How to back up your Mac, and why you should do it now

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2018
If you needed one more nudge, Apple has just made it slightly harder to recover lost data from the new MacBook Pro models. Don't rely on Apple to rescue you if you haven't backed up your Mac. AppleInsider talks about how to get this done, with options beyond Time Machine.




Yes, yes, you'll backup later when you're less busy. Fine, we're not your parents. Only, we're also not the people you're working for, and we don't want to be in the room when you tell your employer that you've lost everything.

Instead, we'd quite like to be there when you say yes, it's true that the Mac with your work has totally died but that's fine because you've got a backup right here. When calamity hits -- when, not if -- we want you to be out of action and unable to work for no longer than it takes to make a coffee.

You can do this, you should do it right now if you aren't already. What's more, you can also do it very simply, quickly, and cheaply.

Shields up

When we put it like that, simple and quick backing up sounds a bit dull. Yet compare and contrast. The people who are this week complaining that Apple has removed a data recovery port from the new MacBook Pro models are living too close to the edge for comfort.

Using that data recovery port was a hair's breadth away from the ultimate last resort of hiring data specialists. If that diagnostic port that most Mac users have never heard of is your only line of defense then you do lead a colorful life but we're never going to rely on you to look after our work.

Instead, we're going to rely on having every single thing we ever do on our Macs be copied and saved to more than one place. We're going to rely on that happening automatically so that while we have to spend a little time thinking about it now, we can then forget it.

We've picked the four best backup utilities: software you install and run once and which then forever keeps on top of making certain everything is copied to somewhere safe. Not only to somewhere safe but to somewhere that you can immediately, instantly get to when your Mac goes wrong.

This is a showdown between four of these 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 one 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.

Like we said once before, get yourself Time Machine, ChronoSync, SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner. Do it now.

If you got them ages ago and still never quite bothered to backup, go back and make sure you've downloaded the latest versions. Apple regularly makes changes to how macOS works with drives and you must have backup utilities that are compatible with the latest ones. Each of these is confirmed as being ready to use on High Sierra.

That first one, Time Machine, is from Apple and you already have it installed on your Mac. There are reasons to move on down that list, though, and they have everything to do with features and power -- though, true, there is also an increase in complexity.

Each one of these four 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.

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.

SuperDuper! 3.1.7 is available in a free version from the developer but we recommend the $27.95 upgrade because it adds scheduling features. Rather than you having to remember to back up, it remembers for you.

Carbon Copy Cloner

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




It's a fine line, though, with both of these apps offering features you quickly grasp and others you have to think about. The real difference between SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner comes down to personal preference.

However, we like the way that Carbon Copy Cloner does the setting up of multiple backups in a row.

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.

Carbon Copy Cloner 5 costs $39.99 direct from the developer and requires macOS 10.10 or later.

If that richness of multiple timed backups appeals to you, however, 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.

ChronoSync 4.8.7 for Mac costs $49.99 direct from the developer and requires macOS 10.10 or newer.

Two more things

Look, not to jump on the fact that you've finally done a backup, but don't go away just yet. You're in an infinitely better position than you were yesterday but there are still two more things that would be a help to you.

One is having another Mac.

It doesn't have to be an identical model to your main work one: just any type of Mac that lets you do enough of what you need so you can get by. Next time you upgrade Macs, keep your old one around too. It's tempting to sell them to recoup some cash, but your ability to carry on working regardless is too important.

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.

Then everything we've said so far is about keeping a copy nearby but there's a big advantage to having one far, far away too. There's a huge benefit to having an online backup service such as Backblaze.

Online systems like this 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, then they could well steal the external hard drive next to it. Nobody can steal your MacBook Pro and also your online backup of everything.

They do backup over the internet so they'll never be so fast that you can boot a Mac from them. Nor so fast that you can make that coffee while everything restores perfectly. So, you need online backups and you need one of these four utilities to back up your data to a hard drive nearby.

Take it from us: once you put a little thought into this and once you get a backup utility running, you do feel noticeably safer.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 33
    Online backups are so incredibly slow. It’s almost maddening how slow it takes to backup a 500gb drive much less a 4tb. The speed of transfer is crazy slow and will drive anyone mad taking weeks to complete. 
  • Reply 2 of 33
    drowdrow Posts: 121member
    online backups can take a long time, depending on how fast your uplink is, and how much of it you allow the backup software to use (backblaze has a setting for this, the default is fairly conservative), and how quickly the online service can ingest and squirrel away your data (you think you have bandwidth problems).  but after that initial backup, incrementals can be quite quick.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 33
    Time Machine is great until your cat decides to take out the external hard drive.
  • Reply 4 of 33
    mdirvinmdirvin Posts: 26member
    I have a back blaze cloud b2 account and use chronosync to do incremental backups.  The first backup takes weeks, but once uploaded its there, scheduled nightly backups start at 11pm, and finish before I wake up in the morning.  I have set the account to keep deleted files for 60 days.  I also have 2 local NAS units I use for hourly backups during business hours. I consider the back blaze backup a last ditch effort in case everything else fails.  I never expect to use it, but if I did I would take advantage of there service where they mail you an HD large enough to hold all you backup data.  Refunding you money for the HD when its returned.  The fact that the first backup takes a long time is irrelevant, with the alternative being no offsite backup.  The computer/chronosync is fully capable of backing up in the background.  With things like ransomeware lurking around I wouldn't feel comfortable with only a local backup subject to encryption.

