Time Machine – Backing up your Mac | Computer Repair of Des Moines

Time Machine – Backing up your Mac

Time Machine is a powerful tool to back up your important data

Here’s how to set it up and use it.

What is it?

Time Machine is an included feature with Apple’s OS X which was introduced in version 10.5 Leopard. It allows users to back up all of their important documents, music, movies, settings, and more – automatically. Time Machine also allows users to go back and recover deleted documents, previous versions, migrate to a new mac, or restore from a known-good set of data. Time Machine works in the background, on the hour, every hour, updating the backups to reflect any changes within that time.

How does it affect me?

In the world of computers, users tend to collect lots of information on their machine – Family pictures, music collections, important documents, movies, and more. These are usually all stored on what’s called a Hard Disk Drive. These work by sweeping a read arm across a set of spinning platters, reading and writing small magnetic changes to the platter as data is read and written. The mechanical nature of this method of storage guarantees that it will eventually fail, the problem is that it could happen at any time. A hard fall, a strong magnet, heat, or even old age are all factors in hard drive failure. Regardless of the failure, there is almost always data loss, and depending on the nature of the failure, the remaining data might not be recoverable by conventional means. There exists services which will disassemble your hard drive and extract the platters for data recovery, but these can be very expensive, and altogether avoided with regular data backup.


HDD internal structure

Some computers, especially newer MacBooks, store their data in a new, more robust fashion, on what is called a solid state drive, or SSD for short. These work by storing your data electronically on a chip, improving impact resistance, read and write times, and making them unaffected by magnets. The drawback to this is that these chips have a limited amount of read/write cycles, which means that after extended use, these drives will fail as well. Given the nature of the technology put into these drives, this failure can be very predictable and you can replace the drive before it kicks the bucket, but sometimes, like all technologies, they can fail at a moments’ notice.


SSD internal structure

The importance of data backups is very pertinent to you, especially if you hold value to your data.

How do I go about backing up?

With Macs, there are several solutions to backup your data. The absolute simplest is to buy a Time Capsule from Apple and set it up in place of your wireless router or access point. The more tedious but sometimes better for the traveling person would be to purchase an external drive and back up that way. The problems here is that mobile hard drives are more prone to shock and thus more prone to failure, on top of this, if Time Machine tries to back up and the drive isn’t plugged in at the time, it will complain to you that it can’t find the backup disk. For the more technically inclined, you can make a share on another mac, or on linux using an HFS+ formatted drive, and point time machine to that share. This can be hit or miss with success, and is a bit too in-depth for the gear of this tech tip, so I will only discuss the first two solutions here.

Solution A: Setting up a Time Capsule

After you have unboxed your Time Capsule, find a good open area to place it near your cable/DSL/fiber modem/router and plug an ethernet cable from the WAN port on the time capsule to the LAN port of your modem/router. Next, plug the AC cord into your Time Capsule, then plug the cord into an outlet, power strip, or battery backup.


Time Capsule with labeled ports

Next, open up Airport Utility (Version 5.3 or higher) located in the Utilities folder, nested in the Applications folder. You can also find this using Spotlight by pressing ⌘+Space and beginning to type out the name of the application and hitting enter when it pops into the top of the list.

The Time Capsule will have a default name along the lines of “Time Capsule fea88c,” select it and click continue. Following the on-screen instructions, set up your Time Capsule with a wireless network name and password, and other details. After finishing the setup, connect to your new network and verify that you can connect out to the network and access the internet without any troubles.

Open up the Time Machine preference pane, located in the System Preferences application. Click the “Select Backup Disk…” button and select your Time Capsule from the list, clicking the “Use Disk” button to proceed. Move the On/Off slider to the On position and you are done! Now your Mac will begin to do its first backup, which depending on how much data you have, can take a quite long time. After it is finished, you are backed up and prepared for catastrophic failure of the storage in your Mac.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 11.33.53 AM

Time machine preference pane
Solution B: External Hard Disk

This one doesn’t require such an expensive piece of hardware or nearly as much configuration. Here’s a standard set of steps to set up a backup to external disk.

Usually external drives purchased from the store will be formatted in either FAT32 or NTFS for Windows compatibility, and need to be in the Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) format for Time Machine. With a brand new drive, you can just plug it in. You will be faced with a prompt asking you if you wish to use this as your backup disk. Selecting “Use as Backup Disk” will take you to the Time Machine preferences and give another prompt to erase the disk. Note that if you are doing this on an external drive which has other data which is important to you, do NOT erase it.

Selecting erase will partition the drive properly for backup and schedule your first backup to happen within 5 minutes. As stated above, the first backup can be a lengthy process, and should not be interrupted if avoidable. Afterwards, you should always remember to properly eject the drive, and be able to remove it. Any time you are in need of the data backed up or wish to back up again, simply re-insert the drive and click the backup icon from the menu bar, clicking the “Back Up Now” option, or waiting for no more than an hour for it to automatically back up.

Recovering from a failure

We know this all to well here at Computer Repair of Des Moines. You dropped it, spilled liquid, or it just quit working. However it happened, your HDD, SSD, or OS X installation went bad or got corrupted. After replacing the failed component, you will be left with a blank drive. Using OS X recovery media, which is either a purchased disk, included disk with your original purchase, or internet recovery, you have to re-partition the new drive and reinstall OS X.  Boot up your mac, holding ⌘+R for internet recovery on newer macs, or holding the alt/option key to select the recovery media.

After your recovery mode has booted, you should enter Disk Utility from the list provided. Go into the “Erase” tab after selecting your new, blank disk in the column to the left. Make sure the format is “Mac OS X Extended (Journaled),” and name it “Macintosh HD” or “Macintosh SSD” as a standard practice and click the Erase button. This effectively partitions your drive for reinstallation of OS X. Quit the Disk Utility when finished.

Click the Reinstall OS X option and continue. When prompted, select your newly partitioned drive and let OS X reinstall. Your machine will reboot a few times, and eventually you will be prompted to select a language. At this point your reinstall is completed and you need to finish the setup, eventually you will be prompted to transfer data. Select “From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk” Following the on-screen instructions, find and select your backup, and start the transfer. After it is done, you should be back at your logon screen or desktop if you have no password. Make sure to do updates and such, but you should be good to go.


Prompt to transfer data from backup

Hopefully you find this tech tip informative and useful!

This Apple Tech Tip was brought to you by Computer Repair of Des Moines!


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