Backup and restore

I have noticed that people on the forums understand stuff and explain it very well to people like me so here goes…is there anywhere on the internet that explains in practical terms what I should do if suddenly my MacBook doesn’t work?

If you google “backup” you always come across phrases like “backup and you will never loose your vital information etc” but they don’t actually explain anything.

So, right I open up my MacBook and nothing happens, what then - I know it sounds a stupid question but I really do not know other than buy another MacBook and start again!!!

I currently backup using Time Machine onto an external hard drive but I really don’t know why - if my internal hard drive is dead what good is that for my new MacBook with factory settings Snow Leopard, etc.

I keep all my software licence details in DevonThink on my MacBook but if that hard drive is dead I cant access them so even if I download the various bits of software (including Devonthink) again onto my new Macbook I can’t use them other than for the 30 days etc. I am sure Keith would be helpful for Scrivener but not sure Microsoft would be helpful as regards Mac Office for example. In any event my licences would relate to my dead machine not the new one so if It is a one machine licence then I can’t use it anyway?

There seems to be some sort of assumption that people understand this stuff but unfortunately I don’t and I can’t find anything that explains it.

First off, make sure you actually do have a backup. Time Machine is good, but I’d also recommend having a bootable backup, such as a disk image created by Super Duper or a similar program. Go do that now, before you read the rest of this post.

In the worst case, where you have to start from scratch with a new MacBook, you use the backup to restore all of your data, including (presumably) all your license information. I just upgraded to a new iMac, and the transfer couldn’t have been easier: connect the Time Machine backup of the old machine to the new machine, click a few settings, and let it rip. Apple’s Migration Assistant walks you through the process automatically when you wake up the new machine. A few hours later, you’ve effectively transplanted the brain of the old computer into the new one. (Yes, all your old licenses will still work. They limit you to one machine at a time, but when you take the old one offline, you can use the same license on the new system.)(You can accomplish the same thing by manually dragging the files from an old disk image backup into the Finder on the new system. The Migration Assistant is easier.)

Even if the old MacBook isn’t completely dead, but just has a bad hard drive, the same approach still works. You (or the Apple Store) install a brand new hard drive with a fresh Snow Leopard install, connect the Time Machine (or disk image) backup, and away you go.

Or, if you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you boot the old machine from your bootable backup, allowing you to poke around on the old hard drive, run diagnostics, and otherwise diagnose what might be wrong. (In your case, I’d recommend leaving that part to the Apple Store.)

The disk image backup is also handy if you don’t want to do a complete brain transplant. For example, I didn’t transfer my Applications folder over from my old machine. I wanted to purge the accumulated dreck that many years of application installations and deletions left behind, so I got fresh DMGs of most of my applications from their respective vendors and re-installed them with their existing license codes. In a few cases, though, the version I had been using was back-level, and I didn’t want to pay the upgrade fee for the most current version. So I brought my old DMGs over from the disk image backup and installed those instead.

Does this clarify things a little bit? If not, please don’t hesitate to ask more questions.


Since you use Time Machine here are some helpful instructions on its use and also restoring options.

Thank you very much for the helpful comments.

Is it possible to save the disk image thing (super duper) on my external drive with the Time machine backups already on it. There is nothing else on it and there is still loads of space. Or do I have to partition it first. Is it too late to partition it once it has stuff on it???

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

The only way for SuperDuper to make a copy of your system to your time machine drive is if you create a virtual disk (a .DMG). I can’t recall if SD will make one for you, or if you have to use Disk Utility to do so, but either way, it has both an up-side and a down-side.

Up-side; you don’t have to repartition, so your Time Machine backups will be completely safe, so long as you store the disk image outside of the backup folders.

Down-side: you can’t boot from a virtual disk.

I have successfully ADDED a partition to my current Time Machine backup drive, so I know it can be done, and I’m reasonably sure that the Apple-supplied Disk Utility program won’t let you destroy your data in the process without a warning. But if your computer is dying, and might not afford you the opportunity to start a new Time Machine backup from scratch, I wouldn’t risk adding the new partition.

External drives are pretty cheap these days however, and it certainly can’t hurt to have SuperDuper eventually duplicate your entire time machine backups on a weekly basis and then store it off-site (at your office, for instance) in case of fire, burglary, or simultaneous computer and backup drive failure, etc. So you could buy another backup drive, partition it like you want to do with the other drive, and then use superduper to create a bootable backup and a redundant Time Machine copy… then you’d be safe to re-jigger your current backup drive.

Isn’t technology fun!? :unamused:

This is a lot of investment and effort up-front (even I don’t duplicate my time machine backup… yet), but believe me, it’s worth it to have your data really safe. I’ve been using Time Machine since it came out, and even though I’ve had two computers crash and a backup drive fail, I’ve managed to keep from loosing any data for the last several years. I

I use completely separate drives for SuperDuper and Time Machine. (And no, Super Duper does not back up the Time Machine drive.) Among other things, the Time Machine drive is internal to my system, so the latest Super Duper backup is the one I tuck under my arm on the way out the door as the house is burning down.

