarantee safety. AppleInsider looks at some of your options, and helps you choose.




This is a showdown between four of the best backup utilities and there will be a winner. However, the winner isn't going to be one of these, it's going to be you. We're not looking for app we can crown the best and walk away for a year, we're looking for the very best app for you and exactly what you need to do.

Any of these would do the job -- but there is one that is better at it for you than either of the others. That said, there is a different one that's better for your friend, colleague, partner, spouse, or relative. Let AppleInsider save you time picking from one of these four.

If you're not backing up your data, you really should be.




Backups are too important to postpone and the whole issue is too crucial to treat this as a software beauty pageant. So we're urging you use a backup app routinely, and we're recommending that it be one of these: Time Machine, ChronoSync, SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner.

The first is from Apple and you already have it installed on your Mac. All four are fully compatible with macOS Sierra. Despite the commonalities, there is still a reasonable ramp up in features, power and complexity when you go through them in a certain order.

Each one can be used for simple tasks and each one can be made more complex through your choice of options and settings. In rough order, simplest to most complex, the order is Time Machine, SuperDuper!, Carbon Copy Cloner and ChronoSync.

Read this until you find the one that sounds the best for you and then go read the detailed AppleInsider review of that specific app. When you're done, however, come back for a final section on the part of backing up that we know you've forgotten - because everybody does.

Time Machine

In every possible way, Time Machine is the easiest backup system to use. It's even the easiest to get since it's already waiting there on your Mac. The sole extra thing you need is an external hard drive, the same as you do for all of these backup systems.




When you plug a drive in and go to format it, your Mac will even prompt you to use it as a Time Machine volume. If you decide to, that's pretty much it - job done. Your Mac will regularly back itself up to that external drive.

You can go further and say when you want that regular backup to happen, plus you can choose what actually gets backed up. There are far fewer options you can set compared to any of the other backup apps here but Time Machine is meant for you to fire and forget. It's meant to be that you never have to think about it again until you lose a document and want to get it back.

So, that could be the end of this entire comparison showdown. It could be that Time Machine is the right one for you. It's so possible that actually we'd say use Time Machine even if you buy another backup app as well.

We just say that you should definitely buy another one. Time Machine is remarkable for what it does and that it is built right into your Mac, but it has problems.

The most immediately obvious one is that it is notably slower at backing up than any of these other apps. Compounding that, it has no tools to check that the Time Machine backup drive is healthy.

We'll put up with a bit of slowness if it means our data is safe, and we'll use multiple Time Machine backups across different drives so we'll cope if one goes wrong.

But, what makes us so certain that you need an alternative is this seemingly small point. Time Machine is built to be a backup of your data, not your hard drive. As such, a restoration from Time Machine can take time.

With all of the others, you can have these apps create an exact, bootable, clone of your Mac's hard drive. It is like having an extra thorough backup that copies off every single possible thing that is on your drive, but it's much more useful than that.

Say your Mac gets stolen or otherwise croaks, but, being the wise owner you are, you've got backup hardware in your garage to keep working. Take a machine out from your stash, plug in the drive that your backup app has prepared, and the new Mac will start up as if it were the old one. All of your same data and applications in the same place, ready to run -- immediately.

So, we do recommend Time Machine for what it is, and the fact that it's free -- but it isn't a complete tool for speedy disaster recovery.

SuperDuper!

SuperDuper! aims to make backing up fast and painless - but also safe. Until you choose to dig deeper, it just asks what you want copied and where you want it copied to. Then before it does any copying, it keeps checking that you're sure this is what you want.




If you want to copy your Mac's Documents folder over to an external hard drive that you've just plugged in, SuperDuper! can be doing that for you in moments.

Carbon Copy Cloner

Carbon Copy Cloner looks more complicated than SuperDuper! but a little extra complexity comes greater functionality.




Everything that SuperDuper! does, so can Carbon Copy Cloner. What it's latest update has added is the ability to set more backups running. With all of these apps you can say that you want your MacBook Pro hard drive backed up each Friday afternoon. If your MacBook Pro is connected to your external backup drive then on Friday afternoon, each of these apps would start that backup for you.

What Carbon Copy Cloner can now do is perform that weekly backup, then when it's due also do a monthly backup to somewhere else. Then it can backup something else to another schedule and to another drive before switching off your Mac for you.

