OS and Time Machine Question

Discussion in 'Mac Basics and Help' started by ginhb, Sep 19, 2018.

  1. ginhb macrumors newbie

    Sep 8, 2018
    New Mac user and haven't used Time Machine yet, still just getting started on the new computer.

    When you run TM for the first time, is it backing up the Mac OS, your personalized settings and applications along with your data files? If not, is there some other way a user should be doing that?

    I'm just beginning to read about the OS recovery options available if part of the OS becomes corrupted and the computer won't boot properly. Not sure what I need to do ahead of time, if anything.

  2. Longkeg, Sep 19, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2018

    Longkeg macrumors regular

    Jul 18, 2014
    S. Florida
    The first time you run TM it backs up your entire hard drive. That would include the OS, applications, preference settings and files. Subsequent backups will only include files or data that is newer than the original backup. It doesn't copy the entire hard drive for every new backup. Data that has changed or been updated since the previous backup are saved during future sessions.

    Time machine is handy but it does have limitations. Data can only be recovered through the Time Machine app. It can restore an entire hard drive or transfer data to a new machine but it will only let you do it the way Apple wants you to. Sometimes these limitations can be quite frustrating. Many people advise other third party backup solutions (no I can't tell you what they are off the top of my head) to be used in addition to TM.

    As far as "recovery" options go.... Why make yourself crazy? No, you don't need to do anything with it right now. Enjoy your new Mac. Get to know her (or him). You can tinker with all the bells and whistles once you have a better idea of what your new Mac is all about. If, God forbid, something happens the recovery option is there for you.
  3. ginhb thread starter macrumors newbie

    Sep 8, 2018
    Thanks for your reply. I had been doing manual backups on my previous computers, just copying data files to an external drive. I'll probably do that on the iMac too then. As far as the OS, from what I've been reading on the Apple support site there are a number of ways you can recover or repair any issues that come up, unless it's just a catastrophic failure of the hard drive or something. My new iMac is all solid state, both the internal drive and the external drive. I suppose I could let TM back up just the OS at least once, or occasionally, on a secondary external SSD. Doesn't seem like it would have to be too big. Thanks again.
  4. hobowankenobi macrumors 6502a

    Aug 27, 2015
    on the land line mr. smith.
    The strength of TM is that it runs continuously in the background, with no interaction or scheduling. Continuous backup so you always have the latest version of data.

    If you want to capture the OS, the best thing would be to use one of many commercial cloning tools. Super easy to backup the entire drive to an external. You end up with a bootable copy. Most popular tools:

    Carbon Copy Cloner
    Super Duper
    Get Backup
    Chrono Sync
    Mac Backup Guru

    There are at least a dozen more free and open source. Stuff like: Duplicate and Disk Drill. And some of the general purpose paid Mac utilities also including cloning.

    Super Duper is free for the basic cloning function. Great place to start. The others have lots of features, but only have free trials to test and evaluate.

    A really great strategy would be TM for your user directory (all user data, settings, preferences, and databases such as Mail, Photos, etc.), and an occasional clone to a dedicated external drive or partition.
  5. ginhb thread starter macrumors newbie

    Sep 8, 2018
    Thanks, that sounds like a good strategy too. A bootable copy on an external drive would be nice insurance to have. With the Windows machines it was easy to make a bootable CD in case your internal hard disk was failing or corrupted. I'm surprised the Mac OS doesn't already offer that ability in a simple process. Or maybe it does and I just haven't noticed it yet. But having a fairly up-to-date cloned copy would save me the trouble of having to reinstall. It would be nice to avoid having to take your machine into a service center if you can't get it to boot.

    My thinking now is, get a 2nd external SSD and use a clone feature to make that one a bootable drive. I'll use the first external for data backups. Before doing an OS clone on the 2nd SSD, I don't need to format it with the Apple File System, do I?
  6. ginhb thread starter macrumors newbie

    Sep 8, 2018
    I could use a bit of help on "best practice" for what I'm trying to accomplish. I have one external SSD connected to my Mac. I haven't copied very much to it yet, some accumulated music, videos and pictures. All from my Windows PC. I can copy them again if needed.

