Best bootable backups for Mac

Don't run the risk of losing your data. Make sure you have a back up. You can either rely on Apple's own Time Machine, or try one of these bootable backups.

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  • Carbon Copy Cloner 4.0
  • SuperDuper! 2.7.3
  • Mac Backup Guru 2.1
  • Time Machine
  • More stories
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Carbon Copy Cloner 4.0

Any long time Mac fan will probably have a story about how Carbon Copy Cloner has saved their bacon at some point. It has been around for a long time, and is bristling with advanced features. It makes bootable backups, synchronised backups, can backup to network drives, has advanced scheduling options and is almost infinitely customisable.

Thankfully the latest version has cleared up the interface that was becoming unwieldy. However there’s no getting around the fact that backup can be a complicated thing. So there is a built in Cloning Coach that will analyse your backup, and tell you if there are any issues.

The advanced settings mode will delight its techie fan-base, as much as it would terrify the casual user. You can tweak these settings to do pretty much anything, from running shell scripts, to overriding power management settings, you can even create custom emails to let you know the finer details of each backup event.

Although Carbon Copy Cloner doesn’t offer versioned backups in the traditional sense, it does have a feature called Safety Net. This copies the files that were changed or deleted from the source since the last backup, into a Safety Net folder. The idea is that you won’t lose files you may have accidentally deleted. This works up to a point, but there are a couple of issues I ran into. First of all, the default setting “prunes” the Safety Net files when there is less than 25GB of space left on the backup drive. What is described as pruning, is actually deleting without warning. Which may be fine is you know that’s happening, and it does do it somewhat intelligently. But I would recommend opening the advance settings and setting the “pruning” to kick in when there is 0GB available. You can’t actually turn it off.

If the Safety Net feature does have a file that was accidentally deleted, the other issue is that the user must remember its name, or the date it was deleted. The feature creates a new folder for each backup, so users may potentially have to look through dozens of folders if the name was forgotten.

Overall, Carbon Copy Cloner is a very capable piece of software. However, despite the new simplified interface, setting up a backup is still a potentially daunting task for non-techies. Only the very simplest of backups wouldn’t require the user to click on the advanced settings mode. So if you are confident in your abilities, it’s a great choice. If you are already using the previous version, the upgrade to 4.0 is a no-brainer.

Read: What to do if your hard drive or SSD crashes and you have no backup and Complete Guide to Time Machine

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Any long time Mac fan will probably have a story about how Carbon Copy Cloner has saved their bacon at some point. It has been around for a long time, and is bristling with advanced features. It makes bootable backups, synchronised backups, can backup to network drives, has advanced scheduling options and is almost infinitely customisable.

Thankfully the latest version has cleared up the interface that was becoming unwieldy. However there’s no getting around the fact that backup can be a complicated thing. So there is a built in Cloning Coach that will analyse your backup, and tell you if there are any issues.

The advanced settings mode will delight its techie fan-base, as much as it would terrify the casual user. You can tweak these settings to do pretty much anything, from running shell scripts, to overriding power management settings, you can even create custom emails to let you know the finer details of each backup event.

Although Carbon Copy Cloner doesn’t offer versioned backups in the traditional sense, it does have a feature called Safety Net. This copies the files that were changed or deleted from the source since the last backup, into a Safety Net folder. The idea is that you won’t lose files you may have accidentally deleted. This works up to a point, but there are a couple of issues I ran into. First of all, the default setting “prunes” the Safety Net files when there is less than 25GB of space left on the backup drive. What is described as pruning, is actually deleting without warning. Which may be fine is you know that’s happening, and it does do it somewhat intelligently. But I would recommend opening the advance settings and setting the “pruning” to kick in when there is 0GB available. You can’t actually turn it off.

If the Safety Net feature does have a file that was accidentally deleted, the other issue is that the user must remember its name, or the date it was deleted. The feature creates a new folder for each backup, so users may potentially have to look through dozens of folders if the name was forgotten.

Overall, Carbon Copy Cloner is a very capable piece of software. However, despite the new simplified interface, setting up a backup is still a potentially daunting task for non-techies. Only the very simplest of backups wouldn’t require the user to click on the advanced settings mode. So if you are confident in your abilities, it’s a great choice. If you are already using the previous version, the upgrade to 4.0 is a no-brainer.

Read: What to do if your hard drive or SSD crashes and you have no backup and Complete Guide to Time Machine

 

SuperDuper! 2.7.3

Like Carbon Copy Cloner, SuperDuper! has been around a long time, and will be familiar to many. Unlike Carbon Copy Cloner, it hasn’t been adding features at every opportunity. So it remains a very easy to get to grips with piece of software.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have some advanced options, but it is designed to do the most common copying and cloning tasks without taxing the users brain. It is designed to make bootable synchronised cloned drives, and it does exactly that, in the most uncomplicated way possible.

It does have the ability to copy files to a network drive, but it wont be bootable. Instead the best approach is to save to a disk image on the network drive. Still not bootable, but easier to restore from, when the issue with the internal drive is fixed. The point of having a cloned, local backup is to enable a quick recovery. So if that’s what the aim is, then backing up to a local, connected drive is the best way forward.