That's called task chaining and is a particularly handy addition to the app - once you know exactly what backups you want when. Figure it out, set it up, walk away and never think about it again. Until there's a problem or you think of something while you're out of your office.

If that's going to happen to you or you just get so deep into the benefits of backing up multiple things to multiple places, look at ChronoSync.

ChronoSync

All four of these apps work to achieve what most people need: a safe backup of your work that doesn't require you to keep checking or changing anything. Set them up once and you're done. Except if your work needs rigorous, flexible backing up - or your job is backing up other people's data for them - it's ChronoSync you need.




This is not an app that you will buy, launch and be backing up documents in moments. It might take a good minute or two. Thereafter, you could spend your working days exploring the options in ChronoSync.

However, there's just one that might make this your right choice. You can control ChronoSync remotely. It requires setting up and it requires various companion apps, but you can control your Mac backup from your iPhone.

But, the bit you've forgotten

You're the only one who can decide what parts of your work wouldn't be missed if there were a fire. You know which bits would be a royal pain t have to redo. Most importantly of all, you know what documents and what tools would stop your business dead if you lost them.

That said, we can tell you two things as certainly as if you'd just briefed us on your plans for the year. One is that anything you create should be backed up, because redoing work doesn't pay and it does keep you from doing something new that does.

The other is that you also need to think of your machines. If your business relies entirely on an iMac, the greatest backup in the world won't be a lot of use if the iMac breaks down, and you don't have backup hardware. Look to have a second machine for those times when your main one is out of action for any reason.

It doesn't have to be an identical model: just any type of Mac lets you do enough of what you need to cover you until you get your main one back. Next time you upgrade Macs, keep your old one around too.

These backup apps, and all others, create archives that you can open on any machine you choose. So if the worst happens and your Mac is broken, with the right decisions on your own backup plan, you could be up and running in minutes with a second machine that has the ability to restore copies of your backup.

You can never be too safe

We picked these four backup utilities because of how they work with external hard drives. Maybe you keep one tucked away behind your iMac, maybe you plug one into your MacBook Pro each weekend. Whenever you do it, though, having an external drive and one of these apps is more than good, and basically essential if you earn money from your hardware.

Local backup shouldn't be your only option, though. You can use an online backup service such as Backblaze or Crashplan.

These use your internet connection to backup your Mac. For a monthly fee of typically around $10, they just keep on backing up everything.




It's the ultimate in offsite backups: if someone steals your Mac, or your house burns down, then they could well steal the external hard drive next to it. Nobody can steal your MacBook Pro and also Backblaze or Crashplan's backup of everything.

However, they're not practical for getting back all of your data quickly, given the speed of the Internet. They're not practical for creating a clone hard drive. So when your Mac dies, you can't buy a new one and instantly be working again.

We've recommended that you use Time Machine plus one of the three backup apps we've already spoken about. Let us equally recommend that you use an online backup service or some other method of off-site data warehousing, like keeping a hard drive in a safety deposit box.

SuperDuper! 2.9.1 costs $27.95 direct from the manufacturer's site where you can also find a free trial version. It requires macOS 10.8 or later.

CarbonCopyCloner costs $39.99 and is available direct from the developer's website where there is also a 30-day free trial.

ChronoSync 4.7.1 is available directly from the developer Econ Technologies and costs $49.99. There is also a free iOS app that lets you control your backups from your iPhone or iPad.

