Time Machine is a great backup tool that works with virtually any external drive or networked Mac. It can be used alongside other backup solutions (like the ones mentioned below) to ensure you have more than a single backup if something bad happens. You can even use a Time Machine drive for both storage and backup.
Apple’s backup solution is easy to use, but it comes at the cost of customization. You can choose to omit certain folders and system files, but that’s about it. Every time you connect your drive the backup will run unless you stop it, indexing the disk and backing up intelligently to ensure files aren’t duplicated to save space.
This is where the 3-2-1 backup rule comes in. You should have three copies of your data, two of which are local (on different devices), with one copy off-site. In the case of your Mac, two local copies already exist in your home or office (one on your Mac, another on your Time Machine drive). A third backup can be added using online storage, for true off-site security.
Also worthy of consideration are cloning tools, which can help you get up and running in record time if you suddenly need to restore a Mac. While Time Machine creates archives of just your data and applications, cloning software can back up the entire drive so that it can be copied back in its entirety should the worst happen.
Some backup tools try to do it all, while others have very specific use case scenarios. You should find something that works for you, and use it religiously to ensure data is never lost.
Easy Bootable Backups: SuperDuper! (Freemium)
SuperDuper! is a free and easy way of creating a complete backup of your Mac’s hard drive that is fully bootable. You can download SuperDuper! free of charge and use its core features forever. This allows you to copy the contents of your Mac to an external drive, which can then be copied back to your Mac if something goes wrong.
Upgrading to SuperDuper! for a little over $30 will net you some more useful features like Smart Update, which indexes files and copies only the changes (like Time Machine) as well as scheduling and scripting features. If you’re planning on using SuperDuper! to regularly back up your Mac, the upgrade is worth it.
SuperDuper! is compatible with Yosemite through to Big Sur, with an Apple Silicon build in beta testing (as of this writing in July 2021). If you suspect something is quickly going wrong with your Mac, SuperDuper! could be a life-saver.
Sync Files Between Devices: ChronoSync ($49.99)
ChronoSync does many things including making offsite file backups and bootable clones of your hard drive. You can use it like Time Machine with local drives and network locations, and it has powerful scheduling tools that can initiate backups stealthily in the background.
But ChronoSync’s main draw is its ability to keep data synchronized between two or more devices. For example, say you have a Mac at home and a laptop for use at the office. With ChronoSync, you can keep the same set of files in sync between those two devices.
This is ideal if you’re working on a project in more than one location as is often the case for creatives, video editors, and designers. Online backups can be performed to Amazon S3, Backblaze B2, and web servers via SFTP. If you don’t need the offsite backups, consider the cheaper ChronoSync Express ($24.99) instead.
Time Machine on Steroids: Carbon Copy Cloner ($39.99)
Carbon Copy Cloner is a jack-of-all-trades backup tool that presents itself as a more powerful version of Time Machine. Backups are recorded as snapshots on a calendar (just like Time Machine) and can take place on local drives or networked Macs. Indexing ensures that backups happen quickly so that files aren’t unnecessarily copied more than once.
The real strength of Carbon Copy Cloner lies in how customizable it is. You can choose exactly what to back up, when to back it up, and even employ smart tricks like watched folders to ensure that important files are always covered.
If you find Time Machine useful but limiting, take Carbon Copy Cloner’s free 30-day trial for a spin.
Bring Your Own Storage: Duplicati (Free, Open Source)
If you already have online storage that you want to use for an offsite backup, Duplicati is a free and open-source solution that lets you do so. The cross-platform app works on Windows, macOS, and Linux; allowing you to store all of your backups in one place.
These backups can take place using a wide range of protocols and services, including FTP, SSH, WebDAV, Backblaze B2, Amazon S3, Tardigrade, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Mega, and more. The app focuses solely on creating and storing secure online backups using AES-256 bit encryption, with no local backup features to speak of.
Duplicati uses a web-based interface to manage your schedule, initiate backups, and access your files. If you get stuck you can turn to the user forums to get help from the community. Duplicati is a great way to save some money if you know what you’re doing.
If you don’t already have online storage available to you, or you’d rather not go to the hassle of managing your own backups, premium online backup services exist. Most of these offer the same fundamental service for a flat monthly or annual fee.
Backblaze is one of the most competitively priced online solutions at $6 per computer, per month. There are no limits on data, no limits on file size, and an option to recover your data faster via a shipped hard drive in the post.
IDrive works a little differently in that you pay around $70 per year for 5TB of storage which can be used across an unlimited number of computers. This includes snapshots and file versioning (so you can access old versions of files), plus an option to get your data backed up and retrieved using a drive in the post.
Carbonite is another option, starting at $4.99 for the most basic plan (billed annually). There’s unlimited storage space with remote access provided for any device, including via mobile apps. If you spend a little more you can get external hard drive backup too.
These are just three of many such services, each offering something slightly different in terms of pricing. Be sure to shop around if you’re looking for an online backup provider, especially if speed is of concern to you. How far away the servers are from you can have a big impact on backup speed.
Never Leave Home Without a Backup
Which backup software or online provider you use ultimately doesn’t matter, provided your data is being backed up. Time Machine is perfect for most people, but solutions like ChronoSync and SuperDuper! add another level of safety.