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

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.