Hey IT Nerd! Should I Use Time Machine Or Some Other Backup Program To Backup My Mac?

Good question. To answer this properly, I have to explain what the options that Mac users have to back up their Mac starting with Time Machine.

Recent versions of OS X come with a built in backup program called Time Machine which is unique in the following ways:

  • It will automatically backs up your entire Mac as long as you point it towards an external drive via USB or across your network to a drive connected to an Apple Airport Extreme or to an Apple Time Capsule. Beyond setting it up, no user intervention is required.
  • It remembers how your system looked on any given day. This allows you go back days, weeks ,or months to find a file that you’re looking for.

Sounds perfect right? To some degree it is. But there is a couple of downsides. Your backup isn’t bootable. That means to restore your backup in the event of a disaster, you have to boot from the Mac OS X DVD and choose the option to restore from a Time Machine backup. While not the worst thing in the world, that’s not exactly ideal in my mind. The other downside is that Time Machine will only back up to USB attached drives or Apple Time Capsule or drives attached to Apple Airport Extremes. If you have a third party Network Attached Storage box, then you’re out of luck unless you’re willing to hack OS X to make it work.

Contrast that to backup applications like SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner. Both of those allow you to create a bootable disk image. That means that in the event of a disaster, you could in theory boot from the image and restore it. However, the downside is that you need to do a bit more work with SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner to allow it to back up your Mac. But that complexity does give you the option to back up to any USB or Network Attached Storage drive which is a huge plus. Another plus is the ability to back up to multiple disk images in multiple locations. Great if you’re really paranoid. While the process to set this up isn’t overly complicated, it might be a bit too daunting for novice users.

So, which should you go for? It depends on your needs. If you simply need to back up your Mac with the least amount of fuss, go for Time Machine. If you want a few more options and you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, then choose something like SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner. But you should choose to back up your Mac or you might live to regret not doing so.

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