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Macintosh Consulting, Service, & Support

MacMedics Frequently Asked Macintosh Service Questions: How Safe Is My Time Machine Back Up?

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We had a new MacMedics client call us on the phone and then come by the office with their sick iMac. The complaint was the unit was super slow. Right away I’m thinking a bad hard drive. The client tended to agree with me. The iMac fits our profile for hard drive “retirement” anyways since it’s right at the three years old mark. This is a fine time to “upgrade” and “retire” a desktop hard drive. (MacMedics recommends desktop hard drives be retired after 3 years and 2 years in laptops)

In this case the client was in a hurry, so in trying to find the fastest solution we looked for the “sniper shot” hard drive fix to see if we could put her back in shape without replacing her hard drive. She had a presentation to work on tonight, and she felt most comfortable with the idea of getting her unit back on-line. We offered a low cost rental, since she had her Time Machine data, but she really wanted her iMac back.

We felt comfortable trying some “fixes” on her hard drive, because she had an up-to-date Time Machine back up. Well, when it really came down to it, those fixes and even a new install of her operating system failed to solve the problem. This told us that it was in fact the hard drive that was the cause of the problem.

The client opted for a new hard drive, AND an upgrade to a 1 TB hard drive (from a 500 MB. Read more about iMac hard drive service and upgrades here.), since her hard drive was dying. Because of what we had learned about her drive being super slow, we decided to multi-task and run utilities on her Western Digital TIme Machine volume while the new OS was also installing. As we started looking at it carefully, we learned that the Time Machine drive was also failing.

We’re not big fans of this brand of hard drive, and when we told the client it was failing, she was shocked to hear it. We learned that the drive was less than a year old (don’t forget hard drives can die at anytime. See our website http://www.HardDrivesDie.com for more info.) When I told her that Western Digital was not my first choice for storing data, she was again shocked as she bought it from the Apple Store.

Here’s the facts folks. Any hard drive can die at any time, and just because it was purchased at the Apple Store does not give you an extra layer of protection. The other thing to remember is that the process of TIme Machine running every hour is rough on hard drives. The other item everybody needs to know, is there’s no such thing as set-and-forget-it the world of hard drive back ups.

All hard drive back up systems need to be tested and monitored on a regular basis. Time Machine is no exception. It does a great job of providing extremely easy to use back ups, but it should not be the only back up you trust your data with. (See my previous post about Time Machine here.) We recommend a double back up. TIme Machine for your first layer of back up, and a “clone” back up for your second layer of protection. Ideally, you should also have some sort of off-site back up as well.

As we store more and more of our digital identity and life on hard drives, it’s akin to more “eggs in one basket”. When you have more data stored in one place, you increase your risk, if that single hard drive fails, you could stand to lose all of the data stored on it. The other thing to keep in mind is as the amount of data you have active and live on your computer grows and grows, TIme Machine loses some if it’s ability to keep a longer record of you past data. The larger your Time Machine hard drive volume is in ratio to your main hard drive, the longer Time Machine will keep you data backed up. Of course having any back up is better than no back up, but Time Machine’s real advantage is in it’s ability to to keep months and months (even a year) of data for you to look back on if you should need a file that you accidentally erased 6 months ago (or longer).

As was the case today with our new client, she came very close to losing her data as, both her primary and her TIme Machine back-up drives were both failing in different ways. That could have proved disastrous.

What can you do to prevent this? Make a clone of your drive. For as little as $99 you can by a portable USB hard drive and either clone your whole hard drive, or just copy your user folder to it. You can also start burning some of your data to DVDs or CDs and storing that data off site.

No matter what you need in terms of a back up, MacMedics can help. Call any of our offices, and we’ll be glad to help you add your first, second, or third layer of back up. It’s important, so don’t delay.

Tip: If you bought a Time Machine drive when you purchased your new Macintosh, it needs to be installed in order to protect you. Don’t start generating data you care about AND can’t stand to lose if you’re NOT backed up. If you’re reading this, and you need help checking you back up or getting it configured, call us we can help. It does not matter if you’re local to MacMedics here in Baltimore, Washington DC, or Philadelphia. We can come on-site, or we can visit your computer via our Desktop Support Software. A back up coaching session over the phone can be set up and running in about 15 minutes. PLEASE, don’t wait!

You can read some of my other posts on Time Machine here:

Congratulations your hard drive made it through another Friday the 13th!

Back up and secure your data! (Then test your back up system!)

Do you use Time Machine as your only back up? Double it!

Installing a second hard drive into a MacBook Pro = Very Cool. Having a mobile bootable backup anywhere = PRICELESS.

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