How to backup your Mac

Our personal devices contain some of the most essential data in our lives. This information can be school assignments, photos of family memories, or important financial documents. Any of these would be devastating to lose. While many of us buy a Mac for its build quality, it is still not without its flaws.

A backup is a copy of your data and there are many reasons to have a backup. A device could malfunction, be damaged by a virus, stolen, damaged, or liquid spilled on it. Wiping a device is also a common means of troubleshooting. You will even receive an email asking you to back up your device and update your software every time you visit an Apple Store for an appointment at the Genius Bar.

While this article focuses on Apple’s Mac line, there are ways to back up Apple iOS devices, Google Android Devices, and Microsoft Windows devices.

There are two types of backups: an image backup and a file backup. A backup of the image will make a copy of the entire state of your operating system. It will copy your settings, applications, user accounts, and files. macOS uses a tool called Time Machine to do this kind of full backup. File backups are what cloud backup services can provide.

They will only back up the files on your computer, not your settings, applications or user profiles. If you buy AppleCare + for your device, you will have peace of mind for the hardware. However, Apple does not cover data recovery. They put that responsibility on their users. Think of backup as peace of mind for your data. Apple does not have a magic way to get your data back. Which means taking a few minutes to read this article could be the difference between saving all your essential information and losing it.

Backup in 3-2-1

If you ask an IT professional like me, we will recommend that you follow a 3-2-1 backup strategy. This rule arises from the idea that you will always have a copy of your data no matter what. All three means having three separate backups of your data. This could be on external hard drives, network attached storage devices, or a cloud service. The two means having at least two different types of media. Consider a cloud service, a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD). The idea is that one type of medium could be damaged or killed.

While external hard drives are inexpensive, they also have a limited lifespan of 3-5 years. An SSD is often considered excessive for a backup, especially with a higher upfront cost. You generally don’t need the speed that an SSD would provide for backup, but they are more durable. It is generally recommended to spend your money on two or more external hard drives instead of a super fast SSD for backup. A cloud service is excellent in terms of reliability. Still, it comes at an ongoing cost and only backs up your files compared to an external drive doing a full image backup using Time Machine on macOS.

“When I was a tech at the Apple Store, I heard people say they didn’t need to back up their Mac because it was” all in iCloud … right? “

The one represents having at least one remote or “off-site” backup. So if something happened to your home, you could still get your data back. Remote backups are more easily done through a cloud service like Backblaze. However, some people prefer to keep an external drive at their workplace or with a family member and change the drive regularly.

You can implement many different combinations of backup strategies, but always have at least one backup, either on a physical drive or with a cloud service. If you’re willing to deal with a bit of redundancy, have at least two physical drives or one physical drive and a cloud backup. This 3-2-1 rule is a great way to see how your backup strategies stack up. Personally, I make a backup on three external hard drives. Two are on my network, and one is a drive that I backup monthly to and keep off-site. A fourth backup is done via the cloud through the Backblaze backup service.

Cloud sync vs. cloud backup

When I was a tech at the Apple Store, I heard people say that they didn’t need to back up their Mac because it was “all in iCloud … right?” On an iOS device like your iPhone or iPad, there is an iCloud backup switch, which does a full image backup of your iOS device. While I hope one day Apple will bring a similar feature to macOS, we haven’t quite made it yet. In macOS, we have a feature called iCloud Drive. iCloud Drive is a cloud syncing service.

The difference is that a backup service makes a separate copy of your data. The idea is that if a file is deleted or lost, it is recoverable. A synchronization service keeps a real-time match of your files. Which means that if a file is deleted from your computer, it is also removed from iCloud. Backblaze is an excellent example of a cloud backup service. They make a copy of each file and store it in an encrypted service. Google drive and Dropbox both offer versions of cloud sync and cloud backup services.

How to Backup Your Mac Using Time Machine

Time Machine is macOS’s built-in backup utility. All you need to do is take an external hard drive, connect it to your Mac, and follow the steps below. You can use Time Machine to back up to multiple drives if you want. First, Time Machine will make a full backup to your computer’s disk. Which means that it will create an exact copy of your computer. After that initial backup, as long as you’re online, Time Machine will do incremental backups.

This is where Time Machine will take snapshots of your computer when changes are detected. If you delete a file and want to get that individual file back, you can “go back in time” and get it back using Time Machine. Data backup and recovery is something that I think Apple does an excellent job of making it easy to use and affordable compared to Microsoft Windows.

To configure Time Machine:

  1. Connect your external drive to your Mac
  2. Open ‘System Preferences’
  3. Click on ‘Time Machine’
  4. Click on the lock icon in the lower left corner
  5. Enter your administrator password or authenticate using TouchID
  6. Click “Add / Remove Backup Disk …”
  7. Select your drive under “Available Disks”
  8. Check ‘Encrypt backup’ and enter a password for the backup if you want your backup to be encrypted (see note below)
  9. Click on ‘Have Disk’

Encrypting your backup is the best idea when you are concerned about security. An unencrypted backup could be made and anyone could restore their data from that drive. Encrypting the backup will give the drive its own password. You will want to save this password in a password manager or in a safe place. Then if someone tries to restore from an encrypted drive, they will be prompted for that password.

That is all! Your Mac will start backing up. Your initial backup will most likely take hours to complete. Once this is done, your incremental backups will be much faster.

How to backup your Mac using Backblaze

There are numerous cloud backup services on the market, including i drive, Google drive, Dropbox, and many others. However, I will focus on Backblaze because it has consistently been rated the number one backup utility and highly recommended by the tech community.

To configure Backblaze:

  1. Create an account here
  2. Click ‘Allow’ if you are prompted to allow downloads
  3. Your file will download to your Mac
  4. Find the Backblaze DMG file on your Mac
  5. Double click to start the installer.
  6. Double click on ‘Backblaze Installer
  7. Click ‘Open’ if prompted
  8. Click ‘OK’ if you are prompted to grant Backblaze access to your desktop
  9. Click ‘Accept’ if you are asked to grant Backblaze access to your Downloads
  10. Click ‘Install Now’
  11. Enter your administrator password
  12. Click OK ‘
  13. Launch ‘System Preferences’
  14. Click on ‘Security and Privacy’
  15. Click on the ‘Privacy’ tab
  16. Click on ‘Full Disk Access’ in the left menu bar
  17. Click on the padlock in the lower left corner
  18. Enter your administrator password or authenticate using TouchID
  19. Check ‘Backblaze’ and ‘bzbmenu’

Backblaze will start backing up your files on their servers in case you need them.

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