For completeness, here’s what I actually do:

  • Time Machine, backs up hourly using a second internal drive.
  • BackJack, secure offsite backup for critical data only, runs daily.
  • Super Duper, backs up weekly using three external drives on a rotating basis.

Moreover, I use an IMAP email server, which means the server maintains an offsite copy of all my email.

Time Machine is adequate for anything short of system failure, and will save you from almost all user and software errors. (Although see warnings in this forum about backing up open Scrivener projects and similar files.)

Either Time Machine or Super Duper can be used to restore your data to a new machine, meaning they will save you from total system failures. Super Duper gets a slight edge, as you don’t get tangled up with versioning information like you do with Time Machine and the Super Duper backup can be read with non-Apple tools. On the other hand, a Time Machine backup is likely to be more recent.

Offsite backups are what saves you from general household disasters affecting more than just the computer: theft, flood, fire, etc. Highly recommended if your data is irreplaceable – as it is for most writers.


Do you mean that you don’t use SuperDuper to copy your Time Machine drive, or that it’s not capable of doing the copy? If it’s the latter, then I think you might be mistaken. The following link shows how to use SD to move a Time Machine backup to a Time Capsule, so I would think that copying a TM backup from one drive to another would be even simpler. … e-capsule/

I mean that I don’t do it. To SuperDuper, a Time Machine drive is just like any other. Sorry about the confusion.


To return to Foxtrots initial question about what backups actually do:

TimeMachine creates backups (duplicates) of all the information you added to your MacBook. If your MacBook has died, then all of your information (including all the applications you purchased) are safely saved to your TimeMachine disk. The process is to first get your MacBook fixed. Hopefully this won’t result in a loss of data. BUT if your hard-drive is hosed and everything is gone, then when you bring your fixed MacBook home (or a brand new one) then you can use TimeMachine to restore everything to exactly how it was.

The good thing for those of us that don’t want to get too technical about things, is that Apple takes care of all gadgety geek stuff (e.g. “does it matter that I have newer model MacBook?” or “I used to use OX 10.5.4, now I’ve got 10.6.6, which files should I transfer?”) we don’t have to worry about it. TimeMachine is “normal person” friendly.

For most of us, TimeMachine is enough. I have restored a Mac using TimeMachine many times (my old PowerBook, may it RIP, had some rather terminal issues) and also used it to transfer all my user data to my MacBook Pro (when Apple decided giving me a new computer was cheaper than fixing my old one under warranty). Apple provide how-to instructions for using TimeMachine with new Macs and whoever performs any repairs for you could probably restore the data for you or at least explain how to do it yourself. TimeMachine really is backup for the rest of us - it is brilliant for recovery from hardware failure.

Having said that, TimeMachine is not good for real-life disasters (fire, flood) or burglary. Since it backs up to a local disk, presumably that disk would also be affected by the same disaster or theft that made your computer inaccessible. That is why people recommend offsite back-ups and talk about rotating back-ups using SuperDuper and so on. Whether it is worth your while working out an additional backup strategy to counter this is up to you.

For me, my main back is TimeMachine. For most of my data this is enough - I accept that I am only backing up for protection against hardware failure, not disaster or theft, but am OK with that. For the stuff I’m not happy to lose (e.g. my thesis) I also backup to online storage (iDisk) every night. If my house burns down, I will at least be able to access all my research data and literature searches and hopefully still graduate this year.

Buy two external HDs.

Time Machine to external.

Swap out externals (daily, weekly, or monthly depending).

Store the rotated one offsite.


Drive 1 was backed up last night. This morning before I turn on the computer I swap out Drive 1 with Drive 2.
I take Drive 1 and put it in my car and take it off-site to another location. (Take it to work if you have a day job, a relatives house, or somewhere else)

Drive 2 backs up tonight. Tomorrow or next week (whenever) I swap.

This is the “poor man’s” backup. Helps against basic disasters like local flood or tornado but not real well against larger disasters like large area floods, hurricanes, or earthquakes (since offsite backup is still in the local area).

Other methods are, buy a cheap web hosting package, and you can FTP encrypted zips, or use online backup systems, etc.

The biggest thing about backups is not really the software applications but the actual files you create. Also TESTING your backups with frequency is important as well. Nothing worse than something critical happens and you go to restore and find out your backups are corrupted.

Nothing else you can Time Machine a backup onto a external drive and go to a bank and put it in a safety deposit box. Once a month retrieve it and make a more current back up. If you store the drive in a water proof container in a safety deposit box you can rest assure that it would be safe against most natural disasters (vaults are pretty beasty) but this method is very inconvenient and usually only done by the most paranoid.