Time Machine is free, and you already have it.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 43
    Personally I like Intego and have been using it for years to back up a few TB's of data. Also their virus and other programs work well.
  • Reply 2 of 43
    jvmbjvmb Posts: 53member
    I use Crashplan for local backups. It is free as long as you don't use the online backup service.
    djkfisherurchin11
  • Reply 3 of 43
    jvmb said:
    I use Crashplan for local backups. It is free as long as you don't use the online backup service.
    Yes and u can backup off site to friends or families PC or Macs, for free too ( its encrypted so friends can't see what you backed up).  I do use their online service, but additionally all PCs we own and the kids at college also backs up to a pc here at home
    djkfisher
  • Reply 4 of 43
    I wish they included Arq, so I could compare against the other programs mentioned. Arq seems to be like Time Machine and an offsite cloud backup in one. It doesn't make bootable backups, but it's supposed to backup everything, including system files.
    axcess99
  • Reply 5 of 43
    I don't like offsite network backups for a couple of reasons: they don't back up your entire computer (inevitably you'll forget to back up some file you really need), and they can be excruciatingly slow (especially over ADSL, which tends to have very slow upload speeds). Plus, you're giving your data to some third-party service; what if they get hacked and other people get access to your backups? Here's what I recommend: (1) Buy a pair of network hard drives. For example, buy two single-drive Synology NAS devices, and put a Western Digital Caviar Red hard drive in each. (The WD Red drives are slower, but they're still plenty fast to keep up with a network; plus they run cooler and last longer.) (2) Set up all of your Macs to create encrypted backups to both of these NAS devices on your network. (3) Now, keep one of the NAS devices someplace safe, out of your home. Lock it in a cabinet at the office. Give it to a friend across town. The important thing is that you will never again have both of these NAS devices in your home at the same time. While your Macs are all backing up automatically to one of the devices, the other one is kept safe in case of an emergency. (4) Every month or so, swap the NAS devices. Now you're reasonably safe. House burns down, or gets robbed? One set of backups are safe, and you've lost a month of data at worst. One of the backup drives dies? You still have another safe backup.
  • Reply 6 of 43
    I wish the article would have gone into greater detail about what the apps can actually backup. For instance, Time Machine can back up ALL of your data to one location, that includes externally connected volumes, where CCC can not. That means you would need to partition a drive into multiple volumes and setup backups for each external drive to capture a full system backup.
  • Reply 7 of 43
    appneck said:
    I wish the article would have gone into greater detail about what the apps can actually backup. For instance, Time Machine can back up ALL of your data to one location, that includes externally connected volumes, where CCC can not. That means you would need to partition a drive into multiple volumes and setup backups for each external drive to capture a full system backup.
    Try reading this

    https://support.intego.com/hc/en-us/articles/223374007-Personal-Backup-X9-User-Manual#about-backups


  • Reply 8 of 43
    Too bad this article does not mention how well the products restore data. The true measure of a backup product is not how easy they are to use, it is how completely and correctly they restore data.

    Also, there is no mention about how each manages incremental backups. 

    pscooter63applericeriamjhredgeminipaappneck
  • Reply 9 of 43
    doggonedoggone Posts: 174member
    My biggest issue is that the external hard drives have a tendency to fail themselves.  So you really need redundancy for that too.  Drobo has worked well for that and if a drive fails then the data is on another drive.  It's a more expensive solution but does allow you to expand storage space over time if needed.  I use it for my media as well as a TM backup solution.
    It may be useful run CCC or similar in addition to TM to be able to restore the Mac quickly.
    The other important point in the article is the location of your backups.  Backing up the most important data to a remote backup system makes a lot of sense.
  • Reply 10 of 43
    appexappex Posts: 687member
    TO ADMINS: I had to include hard carriage return codes for the message to show in different paragraphs. Otherwise it shows as a single paragraph (even though I wrote it with three paragraps). Using Safari on Mac (latest versions). I have reported this issue for months now.

    Concerning the article...And Tri-Backp/Tri-Backup Pro. That is the only one capable of doing what I was looking for (manual mirror backups of specific data with specific filters like date modified): http://www.tri-edre.com/english/tribackup.html

    On the other hand, pros and cons, as well as a comparison table would have been quite useful.
    edited January 2017
  • Reply 11 of 43
    tyler82tyler82 Posts: 791member
    I've used Time Machine with a 2 TB Time Capsule for 5 years now and after a year or so the backup becomes corrupted and you have to start over from the state your computer is currently in. So don't use Time Machine and Time Capsule if you want to save data more than a year old.
  • Reply 12 of 43
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,197administrator
    Too bad this article does not mention how well the products restore data. The true measure of a backup product is not how easy they are to use, it is how completely and correctly they restore data.

    Also, there is no mention about how each manages incremental backups. 

    This is addressed in the individual reviews we've done of the three third-party utilities. 
    doggone
  • Reply 13 of 43
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,197administrator

    appex said:
    TO ADMINS: I had to include hard carriage return codes for the message to show in different paragraphs. Otherwise it shows as a single paragraph (even though I wrote it withe three paragraps). Using Safari on Mac (latest versions). I have reported this issue for months now.

