2010-01-22

Backup Drives for your Mac

The hard disk in your Mac can fail at any time. And they often do. I'd guess that the chance of any computer owner having a hard drive failure within the next year is 10%, regardless of the age or brand of the computer.

If your hard drive fails, the odds are very good that you will have NO HOPE FOR RECOVERY. All your photos, music and documents are likely to be GONE FOREVER.

Backup is key if you don't want to permanently lose all your photos and music and other important bits of data. Here's how to do it on the cheap.

Simple and Inexpensive Backup Devices For Your Mac

The easiest way to back up your Mac is via the built in TimeMachine backup program. But to use it, you need to buy an external backup drive first.

An external drive used to backup a MacBook

My recommendation is to buy a USB 2.0 backup drive with 1 TB of storage. They're inexpensive (under $100), they have substantial capacity, and they're very easy to use. Personally, I love the inexpensive but very good IOMega Prestige.

There are other options, but they generally cost more money:
  • An external drive with FireWire interface. Firewire drives are generally a bit faster than USB 2.0 drives. If your Mac has a Firewire interface, an enclosure with USB AND Firewire interfaces like the Buffalo DriveStation is a good choice. But drives that include Firewire can cost $15 - $50 or even more than a drive with USB 2.0. And Firewire doesn't provide all that more performance. In addition, with USB 3.0 coming around the bend, spending a premium for Firewire today seems questionable at best.
  • You can assemble your own external drive. You can buy an "internal" hard drive and an empty "hard drive enclosure". Then you mount the drive into the enclosure and you've got yourself an external drive. In theory, this can save you money. But I don't think it's worth the hassle - a pre-assembled external drive can actually cost less than buying the individual components, and problem diagnosis and warranty processing isn't nearly as easy when dealing with multiple sellers.
Using the External Drive for Backup
Once you have your external drive, power it up and plug it into your Mac's USB port.

Time Machine will automatically detect the drive and ask you if you want to use it as a backup device. If you say "yes", Time Machine will make a backup of your documents, photos and so-forth onto the external drive.

The first backup will take a while - but after that, subsequent backups are much faster.

Time Machine will only back up when you plug in your external disk... so make sure you do. I like to back up once per day, but it really depends on how much you can afford to lose. If you back up once per week, you could loose up to the last week's worth of data. Maybe that's OK, maybe it's not. It's up to you.

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