How to make backup copies of mac disks?
February 21, 2005 11:33 AM   Subscribe

My partner has a PowerBook G4 with 40GB disk - how should she backup her work?

I've already found the following resourcesand if left to myself would simply buy a firewire disk and use rsync, but I'm left with the following questions:
  • What is the best (commonly available - we live in Chile) disk?
  • Is this Backup utility worth using?
  • Is it worth backing up anything more than data (the FAQ mentions bootable copies of the whole machine)?
  • What's simplest? / What has worked in practice for people here?
  • Money isn't a serious problem (it's for work, with a suitable grant), but she also has 200GB on her Linux machine at work - is it easy (ie without bothering the sysadmin) to use that instead of a separate disk?
Thanks (I'm happy with Unix, but know nothing about Macs and the final solution should be as easy to use as possible, since my partner is not interested in this kind of thing...) (also apologies in advance if this looks bad - mefi's weird <br&gr; insertion and lists don't seem to be playing well together on preview).
posted by andrew cooke to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You don't need to backup your entire hard disk. Your Mac comes with a restore disk for the OS and applications, and any extra applications you will still have the install CDs for. (If you've downloaded any apps, burn the installers to CD.)

The leaves only your home folder, which is probably much, much less than 40GB, and should fit on just a few CDs or DVDs, or even one. If your Mac has a Combo drive, you can burn CD-Rs, if you have a Superdrive, you can burn DVD-Rs. (Or CD-Rs too, if you don't have much to backup.)

The Backup application is very good, but requires you to have a subscription to .Mac. You might want this anyway - it has some nifty features.

If you don't want a .Mac subscription, you can still make your own backup discs. Simply insert a blank CD or DVD, copy any files you want to backup onto it, and burn. Easy.
posted by Mwongozi at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2005

I've had a good experience with rsyncx.

Quick, easy, powerful and gui-liscious.
posted by Freen at 11:56 AM on February 21, 2005

To back up just a user's data, right-click (control-click) on the user's home directory, choose "create archive of...", then copy the resulting zip file elsewhere on the network.

To back up the whole machine, hold down "T" while starting up to put it into firewire target disk mode. Then copy all files elsewhere.

Hope this helps! Thank you for the useful links.
posted by omnidrew at 12:13 PM on February 21, 2005

I've recently started using LaCie's Silverkeeper which is very simple and very straightforward. It has the "exclusions" feature meaning it will back up a whole folder or disk, but skip certain folders or files you choose (like the System folder), which is good if your backup disk is smaller than your hard disk.

The .mac Backup program is a joke. Don't touch it.

The best disk to use is to buy a cheap USB enclosure and a cheap hard drive to go inside. These can be had on eBay really cheap, though I'm not sure about in Chile.
posted by cillit bang at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2005

Stupid question: Why not just buy a large iPod, and back up anything that you need to onto that iPod whenever you connect to it. That can be easily applescripted.

One of my friends has a three-tier backup solution. His most vital working files (The equivalent of a windows user's 'My Documents' folder), and the ones that he changes every day such as custom configuration files (his httpd.conf and other files), are backed up to his iPod whenever he synchs his iPod, using rsync and some applescript-fu.

Whenever he connects his generic usb 2.0 drive, a little bit more of the same applescript-fu, backs up his whole hard drive to it. I think it only took him a few hours to figure out how to do all of this.

Generally, Andrew, anything you can buy from the apple store (as far as drives go) will be more than suitable and shouldn't fail for many years. Plus, if you buy a big one, you can archive things like old working files onto it.

Using actual drives keeps you from having to burn and throw out a different CD or DVD every week.
posted by SpecialK at 12:37 PM on February 21, 2005

On a related note, for those of us backing up to non-HFS+ drives and/or using plain rsync, what files commonly have resource forks that you'd miss?

I know applications have them, but I don't plan on backing them up in a restorable method.

rsync is nice running over ssh... Offsite backup coming up soon for me.
posted by easyasy3k at 12:40 PM on February 21, 2005

I've been using a program called Deja Vu (actually a preference pane) that works similarly to these. It runs early in the morning (I always leave my Mac on). Like the others, I have it only do my "home" folder (that exclusion feature in Silverkeeper sounds nice).

All of these are based on doing a periodic backup, probably to a second hard drive. Optical media can work, but if your home directory gets bigger than the optical disc, you're SOL. With Deja Vu (and probably others), you can do different backups on different schedules--daily/weekly/monthly perhaps. This gives you more flexibility in case you screw something up, and makes other backup strategies possible.

These will generally give you the option of "syncing" the backup, so that any files deleted from the source are deleted from the target, or doing additive (?) backups, so that files deleted from the source are retained in the backup. If you do the latter, the backup directory can really balloon in size--if you download an app to try it out and then delete it the next day, its .dmg file might wind up on the backup. Caches, likewise. If you reorganize your directories, you wind up with duplicates of a lot of stuff. If you do the former, you need to be careful about what you delete.

Also note: the powerbook in question may only support USB1.1 (I think that's the case, judging by the size of the hard drive). If so, you'll find USB drives to be excrutiatingly slow--even too slow for an overnight backup, perhaps. If it supports USB2, a USB2 drive will be a fine option, although Firewire 400 will be faster (even though it nominally has a slower bps rating--it's less chatty or something). Also note that the USB2 drive must not share a hub with any USB1.1 devices, or you're dragged down to 1.1 speeds.
posted by adamrice at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2005

Andrew, the simplest and fastest option is a Maxtor One Touch drive.

It comes with an external Firewire drive and copy of Retrospect Personal.