    Concerning the article...And Tri-Backp/Tri-Backup Pro. That is the only one capable of doing what I was looking for (manual mirror backups of specific data with specific filters like date modified): http://www.tri-edre.com/english/tribackup.html

    On the other hand, pros and cons, as well as a comparison table would have been quite useful.
    Pros and cons of the individual pieces of third-party software are in the reviews we did of the three.
  • Reply 14 of 43
    nhtnht Posts: 4,397member
    I use a ioSafe G3 4TB fire and water resistant drive for local archives and a couple drives in rotation for external backup.  

    I used to use crashplan but most of my archive is photos and movies and it takes forever.
  • Reply 15 of 43
    Why not include Carbonite in this review?

  • Reply 16 of 43
    rnb2rnb2 Posts: 47member
    appneck said:
    I wish the article would have gone into greater detail about what the apps can actually backup. For instance, Time Machine can back up ALL of your data to one location, that includes externally connected volumes, where CCC can not. That means you would need to partition a drive into multiple volumes and setup backups for each external drive to capture a full system backup.
    Not true, though it's not obvious.

    You can create one job that clones the system drive, but set it to "Protect root-level items" in the Advanced Settings (this tells the job to ignore items in the root of the backup drive that aren't on the source drive) and create separate folders on the backup drive for other data. Then create separate jobs to clone the non-system drives into those folders, and chain the jobs so that they run in sequence.
  • Reply 17 of 43
    timmerk said:
    I wish they included Arq, so I could compare against the other programs mentioned. Arq seems to be like Time Machine and an offsite cloud backup in one. It doesn't make bootable backups, but it's supposed to backup everything, including system files.
    Arq is excellent, I've used in for 4 years. 

    Note that it backs you your files, not all your system data. If a drive failed you'd need to reinstall MacOS then restore your backed up files via Arq. 

    I love the the fact that i can choose where my data goes. For me that's Amazon S3 in Ireland. 

    I had used crashplan but when it when switching from PC to Mac it was going to take a month to backup. That same backup to Amazon was at line speed (10Mbit)

    amazon s3 is cheap too. 

    I use use time machine for local backups and Arq to get my data offsite. 

    The thing I dislike about the disc cloning solutions is they're cloning a potentially bad disc. If things fail I'll always do a clean install. They also don't offer great protection against accidental deletion. 
    axcess99
  • Reply 18 of 43
    I ended up myself with a combination of tools for producing my backup approach. I use Time Machine to backup the various Macs I have to a Time Capsule ( I added an external drive to the Time Capsule which is partitioned so each Mac has it's own partition to use - this avoids the competition for space which can escalate to use loosing the backups on one machine ). This Backup is primarily targeting the Apps and Inflight items which might be lost if the computer drive goes down. I have a Drobo which I use as my primary data store and this contains pretty much everything. It's setup with Dual Disk redundancy so up to 2 drives can fail before I loose any data. I use Chronosync to then backup the Drobo to 2 Cold Storage Drive Packs both of these drive packs are kept offsite. I have setup Chronosync Scheduler so this is performed if I mount the Cold Storage Disks so I don't have to think about it. I also use Chronosync to synchronise the Drobo with a second portable Drobo which carries a subset of data (it drops things I can live without) which I have defined as critical (things like my digital photos). I have used SuperDuper primarily for drive cloning which it works well for. I tend to mainly focus on data backup rather than drive cloning because I like the data verification which can sometimes uncover bit-rot in your dataset.
  • Reply 19 of 43
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,442member
    Sad that Retrospect isn't in the discussion (and rightfully hasn't been for years), if only because of all the $$ dumped on it. Sorry for the interjection. It's just that whenever backup software comes up, I'm liable to think about that terrible waste.
    edited January 2017
  • Reply 20 of 43
    Great article. As a Mac IT Manager, impressed you mentioned CrashPlan. Personally love Carbon Copy Cloner and have relied on it for years with no faults.

    FYI, CrashPlan Pro will backup to local drives (for Free) and offers data de-duplications, so it's really an efficient backup strategy, albeit proprietary.
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