Backing up my computer’s hard drive has always been like flossing: I know I should be doing it even though it’s one of life’s more prickly pains in the butt. Both chores are the kinds of thing you can never fully appreciate until something goes horribly wrong, like a hard drive fries or some teeth start jiggling loose.
It used to be that my entire digital existence could live comfortably on just a few Zip disks (can you believe Iomega actually still makes those?), but with more and more aspects of life being managed on or otherwise facilitated by the PC and Web, a couple of 100MB bricks are no longer sufficient. And it’s not just a few work files I stand to lose if things go bad—I’ve cataloged at least a decade of work, personal projects, photos, bookmarks and professional contacts, not to mention my music collection. Like everyone else that lives and works on a computer nowadays, I’d be absolutely devastated by a data meltdown.
So, I’ve finally wised up and decided to back up my hard drive on a regular basis. But, how? Should I buy a Godzilla-sized hard drive and backup locally, or should I pay a monthly fee to an online service that backs up my data remotely? Each method has its pluses and minuses, so I gave them both a go. Not surprisingly, I can’t say I’m satisfied with either method.
The local half of this experiment began a few months ago when I upgraded to Leopard, which included Apple’s new built-in backup utility Time Machine. I combined that with a 250GB Western Digital USB drive I’d already been using for spotty manual backups whenever I happened to think of doing one. Like everything Apple, the process couldn’t have been easier. Within minutes of upgrading to Leopard, I had full backups of my system running every hour. Time Machine is so easy to use, it has me wondering what took so long for an OS to finally include something like this out of the box.
About three weeks ago, I finally had the chance to actually use a Time Machine backup. A Photoshop file I’d been laboring on for weeks was suddenly and inexplicably corrupt, and unable to be opened. What could have been a fairly catastrophic ordeal was easily fixed when I pulled a fresh copy of the file off of my external drive to replace the corrupted one.
What really enamors me to Time Machine, though, is its ability to fully restore a new hard drive or even a new Mac to my existing configuration. I look forward to trying this out myself when I buy my next computer. But, for now I’m going to skip reformatting my hard drive for a test run and just take the word of others that this feature does actually work.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.