One feature that would make SuperDuper! a little more super would be some sort of versioned backups. That’s what is needed to cope with accidentally deleted files. Relying solely on SuperDuper! will mean accidental file deletion is still a hazard. The online backup options often offer that ability, but not usually for the whole drive. But a little discipline, like saving your work to a backed up folder, rather than scattering things on the desktop should ensure files aren’t lost.

There is one thing the SuperDuper! offers that no other backup or cloning software does. There is a Sandbox mode, which is a way to safely test new software without jeopardising a system that is working perfectly. It’s a little difficult to figure out, as there’s really nothing like it.

The idea works like this. Making a Sandbox copy of shared users and apps on an external drive. Then boot from that volume when you want to install or update software. Then run like that for a while, to be sure the new stuff isn’t going to mess up the system. Once everything is running smoothly, the main drive can be updated with the Sandbox data.

This is aimed at people that regularly install risky software, like beta software, or software that might conflict with installed software. I suspect most people install mainstream software that has been out for a while. But for the paranoid or risk averse, it’s a simple way of keeping things working smoothly.

SuperDuper! remains one of the simplest ways to clone and synchronise a bootable drive. The Sandbox feature seems a little incongruous, as it’s a lot more complex than the basic synchronised backup. But the majority of its users love it because it’s easy to understand, easy to use and very reliable. If there’s any downside to SuperDuper!, it’s the lack of versioned backups. But in fairness, that was never the purpose of the software. It’s purely a tool for making synchronised bootable drives, and it does that flawlessly.

Read: How to back up your Mac: Three types of backup all Mac users should be using

 

Mac Backup Guru 2.1

Compared to Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper, Mac Backup Guru is a relatively new kid on the block. But it has some features that make it a very appealing piece of software. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Carbon Copy Cloner, although it does have some unique features that are extremely well thought out.

The interface is as simple to understand as SuperDuper!, in fact there are only two options you need to choose from, a straightforward Synchronised Clone Backup, or Backup with Incremental Snapshots. Aside from that, the only other thing needed is to choose a source, destination and schedule.

The Synchronised Clone Backup is reliable, and simple, but not unique. Both Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper! do exactly the same thing. But the Backup with Incremental Snapshots is a unique feature, and is so cleverly done it actually seems impossible. Here’s how it works. The first backup is a clone of your drive, just like any cloning software would do. But the next time you backup, it creates a folder at the top level of your synchronised drive that has the entire contents of your drive in it. Then every time you back up, it creates another folder, with an exact copy of your source drive in it.

That may sound like a terribly inefficient way of backup up. You would think it would take hours each time, and it would fill your destination drive in no time. But in actual fact, only the first backup takes a long time. The subsequent Snapshots are extremely fast, and even more amazingly, you will be able to fit dozens on your hard drive.

So what kind of voodoo is happening that lets users keep dozens apparently full backups on a drive that should only have room for one or two? The answer…Hard Links. A little like Alias files, Hard Links are in some ways virtual files. But unlike Aliases, Hard Linked files are indistinguishable from original files. So there’s no need to worry about losing the link, as you might with Alias files.

The reason Snapshot backups are so fast Is because rather than moving a lot of data around, Mac Backup Guru makes hard links to the initial backup files, and then copies any new files created on the source.

This is the reason you can fit so many backups on a drive. Lets say there’s 600GB of data to back up. If you copy that to a 1TB drive, you can only fit one full back up on there. If you let Mac Backup Guru do a daily Snapshot, each day the data on the backup drive only grows by the amount of data added, or deleted, from your source drive. So after a month there could be 30 folders that appear to have 600GB of data in them. If you get info on any of them, it will show that there is 600GB in each folder, which would add up to 18 terabytes. Yet the backup drive might still have 300GB spare.

It makes finding deleted files very simple, as you only need to know how far to go back, and where the file was. Something Carbon Copy Cloner struggles with, and SuperDuper! can’t do at all.

For the new kid on the block, Mac Backup Guru has earned its place among the more familiar options. If offers real simplicity, there is no expert mode, and there’s none necessary. Yet it delivers a bootable backup, with versioned backups. Things that are traditionally very complex, yet this is the easiest of the three to use.

I suspect techies that need the advanced customisation of Carbon Copy Cloner will stick with it. There’s nothing else that offers that level of tweakability. If it’s a network backup you’re after, then SuperDuper! is the simplest way to achieve that. But you use the bootability of that backup, so it’s a double edged sword. If you want simplicity, a local bootable backup, and a way to keep almost unlimited backups on a drive with limited space. Then Mac Backup Guru is the only game in town.

Read:

Best cloud based, live backup options

Best remote backup options

 

Time Machine

Apple’s Time Machine doesn’t really qualify as an ideal choice because it doesn’t create a bootable backup. So you will need to repair or replace your faulty drive before you can restore from the Time Machine backup. What it does do fairly well is incremental backups, so it’s a quick way to find accidentally deleted, or corrupted files.

It can also backup across a network, however it is a little fussy about what kind of network drives it will work with. I’ve only ever found it to be reliable working with Apple products like Time Capsule. You can find third party network drives at half the price of a Time capsule, but I’m yet to succeed in getting them to work with Time Machine.

If Time Machine is the only backup app within budget, then it makes sense to use. But it has remained largely unchanged since its launch in 2007, and other options are rapidly overtaking it.

Read:

Restore a Mac using Time Machine

How to back up a Mac using Time Machine

How to transfer a Time Machine backup to a new Mac

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