Not enough people back-up their data. They think nothing can go wrong and they’ll never lose anything. They are WRONG. Professional/advanced users are just as bad. They ‘know’ their computers. They ‘know’ how to fix things. Unfortunately, the only thing they’ll ‘know’ if their hard drive fails is how expensive it is to get the data back through a recovery service—if the data can be restored at all.
My warnings come through experience. I’ve had several screw-ups with data. My worst was at university: my Mac’s hard drive partially failed as I approached my final degree show, and the Mac’s built-in Jaz drive also went nuts. I made it to the end, but only just. Of course, back in those days the price of hardware made backing up costly and so that was an excuse not to bother. Today, that’s not the case at all. You can get a sleek external 500 GB USB drive for 50 quid, such as the LaCie Rikiki. If you’re on a budget, desktop drives are even cheaper. And if you’re running Mac OS X, you have Time Machine built in, and asks you if you want to use it the second you attach an external drive.
Something that can cause data loss is an OS upgrade. This is a major upheaval for a machine and while it’s very rare for things to go very wrong, that won’t be any consolation if it happens to you. But if you have a full back-up of your Mac, the worst that will happen is you’ll waste time. You won’t lose your work data, your digital photos, your music and other important files.
I recommend before installing Lion that even if you’re using Time Machine you also create a working clone of your Mac. This is because while you can restore data from Time Machine, it’s faster and simpler to do so from a clone. I use SuperDuper! for this purpose; it’s a robust, reliable app that costs $27.95. However, the donationware Carbon Copy Cloner is also very good. Once you’ve bought a hard drive that’s bigger than the data you need to back-up (preferably, larger than your Mac’s hard drive), here’s what you need to do:
Launch Disk Utility and select your back-up drive from the sidebar. At the foot of the window, check its Partition Map Scheme is GUID Partition Table, which will enable you to use the disk to start-up an Intel Mac. If it shows something else, click ‘Partition’, select ‘1 Partition’ from the ‘Volume Scheme’ menu, click ‘Options’ and select ‘GUID Partition Table’. Click ‘OK’. Name the volume using the ‘Name’ field and then click ‘Apply’ to reformat your disk.
Launch the app. Select your Mac’s hard drive from the ‘Copy’ menu and your back-up drive from the ‘to’ menu. Select ‘Backup – all files’ from the ‘using’ menu. Click ‘Copy Now’. This will clone your drive, a process that may take several hours.
Carbon Copy Cloner
If you don’t want to use SuperDuper!, Carbon Copy Cloner is also fine for cloning. Select your Mac’s drive from the ‘Source Disk’ menu and the back-up drive from the ‘Target Disk’ menu. Click ‘Clone’. Again, this may take several hours.
Once the clone is complete, restart your Mac while holding the Option key (also labelled ‘Alt’) and choose your back-up drive as the boot volume. It will probably take longer than usual for your Mac to start. Ensure the back-up works: test some apps and launch some files. Once you’re done, reboot back into your Mac’s drive.
The above is the absolute minimum any Mac user should do before installing Lion. On doing these actions, you will have your data to the time of the clone safe. If the Lion install goes horribly wrong, you can boot from the clone and continue working. You can also reformat your Mac’s drive and clone the clone back to it.
However, I would recommend using cloning software every single day. Both SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner offer a feature called ‘incremental updating’; what this means is only files that have changed are cloned each time the app does its business. In SuperDuper!, this feature is referred to as ‘Smart Update’ and can be accessed using the ‘Options’ button in the main pane. It’s also possible to automate back-ups, using the ‘Schedule’ button. (I have my Mac do an incremental clone every day at 8 p.m., when I’m done working.) Carbon Copy Cloner offers similar features, with its ‘Incremental backup of selected items’ setting within ‘Cloning options’, and a schedule that can be accessed using the ‘Save Task’ button.
British readers or anyone who’s happy using Zinio should also check out issue 237 of MacFormat magazine (out this week). It has a major feature on keeping data safe, written by Ian Betteridge. Along with backing-up and cloning, it also offers tips on remote back-up. And while multiple back-ups might seem paranoid, Tap! editor Christopher Phin notes in the article that each back-up merely reduces risk. The more you make (hourly Time Machine; daily clone; remote), the safer your data will be.