Trying to backup my new MBA to external hard drive - stuck in "preparing backup"

Discussion in 'macOS Sierra (10.12)' started by Mrs HBF, Dec 28, 2016.

  1. Mrs HBF macrumors regular

    Jul 27, 2010
    I still don't have a USB 3 cord that attaches my external hard drive to my new MBA but that shouldn't be the reason I'm stuck in "preparing backup".

    I used google to find a solution but found differing info.

    What is the best way to get this fixed for someone like me who is non-technical? I've backed the system once before I installed the newest update a few days ago and it took a long time to back up and I do remember seeing the 'preparing backup' on my computer for a while then too but the MBA eventually backed up. This is getting ridiculous as now I can't back up. Please help.

    Thank you for your advice.
  2. Mrs HBF thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 27, 2010
    That's unacceptable as I don't know if there are those out there who might purposely be giving wrong information. I saw that link and without people agreeing, I'm not risking my MBA. In addition, even Apple support page links offer help for those whose operating systems are not mine. For example, I'm not on Yosemite. That's why I come here as this forum has members whose dedicated participation gives them legitimacy.
  3. KALLT macrumors 601

    Sep 23, 2008
    How long have you waited? It can take quite a while.
  4. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    1. Get an external drive with a USB cable (your drive may already support that)
    2. Get CarbonCopyCloner (FREE to download and use for 30 days)
    3. Connect the drive to the MacBook via USB
    4. Set up CCC to clone from the internal drive to the backup (source drive on left, target drive on right, and set up CCC's prefs to clone recovery partition as well).
    5. Let CCC do its thing.

    When done, TEST the backup:
    1. Power down, all the way off
    2. Press power on button and immediately hold down the option key until the startup manager appears.
    3. Do you see the icon for the backup? Click on it with the pointer, then hit return.
    4. MacBook will boot from the external drive.

    Once you're in the finder, it should look EXACTLY as did the internal drive when booted from it.
    The only way you can tell is to check "About this Mac" in the apple menu to see which drive is the boot drive.
  5. fisherking macrumors 603


    Jul 16, 2010
    ny somewhere
    the problem isn't unique to sierra, and i just pointed you to some help, rather than typing exactly what you'd find with a google search...
  6. Mrs HBF thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 27, 2010
    The second time I tried, after 2 hours of "preparing backup", I stopped it. The 3rd time worked and it took 2 1/2 hours.

    Fishrrman, I don't see the benefit of spending money on software to help me backup the MBA. I will buy a USB 3 cord; I just haven't gotten around to it because outside of backing up, I don't need it.

    fisherking, if the problem isn't unique to Sierra, is it such that I should just go to the Genius Bar? I don't know whose online advice to trust and I don't want to screw things up with my MBA.
  7. fisherking macrumors 603


    Jul 16, 2010
    ny somewhere
    a usb 3 cable vs? a usb2 cable? is the drive usb3? either way, you'll only gain speed (IF the external drive is usb 3). a cable won't fix anything. anyway, any of those solutions in the google link can help, you just have to try them (try the ones on mac sites, or apple or macrumors forums, for example).

    finally, you can always call apple, or try the genius bar if that feels safer...
  8. KALLT macrumors 601

    Sep 23, 2008
    Two hours is not unusual. Your whole system will be scanned and if it happens shortly after a system upgrade, then it needs to wait for Spotlight to reindex your whole drive again. Don’t be impatient, just let it sit there and don’t interrupt it. Interrupting will lose all that progress.
  9. Mrs HBF thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 27, 2010
    The external hard drive is a western digital from 2010 so it's probably usb2. I have plenty of space. I might reach out to the Genius Bar as the 'preparing backup' screen lasts a long time.

    Not unusual? That is reassuring. This was indeed after a recent Sierra update. Not sure if that's considered a "system upgrade".
  10. mannyo1221 macrumors member

    Sep 21, 2011
    Blandford, UK.
    After a major update, even with a much faster USB 3 drive my quad core i7 macbook pro can sit on preparing backup for several hours. with a USB2 drive I can only imagine it will take a whole lot longer.

    I usually leave it to run overnight, and when I get up the backup is usually complete. Other backups are usually pretty quick once over the initial hurdle.
  11. bcave098 macrumors 6502a


    Sep 6, 2015
    Northern British Columbia
    Apple has a support article for this exact situation, which says that there are many reasons it can take a long time. Such as large changes (i.e. system updates), failed backups, etc.
  12. Clix Pix macrumors demi-goddess

    Clix Pix

    Oct 9, 2005
    8 miles from the Apple Store at Tysons (VA)
    I'm a little confused as to how you can even attempt a backup to an external drive without having a physical connection in the first place: i.e., USB cable.....? It wasn't clear in the first post exactly what the situation actually is. If you're talking about using a USB 2.0 port, either a USB 2.0 cable or a USB 3.0 should work (the USB 3.0 being backwards-compatible). The USB 2.0 will be considerably slower, no question about that! A new MBA should have USB 3.0 ports, though, right? An older one would have the USB 2.0 ones.

    Aside from all that, running backups can take a while. My particular strategy is not to attempt to backup the entire system but rather to simply backup my various folders in Finder, as they are the ones which contain the data that is important to me: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Movies, Music, Pictures, etc....... When setting up a new machine I do everything else manually: passwords, email accounts, etc. I just find it safer that way and then I'm starting out with everything clean on the new machine rather than potentially dragging over a lot of old, outdated stuff -- "cruft" -- from the older machine. Nonetheless, depending upon how large the drive and the amount of content, this still takes a fair amount of time. I usually run backups while also doing other things and periodically checking on the machine and the backup device to see how things are going......
  13. PhillyGuy72 macrumors 65816


    Sep 13, 2014
    Philadelphia, PA USA
    I'm in the same boat right now and I have no idea what the deal is. I have a 4gb external directly connected to my Mac via USB. I've backed this up many times before with no problems. My last backup was Dec 31, 2016...again no problem. Now it just sits at "Preparing Backup." I started it around 11am this morning, worked on my other 4:45 thinking it was finished. No it still said "Preparing..." Nothing wrong with the external drive,all my files are there and functional. No big changes to the actual internal Mac drive in 4 1/2 months. I did the whole Spotlight trick I read on here, other sites..I'm stumped and frustrated!

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