    Mike 
  • Reply 5 of 33
    6toecat6toecat Posts: 48member
    Time Machine is great until your cat decides to take out the external hard drive.
    ok, this is funny. Sad, but funny. Why is there no mention of enterprise tools like CrashPlan, with can also do disk backups for free?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 33
    SezwhutSezwhut Posts: 7member
    A big thumbs up for CarbonCopyCloner - I've been using it for years and it has saved me more than once. Responsive independent developer with a great product for the win :)
    racerhomie3watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 33
    normmnormm Posts: 545member
    I use Time Machine plus Backblaze.  Time Machine continuously copies my current info--over the air--to a local network drive, keeping multiple versions of each file, which gives me protection against both hardware failure and corruption of current info.  I never have to plug in a Time Machine disk.  Backblaze gives me offsite storage--over the air--of all current files (encrypted).  The offsite storage protects me in case something bad happens at my location such as my house burning down or thieves taking my stuff.  I don't need a clone of my Mac.  If the hardware fails, for example, I can buy a new one and use Migration Assistant to copy all my stuff from Time Machine to the new machine.

    It isn't clear from your description whether or not the programs you recommend other than Time Machine are true backup programs.  A true backup gives you multiple historical versions of files so that, if your disk gets corrupted or you mess something up yourself, you can get a good version back, even if you don't notice the problem for a while.  By this criterion Backblaze by itself is not a backup, since it just keeps the current version of all files.  It is really just the offsite component of a backup.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 33
    sandorsandor Posts: 501member
    Sezwhut said:
    A big thumbs up for CarbonCopyCloner - I've been using it for years and it has saved me more than once. Responsive independent developer with a great product for the win :)

    Agree. 

    The flexibility of CCC has always won out for me.

    I use SuperDuper for the quick & dirty clones (ie old computer to new one via Target Disk Mode) and tried ChronoSync for our server backups, but it got horribly slow with our large data sets (fibre arrays, 16-24 TB) ChronoSync took  about 2x longer than CCC, and was useless for daily backups offsite (typically 18-20 GB of data daily)



    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 33
    sandorsandor Posts: 501member
    normm said:
    I use Time Machine plus Backblaze.  Time Machine continuously copies my current info--over the air--to a local network drive, keeping multiple versions of each file, which gives me protection against both hardware failure and corruption of current info.  I never have to plug in a Time Machine disk.  Backblaze gives me offsite storage--over the air--of all current files (encrypted).  The offsite storage protects me in case something bad happens at my location such as my house burning down or thieves taking my stuff.  I don't need a clone of my Mac.  If the hardware fails, for example, I can buy a new one and use Migration Assistant to copy all my stuff from Time Machine to the new machine.

    It isn't clear from your description whether or not the programs you recommend other than Time Machine are true backup programs.  A true backup gives you multiple historical versions of files so that, if your disk gets corrupted or you mess something up yourself, you can get a good version back, even if you don't notice the problem for a while.  By this criterion Backblaze by itself is not a backup, since it just keeps the current version of all files.  It is really just the offsite component of a backup.
    While i 100% agree versioning or sequestering of moved/changed files is a necessary component in my backups, simply backing up live data is still a backup.

    We keep 18 months of what CCC calls "Safety Net" (changed/deleted files moved out of the live data set into a "_CCC SafetyNet" folder - this folder is approx 1 TB on our smallest array))

    In regards to restoring from TimeMachine, you must never have "restored" from a clone - if you did, you wouldnt waste time with MA again.
    I could not imagine having to use Migration Assistant every time. Target Disk Mode and CCC/SuperDuper set to clone is far far far faster.

    edited July 2018
  • Reply 10 of 33
    ARQ is amazing. I switched to ARQ from CrashPlan and ARQ is significantly more reliable and faster. If you own Office365, you already have free cloud storage that works great with ARQ.

    juls
    Rayz2016space2001
  • Reply 11 of 33
    normm said:
    I use Time Machine plus Backblaze...
    This is my setup, too.

    Best of both worlds.

    Just set it and go! :)

    P.S. I use this little App in my Menu Bar, SMARTReporter. Green if HD is good and turns 'red' if there's a problem w/ MacBook's HD. (See image below.)

