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ITS recommends creating backups of all your documents, files, and settings. Getting started with a backup process can be challenging, but it is well worth the effort. Using an automated process is more consistent than manually backing up your files, but whichever method you choose, backing up is one of the most important things you can do to protect your data.

This document will help you decide which backup method is best for you. It also provides links to instructions for using several different backup applications.

Note: If you are getting a new Mac, please follow the instructions for backing up individual files and folders manually.

Backup Chart
Choosing a Backup Method and Location

Backing Up an Entire Hard Drive

Backing Up Individual Files and Folders Manually
Pros and Cons of Different Backup Methods

Pros and Cons of Different Backup Devices



Backup Chart

The charts below show the best storage devices to use for different types of backups. Even though you don't need to back up your entire hard drive, this chart will help you understand the options available to you.

  • Backing up your entire hard drive: You can use Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner (supported by ITS) for creating an image of your entire hard drive, or a different program if you wish. This type of backup requires a large amount of storage space, so plan to use an external hard drive. You may also want to consider cloud storage* as an option.

    *Cloud storage services (e.g., Backblaze, Carbonite, Mozey) provide space on a third party server for your data. These servers are backed up regularly and feature redundant power supplies ensuring the availability of your data. Typically, there are charges for using these services to store large amounts of data like images created by Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner.

  • Backing up selected files or folders: Backing up only a selection of files and folders typically requires much less space. You can store this data on a network drive, flash drive, external hard drive, DVDR, or CDR. You can also use an SD card or cloud storage for manual backups.

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Choosing a Backup Method and Location

Before you back up your data, you need to decide what you want to back up. Backing up your entire hard drive requires a different approach than backing up just a few files. The amount of data being backed up and the method you choose will determine the best location for saving your data. Backing up your entire hard drive, or creating a clone, is recommended. This image or clone can be used to restore your system in the event of an emergency.

To back up your entire drive, we recommend using a program like Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner and backing up to an external hard drive. You may also want to consider using a program like BackBlaze or Mosey which utilize cloud storage.

When choosing an external hard drive, be sure it offers more storage space than your system hard drive. We recommend using an external drive with at least 1.5 to 2 times the space of your system hard drive.

IMPORTANT: Please DO NOT use your personal network (H:) drive to store images of your entire system hard drive! There simply isn't enough room on the server to accommodate this.

If your goal is to back up only a certain number of files or folders, you can use a manual backup process. A manual backup involves choosing the files or folders you wish to back up, then copying them to a backup device. Manual backups are performed by simply selecting and dragging the folders or files to the destination of choice; no third party software is required.

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Backing up an Entire Hard Drive


Using an application like Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner is the best way to back up your entire hard drive. These applications create an image or clone of all the contents of your hard drive. This image can then be used to restore all of the contents of your hard drive in the event of a failure or some other catastrophic event. These applications can also be set up to do incremental backups. Time Machine will even back up any files that have been recently modified to an already present image ensuring your latest work is backed up as well.

About Time Machine

Time Machine is a complete back up and recovery application. Time Machine is included with both OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard; it is not available for earlier versions of the Mac operating sytem. Time Machine creates a full image of your hard drive and also does incremental additions to the image to ensure your latest work is saved.

More information on Time Machine

How to use Time Machine

About Carbon Copy Cloner

Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) is a third party application created by Bombich Software. At the time this document was created, CCC was available as a free download. Carbon Copy Cloner creates a full image of your hard drive and can also be scheduled to perform incremental backups to ensure your latest work is saved.

More information on Carbon Copy Cloner

Download Carbon Copy Cloner

How to use Carbon Copy Cloner

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Backing up Files or Folders Manually

Manually backing up your files can be done without using any special software or utility. You can back up to any device including an external hard drive, network drive, USB flash drive, CD-R or DVD-R. The device you choose to back up to will be determined by the amount of data you choose to back up. Flash drives, CD-Rs and DVD-Rs have a limited capacity. Network drives vary in size but typically don't offer the amount of storage an external hard drive would. SD cards and clould storage are other options.

Backing up your files manually allows you to choose which files are backed up and when they are backed up. One of the downsides to manual backups is human error. If you neglect to back up a particular file or folder and run into problems, restoring or getting the file or folder back may not be possible.

What's important to back up

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Pros and Cons of Backup Methods

Time Machine:


  • Free with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

  • Can back up only to a dedicated external hard drive that is at least as big as the internal hard drive of your computer (but should have at least 1.5 to 2x capacity for best results).

  • Runs in the background without your intervention.

  • Can back up your entire computer, and can even serve as a simple restore of your entire hard drive if your computer fails.

  • Makes multiple copies of a file, so that you can retrieve a specific version instead of just the last version.

  • For instructions on using Time Machine, click here.

  • For more information about Time Machine, see:

    Time Machine Overview
    Time Machine Suppport Topics
    Time Machine: Troubleshooting Backup Issues

Carbon Copy Cloner:

  • Is a free application that runs on Mac OS X.

  • Makes backups to an external hard drive. If you are cloning your hard drive, the external hard drive must be as big as the internal hard drive of your computer (but should have at least 1.5 to 2x the capacity for best results).

  • Can also be used to make scheduled backups of your data or to back up whenever you connect your external hard drive.

  • Can make a clone of your hard drive that acts like an exact replica.

  • Will not run when your computer is off, but there are many choices for scheduled backups.

  • For instructions on downloading and using Carbon Copy Cloner, click here.

  • For more information on Carbon Copy Cloner, visit the Bombich Software site.

Manually copying your data:

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Pros and Cons of Backup Devices

Your network drive:

  • Personal network drives provided by ITS are routinely backed up, so your backup will have a backup.

  • However, space on the network drive is extremely limited and is reserved for work-related data files only. DO NOT back up full images of your hard drive to the H: drive.

External hard drives:

  • Are readily available and getting less expensive all the time.

  • Offer large amounts of storage. You can back up your entire computer with a large enough external hard drive.

  • Are portable and some are very small.

  • Must be carried with you to use.

  • Can be fragile (just like a computer).

USB Flash drive (aka Jump Drive or USB Key):

  • Are readily available, inexpensive, and very small.

  • Are extremely portable and can be used on any computer with an available USB port.

  • Are probably not big enough to back up all the data on your computer.

  • Must be carried with you to use.

  • The data on a Flash drive can become corrupt if it is not ejected properly before removing it from a computer.

  • For more information on USB Flash drives, see: Using a USB Jump Drive

CD-R or DVD-R:

  • Are readily available and inexpensive.

  • CD-Rs can typically hold 700 MB of data. DVD-Rs can store 4.7 - 17 GB of data.

  • CD-Rs and DVD-Rs are writable; you can copy and write information to them only once. They are perfect for saving the final copy of a project or set of files.

  • A CD-RW or DVD-RW is re-writable, so you can write to it many times. These are convenient but not as reliable as CD-Rs and DVD-Rs.

  • Most modern computers come with a CDR/DVDR drive, so burning data to a CD-R or DVD-R makes is very convenient.

  • For more information on CD-Rs and DVD-Rs, see: Burning Files to Disc on a Mac

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 |  Last updated August 28, 2013

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