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 Option
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.
I really like your column, Tom.
But if you are worried about loosing your music collection in case your house is destroyed, you need to reconsider your priorities.
Easy solution though, throw your external HD into a waterproof/fire resistant safe, along with important documents and emergency cash stash. That way your data will be secure from burglars and most natural disasters... except maybe a supermassive black hole. A safe like that is about $60, or a year subscription of online storage, but comes with the safety of keeping your info away from a hackable internet company.
Sounds Like a new DIY project:
The Indestructable USB Backup Safe
Sentry, the safe and fire security company has combined with Seagate/Maxtor to market a fire-proof, water proof external hard drive. Starting at about $200, you get a 80 Gb drive in a box that is nothing less than a safe. It is tested to survive 1550F temps for half an hour and complete submersion in water. Short of a tornato displacing your drive, it will pretty much cover most of the threats covered in this article. I have been a technician for 17 years now, Maxtor is not my first choice for a manufacturer, but since they have teamed up (bought by) Seagate, they are getting better. Anyone interested should look at Sentrysafe.com under the data solutions.
Great article! I have to say I've used the Time Machine method many times and works amazing! I once had to upgrade an old HD from my old Powerbook and using Time Machine I was able to restore all my settings to the new HD. So if your still wondering Tom it works great for full restores and transferring old data to a new HD.
Great article, I too have the same problem with a LaCie 250gb hard drive which say's that the data is not available? Time Machine was set to backup every hour then it provided this message. The hard drive contains 1000's of music tracks and photo's...
Any idea's folks?
Hey Tom, I don't have a Mac but if it's any help for those who use windows I use 2 internal hard drives connected by USB & back each of them up once a week using Casper. It copies the whole disc with Windows. First initial backup can take awhile depending on how fast a proccessor you have. After first backup each one thereafter takes maybe a tenth of the time as the first. After each is backed up I remove them from use.If my internal hard drive fails I remove it and replace it with one of the backed up drives. I believe if it's not continuously on it may last longer.So those 2 drives are strictly connected for backup. After, if you have real important data and want to protect it from fire Hurricanes etc. put the drive in a waterproof safe & when all are sleeping find a secret place to bury it 2 feet underground.
I use time machine. It's extremely easy to set up, and it's included on every mac for free. I wirelessly back up my laptop and my main computer to the same hard drive. It's easy as pie, every hour on the hour. It also works with mail, so i can take a glimpse at what my mailbox looked like two months ago if need be.