Back That Mac Up

Oh noes! Your computer is toast

If you’re here, that means you’re serious about backing up your Mac. Trust me, that’s a good thing. Remember, we’re thinking about our backup fundamentals of redundancy, frequency, and spread.

Throughout this article, I want you to think to yourself: “what is my data worth to me?” In my case, My Mac holds pretty much everything important to me in my life:

  • My photos – including every digital photo I’ve ever taken. Ever.
  • My music – including every terrible Enrique Iglesisas song I downloaded off iTunes (Because you just can’t have too much “Don’t Turn Off The Lights”).
  • My writings – including that 7th-grade English report on Captain America that everyone made fun of me for. Who’s laughing at my detailed analysis of Cap’s Adamantium/Vibranium alloy shield now? That’s right, none of you.

I can’t be sure what you’ve got on your computer, but chances are it’s just as important to you as my stuff is to me. And believe me, if something were to happen to your stuff it’s impossible to underestimate just how much you’ll miss that fanfic of you getting Bat-grapple freaky with the Dark Knight. My stuff’s important. Your stuff’s important. What you have to remember is:

You need somewhere else to put your important stuff

Your stuff is currently on the hard drive inside of your computer, which is great. But if something happens to your computer, or even just your hard drive (they have been known to die on their own from time to time), you’re toast. What you want to do is secure an alternate location to stash your stuff. And that means…

You need to get yourself an external hard drive

No kidding. You really do. How big is up to you, but I would recommend getting one at least twice the size of your current hard drive. Right now external hard drives are running about $100 to $200 for the kind you’ll likely need. Pick a size that works, read some reviews, and get your hands on some external storage goodness. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to:

Grab a good piece of software for backin stuff up

I’m going to start with the easiest. If you’re running Mac OS X 10.4 (Panther) or later, then you need to get SuperDuper. It’s free. It makes an entire bootable clone of your hard drive. You can set it to run overnight and have your backup done by morning. Why are you not downloading it right now?

An image of SuperDuper's main backup window

If you’re willing to throw some cash down, I’d recommend buying SuperDuper for $28. When you buy/register the free version, you get access to superfun features like scheduling, so you can set your backups to run periodically.

Registering SuperDuper also gets you access to the program’s SmartUpdate feature, which is a fantastic way to backup. With the free version, every time you backup with the program it just makes a clone of your hard drive, file for file. That process can take hours, which is why you usually want to run it overnight. With the registered version of SuperDuper, you can set your backups to run more intelligently. The very first time you back up, the program makes a complete clone of your drive. But every subsequent time you back up, SuperDuper just compares all the files on your source drive to those on your backup drive, and copies/deletes only the ones necessary to make your backup drive identical to your source.

The upshot? Your first backup will take a few hours, but all backups after that tend to take about 20 minutes. A huge timesaver, and great incentive to backup more frequently.

That about does it for this post, but stay tuned. In my next post, I’m going to cover the backup features built in to Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), the current feature of the Mac operating system. We’re also going to talk about online backup solutions, so stick around!

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