How to back up your Mac – Clone Backup

April 2, 2008

Easy and Secure Mac Backups

Clone Backups

As I mentioned previously, a good clone backup is your FIRST line of defense — in case of disaster, it’s simple and flexible, and gets you back in business FAST.

Materials Needed

Proper Hard Drive

Obviously enough, a clone backup needs to be on a separate, bootable hard drive. Pick one that’s only slightly larger than your main system disk (or partition) — even though larger ones may be only a few bucks more, anything more than that and you might be tempted to try to use it for something in addition to your backup, and that’s just begging for trouble.

The faster the hard drive connection, the better. Firewire is faster than USB 2 in most cases, and Firewire 800 is faster than Firewire 400 (aka normal firewire). Unless you’ve got a Macbook Air (with no firewire), get a firewire drive if you can. If you buy a dual Firewire/USB 2 drive, use the firewire connection. If you have Firewire 800 on your Mac, spring for a few bucks more and get the Firewire 800 drive — you’ll be happy you did. If you’re not on an Intel mac, you’ll probably need to stick with firewire because most of the pre-Intel Macs won’t boot off a USB drive.

Clone Backup Software

There are basically two choices — Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper. Carbon Copy Cloner is free, while SuperDuper is $28 — and worth every penny of it.

They’re both great. The main difference between them (besides price) is that every night, Carbon Copy Cloner will wipe your old backup, and make a new clone backup from scratch. SuperDuper will do that the first time, and from then on (using its “Smart Update” feature) will only make the changes it needs to make to update your clone, and still have it be a clone backup.

Running Carbon Copy Cloner (or the first pass of SuperDuper) on my machine takes 3 – 4 hours. Subsequent updates with SuperDuper take about 20 – 25 minutes, much of which is just the time spent repairing permissions before it backs up.

The time difference is massive enough, but also consider the wear. Hard drives (like anything else with moving parts) have a finite life. If your backup takes 9 – 12 times longer every night, your backup drive is going to fail 9 – 12 times faster — and so is your system drive (everything it writes, it has to read off your system drive).

Spend the money and buy SuperDuper.


Setup is simple, just follow the instructions that came with your drive and with SuperDuper. Briefly, you want to:

  • Hook up the drive, and install SuperDuper.
  • (In SuperDuper) Select Copy (your main drive) to (your new clone drive) using “Backup – all files”.
  • Click on “Options” and make sure that “Repair Permissions” is checked, and that it says “During Copy – Smart Update (your clone drive) from (your main drive)”, and “On Successful Completion – Quit SuperDuper”.
  • Once you’ve done that, click the “Schedule” button and select a time when your machine will be on, and you won’t be using it.

That’s it.

Are we done yet?

Not remotely, but this is a good start while we look at tackling Time Machine.

If you came into this in the middle, you may want to go back and read How to backup your Mac – Easily and Securely (Introduction).

Still to come: How to back up your Mac – Time Machine and How to back up your Mac – Remote Backup.

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2 Responses to “How to back up your Mac – Clone Backup”

  1. Eric on January 19th, 2009 7:58 pm

    Carbon Copy Cloner can also do incremental backups, saving time and disk wear and tear. Instead of choosing “Backup Everything” choose “Incremental backup of selected items”, then make sure you’ve selected your entire hard drive. No need to pony up the $ for SuperDuper just for that.

  2. Patrick M-R on July 19th, 2010 11:15 pm

    I’m glad to see Eric already added the correction for CCC and its incremental backups and the latest 3.3.3 version is even about 2.5X faster, and that’s to a FW 400 PATA drive, but the correction should be made in the page rather in the comments section.

    And the reason I ended up at this site to see if the FW 800 I now have available would be faster using a FW 800 compatible external.

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