Backing up a Mac

A friend recently asked a very good question, “What disk tools should be in a persons disk utility collection for backup/recovery of a Mac?” At the top of my list is two applications: SuperDuper! ($28) and Chronosync ($30).

SuperDuper is in a class of utilities used to duplicate the contents of your hard drive. There are other options (Synchronize! Pro X – $99, Carbon Copy Cloner – $5, Retrospect), but none that deliver so much for the money.

I owned Synchronize! Pro years ago but gave up on it during the switch to OS X. CCC was the perfect (and only) tool for duplicating OS X drives for quite a while. I used and recommended it for a few years. It’s so good and cheap that I paid the suggested donation for it several times. It “just works.” However, CCC has grown rather long in the tooth. As new versions of OS X arrived, it has been slow to get updated and even the latest version today does not support all of OS X’s file metadata features.

Say hello to SuperDuper.

Like CCC, SuperDuper will duplicate your drive contents from one drive to another, for free. However, with your paid registration, SuperDuper uses a sync engine that copies just the changes from one drive to the other. It works quite well and you (and I) are much more likely to back up often if only takes a few minutes (versus hours). I have a few bare ATA disks with sticky notes on them, so I know which computer they are for. I hook them up to my WiebeTech ComboDock and back up periodically. It works well.

The other half of my backup equation is keeping my home directory in sync between all of my computers. With two laptops and two desktops, keeping them all “up to date” is no small challenge. I have tried several solutions, including OS X Server 10.4 and portable home directories. However, the easiest to use and most reliable solution is using ChronoSync. I configure it to sync my entire home directory, minus Library, Movies, and Music. The latter two I exclude because they simply won’t fit on laptop hard drives. I only sync a small subset of my Library folder.

I run ChronoSync on an “as needed” basis, like right before I’m leaving the house, or when something is not on the laptop. Then I sync that laptop to my primary desktop system. ChronoSync has very good conflict resolution tools built in to help you sort out which version of a file you want to keep when both have changed since the last sync. It can also archive changed files and other nifty tricks. It is well worth the modest fee. Between those two apps, I can do everything I ever need to with my drives.


Retrospect: the software from OS 9 days that I’m so pleased to no longer need. While Retrospect worked quite well, it was never easy to use, and thus I was always needed to help when clients needed to set up new backups, restore from them, or do anything more complex than inserting new backup media. It is not a good solution for end users.

Another good “Backing up a Mac” article.

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