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Leopard’s Time Machine might not be a powerful enough back up for you.

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I’m using Leopard with Time Machine to do my data back up on my MacBook Pro. I’ve been pleased with how it works, and I even used Time Machine once to recover some e-mails that got accidently deleted. It was amazingly simply to find them, and pull them forward to my current e-mail. After using Time Machine since Leopard came out, I have noticed a few things that might weaken it’s appeal some.

1. Time Machine runs all of the time. So if you’re busy like me, Time Machine can slow your machine down enough for you to notice as you rush to get other tasks complete. I’ve considered moving my back up to my home office, and letting it run there while I sleep at night. But, as you recall Time Machine already saved some e-mails for me once at work, so if my back up drive had been home, I would not have been able to make a recovery so quickly. So for that fact, I think Time Machine needs to reside at your office to be completely effective.

You can change the frequency of Time Machine’s back up process by installing a little program called TimeMachineScheduler. With it, you can change how often it runs from anywhere from 1 to 12 hours. Take care, because changing TIme Machine’s settings could change the way your back up runs, or cause it not to run at all. Because of this, it’s extremely important that you test your back up after you modify it ANY way. This brings me to my next point.

2. A back up is only as good as it is. In order to KNOW this and completely OWN your back up, you MUST test your back up often, and in different ways. I learned this the hard way with a recent hard drive upgrade on my MacBook Pro. I wanted to move to a larger size hard drive, as I suspected that my old drive was starting to show signs of failure, and I had been using it for about 2 years. Since I’m a heavy user, I work on-site at client locations frequently, and I travel with my MacBook Pro wherever I go, there’s a time limit to how long a user like me can count on their installed hard drive. See my website http://www.HardDrivesDie.com for more info on “retiring” hard drives.

So I went to install a new 500 GB hard drive, installed a fresh copy of 10.5, and prepared to migrate my data from my old 250 GB hard drive. It said it was going to take a few hours, so I set up and got to work doing some Mac repairs in the lab. Now I suspected that the old drive might be dying, so I was not too surprised that it was taking so long, but I let it go. I ended up letting it run after I left the office for the day. I came back the next morning to see it had locked up. No biggie, I’ll just re-format, and start over, and use my Time Machine back up instead. Sadly, this too did not work, and I ended up manually copying my data by hand. Not the end of the world, but certainly alot longer and alot more tedious then just letting the OS handle it automatically. I was not too worried about my data, as I have several back ups, and all of my data was still present and accounted for on both my old hard drive, and my Time Machine back up.

3. So after my computer was back in business, I went back to my Time Machine back up to see if I could figure out what had happened and why I could not restore from that volume. I first tried a simple disk repair in Disk Utility, and that worked for a while and it came up an error that it reported is could not fix. I tried to repair the directory using a third party program, as Time Machine volumes are notoriously prone to directory damage. I had not done this in awhile. I set it up on one of my data recovery machines and went back to work in the lab on a client machine. I came back several hours later to check on it, and the repair software reported that the drive was running slower then expected due to a “hardware malfunction”. So it appears that even though I’m extremely careful, and I do monitor my primary and back up hard drives very carefully, I still ran into some issues. Now I was lucky because I did not have any data loss, and all I lost was time, and that brings me to my conclusion.

Time Machine is a fine program. It’s incredibly protective, easy to set up, and it’s free if you own Leopard. All things that we love here at MacMedics. Why do we love it so? Because, when our clients’ data is backed up it makes our jobs easier, and we hate to see data loss. With so many clients running new machines with Leopard pre-installed, more and more people are running Time Machine. Fantastic! Right? Well, it is great, but Time Machine is not a bootable back up. That means that if your computer were to have a problem, and that does happen, then you’d have to find a Mac to use, possibly install a fresh OS, then wait for your data to migrate over to the new computer. This is 1000 times better then not having a back up at all, but if you’re a power user, then you might not A. want to wait that long, or B. want to take your chances with only one back up.

Ideally, in a perfect world you want to have TWO back ups. 1. Your trusty Time Machine back up for grabbing a file you need from two days ago that you over designed and want to go back to the original and 2. a bootable back up, so if something bad happens to your computer you can boot from your back up and be right back in business right away (from another computer or at another location). Bottom line? Two back ups are better then one. Both types of back ups have their strengths and weaknesses, so the best thing to do is have both. I’m now recommending that prior to any major changes in hard drives, or major system updates that it is wise to have a “clone” of your hard drive on stand by in case you run into issues. That “clone” should be tested by “booting” off of it to ensure that it’s fully functional and ready to go should you run into any trouble.

4. When I get my Time Machine hard drive back on line, I am also going to use the same drive to be a bootable “clone” back up of my entire system, so I will have two fully functioning back ups of two totally different types. I’m simply going to partition the drive in such a way that Time Machine will have the space it needs, and my other back up program will have a cool 501 GBs to copy my bootable clone to.

If you want my help in setting up a MacMedics “Double back up”. then give me or any of the other MacMedics a call. We’ll be delighted to help you get it set up. Also, ask us about our “Advanced Back up” options where we can also use a RAID to give your back up a back up. You can never have too many back ups! In fact I now have a third back up! I’m storing my old hard drive at an undisclosed location as a “Snapshot in time” back up just in case something terrible happens, and I lose my computer, and my other two back ups. It never hurts to store a few DVDs or in my case, and old hard drive at your parent’s house, or with a neighbor or friend.

A close family friend here in Severna Park had his house burn down to the ground. Computers, back ups, photos, documents, everything was lost. How cool would it have been for him to go next door and get his old hard drive, and still have data from a few months ago? Here’s hoping that your data is backed up!

Written by Dana Stibolt

February 28th, 2009 at 5:02 pm