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5 tips on backing up your Mac

I read a post on the Small Dog blog today called “Protecting Your Photographs.” Essentially the post says that if you have a digital camera that you use with any frequency, then you probably have years and years of important photos on your computer. Now imagine your photos disappearing tomorrow. How sad would you be to lose all those memories?

The post goes on to recommend some external hard drives for backing up, which they sell on the Small Dog site. (And I highly recommend shopping at Small Dog for all Mac-related purchases.)

One of my biggest fears is losing my personal belongings, whether that be family photos, or letters exchanged with friends, or my college thesis, or jewelry that was my grandmother’s. It’s hard to back up objects like a necklace or my parents’ wedding album, but luckily it’s easy to back up all the digital stuff.

Here are some tips on easy ways to back up your Mac so all your personal and business documents and items will be available to you for years to come. I recommend doing all 5 of these.

1. Back up certain files on your computer

I use AccountEdge for accounting software. On a regular basis (when I remember, which is every few weeks) I back up the AccountEdge database, in a special location on my computer–I have a folder called Backups and I just put the backups in there. I keep the last 3 and delete anything older.

The reason for this is that I use AccountEdge ¬†constantly, and these types of files (databases) tend to get corrupted once the database gets big. So doing this backup is an easy way to make sure I have an uncorrupted version that’s fairly recent.

2. Back up to an external hard drive daily (or more frequently)

External hard drives are super cheap these days. You can get 500GB or more for about $100, and the smaller pocket-size drives in enclosures are only about $120. So don’t let cost be an excuse.

As for software, if you’re running OS X 10.5 Leopard or anything later (Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks), then you’ve got Time Machine already on your computer, in your Applications folder. Set it up once, with an external hard drive as the backup destination, and then it will automatically back up everything new once an hour. You can easily go onto the hard drive and recover an individual file or your entire computer.

If you’re on OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or earlier, then we recommend SuperDuper. It’s free for the basic version, and only $28 if you want to buy the fancy version which allows you to schedule backups. I highly recommend scheduling one backup a night, at a time when you know you won’t be using your computer. (Just remember to leave your computer on each night!)

3. Back up to another external hard drive occasionally

In addition to the above, I recommend buying a second external hard drive, and doing a full copy of your entire computer to that hard drive every month or two. You can either use SuperDuper or we also really like Carbon Copy Cloner for this purpose. It takes an exact copy of everything, including programs and invisible files.

Then — and this is the key bit — store this second hard drive in a different location from your computer! Meaning a whole different address (not just in a different closet in your home or office). Because if your house burns down or your roof falls in, your computer and your regular backup drive will both be toast.

4. Back up over the internet

These days there are lots of options for backing up “in the cloud” — to a remote server out there on the internet. The added bonus is that usually you can get access to these backups from anywhere, using a web browser. And the second bonus is that it’s automatic — the backups happen on their own, you don’t need to remember to do it.

There are lots of companies offering this type of offsite backup, usually for about $5-$10/month for many GB of storage. Our favorite is CrashPlan; some others that are also good are Mozy, Carbonite, and Dropbox.

Don’t use this method to back up all your applications and system folder — that stuff is fairly easily recreated, plus it will take forever to upload all of that. Use it just to back up documents (including Word, Excel, PDF files, photos, maybe email, maybe music).

5. Back up to a flash drive for the files you’re working on currently

If you’re working on an important PowerPoint presentation and/or a Word document for a big meeting, consider also backing up just those current files to a small flash drive (also known as a thumb drive or USB drive), and carry the drive with you until the big project is done.

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