Why do we need backups?

Backups are critical for anyone who uses a computer and stores important files. This is even more true today, with Solid State Drives (not as recoverable as the old mechanical drives), cloud computing, additional security built into the hardware, and cyber-stalking or ransom-ware.

Solid State Drives (SSDs) are standard with almost every Mac now, and in some portables, they are integrated into the board. That means, if something happens to the computer, the storage component is no longer removable, and recovery is sometimes impossible.

Cloud Computing: You might wonder, “If all my important files are in the cloud, do I still need to back up?” The short answer is yes. It is true you have a safety net with the ability to log into any computer and retrieve your files. But this does require the internet, time, and several assumptions. There are other variables such as losing your password, losing shared files, system hiccups, or file corruption. Even when you have files saved in the cloud, your most reliable and fastest recovery tool will always be a physical copy of your entire system that you can completely restore within minutes to hours, without having to rebuild from scratch. Also, files in the cloud is not an archival backup, it is only a sync engine. So, when you (or someone else) throws away files, they are generally only around in “purgatory” for about 30 days, then they’re gone forever. In case of accidental deletion, you may never recover those files after a period of time passes.

Additional Security: With the latest security tools built into the software AND hardware of your Mac, data recovery in the event of a lost password, system corruption, or accidental damage, is difficult (which also means expensive) or impossible. In situations where the computer has FileVault or a firmware lock enabled, and cannot be unlocked for any reason, the data is unretrievable.

Ransomware: In the most extreme cases, data can be held ransom and released only in exchange for a large sum of money. This is a real thing, and has happened to large institutions, causing downtime and major losses. If the price of the ransom costs less than rebuilding the entire business or client database, you can be certain this cyber-crime works for the criminals. Even if it’s a long shot, it’s just better practice to keep a backup or two or three around.

Here are some ways to back up your Mac. (Pick one…or two!)

  • Use Time Machine: Time Machine backup software is built into your Mac for free. It’s the easiest option. (Watch Amy’s quick how-to video here!)
    1. Buy an external hard drive. (We recommend Seagate or Samsung)
    2. Plug it into your Mac.*
    3. Click the Apple logo in the top left of your screen, and choose System Preferences.
    4. Click on Time Machine.
    5. Click Select Disk, then select your external drive icon.
    6. Check the box for “Show Time Machine in Menu Bar” to add a shortcut to the top of your screen so you can monitor the status of backups.

Pros: Simple. Inexpensive (average $50-$200 for a drive of your choice). Works in the background when plugged in. Can restore entire system quickly–including Applications–to a new computer or after a system re-install. Can store multiple Mac backups or other files on the same drive (as space allows).
Cons: It has to be physically plugged in to work. You have to remember to plug it in. It is not an independently bootable system. Has to be a Mac formatted drive, can only work with Mac*.

  • Use Backblaze or another cloud service. We like Backblaze because you get unlimited storage for one price, and it is easy to use.
    1. Go to Backblaze.com to set up an account and free trial.
    2. Download the software and follow instructions.

Pros: Simple. Nothing to plug in, nothing to think about (until you need to access files). Easy access to your backed-up files from any computer. Unlimited storage. Backs up attached external drives as well.
Cons: Not a full system backup. Does not back up Applications. Takes a long time to recover a large amount of files. Has a monthly or annual price tag ($60/year as of 2019.)

  • Use Carbon Copy Cloner. This is a pro move and creates a complete clone of your system you can start using immediately in case something happens to your primary computer.
    1. Go to bombich.com and download a free trial of Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC), then install and open it.
    2. Plug in an external hard drive.*
    3. Create a new clone task. Choose your hard drive as the source and your empty external hard drive as the destination. Click Clone.
    4. This task can be scheduled to update the clone daily or anytime you want.
    5. To use your clone, boot to any Mac holding down the Option key. Choose your clone icon when it shows up on the screen.
    6. Log in as usual. Voila!

Pros: Bootable clone of your entire system. Instant access to a new system if something happens to yours. Generally no issues with running Applications. Inexpensive (cost of a drive and about $35 for the software, free to try).
Cons: Has to be plugged in to work. Requires a little bit more expertise to set up. Requires a dedicated drive to be bootable (can’t store anything else on it.)

* Plugging in to your Mac may require an adapter. You can also purchase a hard drive with the right connector type to avoid using an adapter. For 2016 and newer Macs, get a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 drive for the fastest connection. Or, if you have or purchase a standard USB drive, get a USB-C to USB-A adapter to plug it in.

* You may also be prompted to format your drive when you plug it in. Only do this with a blank drive or one you can erase. To format for a Mac backup, open Disk Utility (from Applications>Utilities), choose the external drive icon from the left sidebar. Click the Erase button at the top of the window. Type a name for your drive, such as “Mac Backup.” Then choose the format: “Mac OS Extended (Journaled).” It’s always a good idea to complete this step if you can first, to make sure the drive is formatted properly.