    Saved my bacon once. 3 mo. before AppleCare was due to expire. It turned 'red' and Apple replaced HD and motherboard on my iMac. Whew!

    (Mentioned it before/no affiliation)  :)

    Best.

    screenshot_76.png


    edited July 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 33
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,110member
    I just use a combination of Dropbox (along with an encryption app called Boxcryptor) and iCloud. Dropbox has my data, icloud has my settings and some data, and all my apps I can just download from the App Store. True, I can’t simply reproduce my hard drive from the backup, but all my data is there, backed up, synchronized, and available. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 33
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,943member
    Thanks for the article! I've been saved by Time Machine 4 or 5 times and have always been impressed by its reliability. It has never let me down. Yeah, it's slow and a full restore takes hours since it does not create a bootable volume. I think I'll give CCC a try just to add another layer of defense to my backup strategy and to allow me to boot into a runnable system much more quickly than Time Machine allows. I know the next logical step in my backup strategy is definitely along the lines of an off-premise backup solution but my internet speed is so damn slow that a cloud based option would take weeks to do the initial image and a couple of hours each night. I'd almost be better off backing up to a gigabit ethernet connected storage system that's enclosed in a fireproof container located in a garden shed or a backyard bomb shelter. :smile: 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 33
    mdirvinmdirvin Posts: 26member
    normm said:
      By this criterion Backblaze by itself is not a backup, since it just keeps the current version of all files.  It is really just the offsite component of a backup.
    I believe back blaze keeps deleted files for 30 days, if you are using their backup plan.  I have a B2 cloud account using chronosync to to incrementally backup two computers.  Which is less expensive than using the backup plan for two computers.  With the B2 cloud account you set how long deleted files are kept before they are actually deleted.  Initially they are just hidden from view.  At present I have it set for 60 days.

    Chronosync will keep deleted files for as long as you would like.  Its selectable from deleting immediately to keeping as many versions as you want.  How long you would like to keep them, or pruning the number of versions after a time (all user selectable).

    Mike
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 33
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,197administrator
    6toecat said:
    Time Machine is great until your cat decides to take out the external hard drive.
    ok, this is funny. Sad, but funny. Why is there no mention of enterprise tools like CrashPlan, with can also do disk backups for free?
    This particular article isn't really about the disparate backup services, nor is it really geared towards enterprise solutions.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 33
    I would like to see a comprehensive article that covers the restore process from these products rather than just the backup process.    I have recovered corrupted mac disks with time machine and the process is as simple as booting into a recover mode and selecting time machine as the source, wait an hour or hours and your Mac is back!    But, what about Super Duper and CCC?  Do I need to make a boot device and then get it to copy clone the drive back?  I assume the process is more involved?   Thanks 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 33
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,110member
    Another issue I thought of is Ransomware. Having an incremental backup should allow you to go back to a point prior to the ransomware attack to restore your files. The potential flaw with this is if the ransomware software specifically corrupts or deletes the backups. Does anyone know of any malware that does that and/or how the various options presented here would fare against a ransom ware attack?
    Eric_WVGG
  • Reply 18 of 33
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 514member
    I would like to see a comprehensive article that covers the restore process from these products rather than just the backup process.    I have recovered corrupted mac disks with time machine and the process is as simple as booting into a recover mode and selecting time machine as the source, wait an hour or hours and your Mac is back!    But, what about Super Duper and CCC?  Do I need to make a boot device and then get it to copy clone the drive back?  I assume the process is more involved?   Thanks 
    Actually CCC can do an even better job of that. CCC makes a complete and total replica of your disk, cache files and everything. When you recover from CCC, you're getting your old computer back, period.

    Recover-from-Time-Machine will do a fresh OS install, and be "picky" about what comes over from the backup. If you're a developer, a lot of settings will get left behind. You're in deep trouble if you had a MySQL database you depended on.

    Time Machine recovery is great and probably better for the layperson, but CC is the power user shit. Happy user for over a decade. (Super Duper seems fine but not quite as expert oriented, which IMO makes it kind of pointless; you either want the easy shit, or you want the awesome shit.)
    AppleUfmyIsandor
  • Reply 19 of 33
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,005member
    Sezwhut said:
    A big thumbs up for CarbonCopyCloner - I've been using it for years and it has saved me more than once. Responsive independent developer with a great product for the win :)
    100% Agree.  CCC is the best tool  for back ups bar none.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 33

    When you (I) push backing up for too long, you (I) end up with a 2TB worth of files to backup from your Mac. Using TimeCapsule at that time makes it dead slow since it takes forever to backup.

    Would CCC or some other app work faster, or are they as slow?

    I'd prefer to use the stock apps just for the fact that they are from Apple.

    edited July 2018 watto_cobra
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