Backups = seat belts for your Mac

I know I have written about backing up in the past; several times, actually.  However, I really cannot think of a more important thing you should do with your Mac (or your iPad/iPhone as far as that goes, but that will be another blog).

In the last couple of weeks I have had a number of clients with failed or failing hard drives.  Hard drives fail for many reasons including for no apparent reason and with no warning.  They also “fail” because your Mac was stolen.  They fail due to liquid spilled on your laptop.  They can fail if your drop your Mac.  Sometimes, they just get old and give up (the average age at failure is 4 years, but with huge variation on that).  I had a hard drive fail on a brand new Mac at 3 months.  Hard drives can also fail in a house fire or flood (along with a lot of other things).

Backup your Mac for the same reason you wear a seatbelt (you do, right?): because you never know.  Because you never know.  You don’t.  You just don’t.

Remember the really, really important things that are on your Mac: your pictures and videos.  These are probably among the most precious and irreplaceable items in your life.  Do not trust them to just one hard drive (the one in your Mac).  And, by the way, NO, your Mac and all of your pictures are NOT backed up on iCloud.  They are not.

There are other important things on your Mac - your music, your documents (things you have written, tax records, spreadsheets, things you have saved from emails), your emails (if you do NOT have an IMAP email such as gmail, AOL, Yahoo or Apple’s email service).

Finally, there are your Mac’s settings; all of the things you have done to make your Mac yours - your Desktop background, your Dock arrangement, your saved passwords, all of your settings and your printer configurations.  Altogether, you probably spent hours configuring all of this.

And in one moment, any moment, in can all be gone.  Poof.

So, what can you do about it?  Backup your Mac.  It is pretty easy: an app runs hourly looking for changes to your Mac since the last backup and copies those to another hard drive (not in your Mac).  That other hard drive can be directly attached to your Mac (an inexpensive portable hard drive) or it can be a hard drive attached to or inside your wireless router (if your router supports such a thing).  It can even be a hard drive outside your home in another city!

Here is my own 2-tier backup strategy and the one I recommend:

1. Time Machine backup - Time Machine is a backup app that is built into your Mac and runs automatically once you set it up.  It can backup to either a portable hard drive attached to your Mac (great for iMacs) or a network hard drive (like Apple’s Time Capsule router - great for laptops).  My experience is that people do not remember to plug in portable hard drives into laptops, so if you have a laptop, seriously consider a Time Capsule.  Read more about Time Capsules here.  Two very important aspects of Time Machine are:

  • It backs up your entire Mac, including all of its settings.
  • It is called Time Machine because it takes a “snapshot” of your Mac through time, so you can go “back in time” and get a file you deleted earlier!

2. Online backup - There are several services available and they are very similar. They are inexpensive (about $50/year). Like Time Machine, an app (that you install) runs hourly, backing up recent changes.  The big difference is that the backup is not located in your home - it is located in a remote location, probably in a another city.  The advantage of this is that if something catastrophic happens in your home like a robbery, fire or flood, this backup is not in your home.

The disadvantage of these backups is that they only backup your files (your pictures, videos, music and documents).  They do not backup your settings or apps.  So, if you have to get a new hard drive or Mac, you can re-populate it with your stuff from these backups, but you will have to manually re-configure it and re-load your apps.

Also, these apps do not include much of a history.  Files deleted from your Mac are kept on the online backup location for 30 days then they are gone.

I like and use Backblaze online backup service.  I have tried a couple of others and I think Backblaze is the best for Macs.  To learn more about Backblaze click here.

I use both Time Machine and Backblaze. From Time Machine I can totally re-create my current Mac on a new hard drive (or Mac) if I need to.  Also, I can retrieve history of deleted files.  From Backblaze I can get all of my files back if there is a catastrophic event in my home.

So you have been warned.  Please do not call me in tears because you have no backup as some clients have in the past.  It is totally preventable by making sure your Mac is wearing a seat belt.