    To utilize Time Machine on that drive, do I need to start over and partition the drive first? Or can TM databases coexist peacefully with files I've already copied to it manually? They're just sitting in some folders I created. I expect to copy more from the Windows machine soon. Is it best to partition a drive and keep TM separate that way?

    I'd like to get a 2nd external SSD to clone the OS to it and make that one a bootable drive for emergencies. Keep it updated occasionally. I probably won't do anything else with that 2nd drive. But just in case, should I be partitioning that one also to keep the cloned OS separate? Does it even matter if I wanted to copy other data files to that drive also after the clone is created?

  7. hobowankenobi macrumors 6502a

    Aug 27, 2015
    on the land line mr. smith.
    Both TM and bootable clones need their own partition. There are ways around that...but they increase complexity and decrease reliability. Not what most folks want in backups.

    You might consider a bigger HD for a low price. Or a drive dock that you easily swap drives with. SSDs rule, but backups and clones are all about space, and low cost. TM in particular can use all the space you can feed it, so that it can keep multiple copies of files. At least double the space data being backed up...plus room for growth....and it is wise to have 3-4 times the space of what you are backing up. HDs are cheap per GB.

    Yes, especially for the boot clone, the drive format must be specific. For the last 20+ years that meant HFS+, but now Apple has moved on to APFS, at least for SSDs for 10.13 and newer. It is possible to still use HFS+ (for a variety of reasons) on new machines too.

    Apple never did the whole recovery CD thing. Always bootable full OSes, until they started the Recovery partition and web recovery some years back. I always preferred the bootable clone to Win recovery disks, as it was simple to reboot and either test or run everything.


    1. HD suddenly dies.
    2. Boot to last clone, with all data (at the time time of clone), software, licenses installed etc.
    3. Work if needed
    4. Replace HD, and clone USB back to new HD.
    5. Boot to new HD
    6. If needed, restore newer data from TM backups to bring everything back to time of last TM run.

    Lots of the other ways to go, including more involved paid tools that do everything above and alot more, like CCC.

    There are third party options to do recovery drives (stripped down OS, typically on a USB flash drive). But if you have a full clone....don't really have the need.
  8. ginhb, Sep 20, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2018

    ginhb thread starter macrumors newbie

    Sep 8, 2018
    Thanks for the good explanation. That should take care of my questions. I don’t anticipate having an elaborate user setup with lots of software packages and licenses. Maybe just a few extra goodies. The applications included in High Sierra are actually pretty good for most day-to-day tasks. Better than I expected. Even the photo editing tools in Photos & Preview cover a number of my usual adjustments. So my system should be pretty easy to maintain and restore if something unfortunate happens.

    Thanks again. The forums here at MacRumors are good ones. People are very helpful.
  9. hobowankenobi macrumors 6502a

    Aug 27, 2015
    on the land line mr. smith.
    Happy to help. More tips for folks new to backing up Macs:

    1. Make a clone. Boot to it to test. Nothing like booting to a cloned OS to prove it works as expected, and to sleep easy.
    2. Clone just before any big system updates or changes. Makes rolling back painless. 10.14 is right around the corner... Clone first, and restoring is easy if there is anything you don't like or gets wonky when upgrading.
    3. Update the clone! If you have more than one, why not boot to a clone, update it, beat it up, and decide if you like the upgrade? Zero risk. If it goes badly, nothing lost but time of testing.
    4. Get a big HD and make at least 3 partitions. Clone to each one in sequence, so you always have 2...if something happens, or you want to test. Blow one up. No worries, 2 more copies. Wipe it and go again.
    5. Make a secondary admin account as a service account on your primary drive. If you want a stripped down copy of an OS, backup and exclude your normal account and all your data; you end up with a bootable light weight clone, and it already has the spare admin account waiting to log in.

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