You set up a script once with Retrospect Personal.

Retrospect is easy enough to use that a manual is not required.

You press the button on the front of the hard drive to trigger a backup on demand.

You can also schedule backups within Retrospect Personal on a timed basis of your choice.

Retrospect does a full backup and then follows this with an incremental backup. This greatly increases the speed of subsequent backups, from hours to minutes.

If you choose, you can still do full backups, or multiple backups to one drive, e.g. one backup to one file, and another backup to another file. That way you have more redundancy to fall back upon, if something is deleted from an incremental backup.

DejaVu is a good second option if you already have a drive, or if your Linux box has a SMB or AFP service running (Samba or Netatalk, resp.).

But DejaVu does not do incremental backups. So each backup will be a full copy unless you drag a file at a time, which increases the chance of not copying something, as well as the backup complexity.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:11 PM on February 21, 2005

thanks for all the replies. she's an astronomer and already has 2.5GB of data on there with a cd-rw drive (not dvd), so it looks like a hard drive makes more sense. i just realised i didn't know the difference between between usb and firewire (duh!) - turns out it is usb 1, so firewire makes most sense. i have samba on my own linux box, but doubt it's running at her work and don't want to get into hassles with her sysadmin, so i think a dedicated disk is best (an ipod would be sweet, but that's usb, afaik).

so at the moment i'm thinking either "any firewire disk" + rsyncx (which is incremental, right?) or the maxtor/retrospect solution. i'll have a chat with her over dinner (which i should go make now), but any comments on the relative advantages of rsyncx or retrospect would be appreciated (or pointing out where my reasoning above is incorrect). cheers.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2005

i have samba on my own linux box, but doubt it's running at her work and don't want to get into hassles with her sysadmin

She does not need Samba if she is running Mac OS X. OS X comes with a built-in CIFS/SMB client. Just open a Finder connection (Go -> Connect to Server...) to "smb://hostname" and enter a username and password. You might have a firewall to get through, but that's a separate issue.

Rsyncx works but Retrospect is easier for an end user, if settings changes are needed, or you're not doing the setup work.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:14 PM on February 21, 2005

Do you mean incremental as in it doesn't have to copy everything every time or you can restore today's backup and last week's backup? Rsync does the former out of the box.

Rsync based things can be incremental in the second sense with scripts.

Something like Rsync snapshots. I'm not sure about its compatibility with rsyncx though (--link-dest?) and OSX has BSD's cp, not GNU's.

Also, it's hard to get OSX to remember SMB passwords.
posted by easyasy3k at 2:31 PM on February 21, 2005

Also, it's hard to get OSX to remember SMB passwords.

Works fine for us. (250+ OS X client base.) Try deleting Keychain Access entries if you're having troubles with SMB hosts.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2005

ok, thanks. i meant incremental as in diffs. the other kind of incremental isn't important. she's going to see if she can get a maxtor one touch. if not, then we'll go with any firewire disk and try the different software options to see what's best (i missed silverkeeper earlier).

(i'm leary of samba in general - it seems to suck up large amounts of my non-expert time...)

now i suppose i need to give out "best answer" brownie points. grumble grumble...
posted by andrew cooke at 2:46 PM on February 21, 2005

Stupid question: Why not just buy a large iPod, and back up anything that you need to onto that iPod whenever you connect to it. That can be easily applescripted.

This is akin to buying a BMW to serve as a Taxi in a cold, wintery area.
posted by angry modem at 4:34 PM on February 21, 2005

well, not quite - more like getting someone else to buy us a bmw when they could just pay for a taxi... ;o)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:50 PM on February 21, 2005

Who the hell said Retrospect was easy to use? I've got three file cards full of bugs I'm going to bitch about on my blog.
posted by joeclark at 5:26 PM on February 21, 2005

Go with rsyncX - it works, it's great, and it's free. We use it exclusively in my office, and I trust all of my data to it at home.

Stay far, far away from anything related to Retrospect. Far, far away.
posted by sluggo at 6:53 PM on February 21, 2005

I recently bought the Maxtor One Touch, and although I'm thrilled about the drive itself I am entirely unimpressed with Retrospect. It's just painful to use -- they maintain that it's so easy you don't need a manual, but I found it to be the opposite. I wound up using the One Touch button to trigger Rsyncx and that works great.

It will take you a while to run a complete backup at first, but if you do it often it shouldn't take very long at all (I run it weekly on my 50gb personal G4 (which, granted, isn't used as much as my work machine) and it only takes about 20 minutes).
posted by paulrockNJ at 7:59 PM on February 21, 2005

After much research I bought a copy of Retrospect a while back. And now I hate it ("painful to use" sounds about right).
posted by sad_otter at 10:05 PM on February 21, 2005

I've had a good experience with Shirt Pocket's SuperDuper!.

It allows you to make bootable copies of your drive (which is a lifesaver when travelling with a laptop). Once you've done your first full back-up, subsequent back-ups are speedy as only the changed files are copied.

What I like about SuperDuper! is that before it starts copying it gives you this plain English "Hey, here's what's about to happen..." dialog -- no cryptic mumbo-jumbo -- so you know everything is going to go as you like. Also, when I needed tech support, Dave at Shirt Pocket was quick and helpful with his email replies.

What I don't like about it is that they suggest not running other apps while it does it's stuff. So it's better for backing up when you leave for lunch or what-have-you; not for running in the background while you're using other apps.

There is a demo available that will do full (but not the speedier incremental) back-ups. The full product costs $20.
posted by blueberry at 12:03 PM on February 26, 2005

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