How to Back Up a Mac

Three Methods:Organizing Your DataStoring Your Data on an External Hard Drive With Time MachineBacking up to iCloud

Many of us rely daily on our Apple computers for both work and entertainment, and backing up all of that important data can be a lifesaver should something go wrong. Damage, loss, theft or even simple human error can cause you to lose everything that you’ve saved on your Mac. Keep your peace of mind and protect all of your valuable documents, photos, music, videos and more, by taking a few simple steps to back up your Mac.

Method 1
Organizing Your Data

Preparing all of your files for backup will help make the process much smoother. You’ll also ensure that you don’t accidentally forget to back up files that are in unexpected locations.

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    Consolidate[1] your music library. Using iTunes you can easily organize your music to keep it conveniently stored in one place for backups.
    • Go to File > Library > Organize Library
    • Click the box marked Consolidate Files and choose OK.
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    Organize your documents using Mac OS X’s Labels[2]. Create and follow a system that makes it easy for you to retrieve your files.

Method 2
Storing Your Data on an External Hard Drive With Time Machine

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    Purchase an external hard drive with a large storage capacity. Choose an external hard drive that is at least twice the capacity of your computer’s storage space. You’d be surprised how quickly the space gets filled up.
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    Connect your Mac to an external hard drive. Plug your external hard drive into your computer using the cable provided (usually either USB, Firewire or eSATA).
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    Format your external hard drive. Formatting[3] will help ensure that your files are properly stored for a Mac for easy retrieval.
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    Launch the Time Machine application. This handy and easy-to-use backup utility is included with Mac OS X. If Time Machine doesn’t automatically launch, the utility can be found in System Preferences.
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    Designate your external hard drive as the Backup Disk when prompted.
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    Turn Time Machine on. The backup utility will begin automatically backing up your Mac. Allow plenty of time for the initial back up (possibly overnight), as it may take awhile depending on the amount of data you have.
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    Schedule frequent backups with Time Machine. Time Machine will automatically back up your Mac hourly, unless you adjust the frequency of backups or choose to back up only when you wish. Time Machine will create incremental backups of the current state of your Mac’s data, so that you can go “back in time” to retrieve any missing or lost data.

Method 3
Backing up to iCloud

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    Turn on iCloud. Your Mac must be running OS X v10.7.4 or later[4].
    • Open System Preferences from the Apple menu in the upper left corner of your screen.
    • Click on the iCloud icon.
    • Enter your Apple ID and password to sign in.
    • Check the box indicating that you wish to use iCloud to back up your information.
    • Click the Next button.
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    Select which data you wish to back up[5]. Apple provides 5 GB of space for free when you sign up for iCloud. So, if you only wish to use this space, choose your most important documents and data to be backed up. All options are automatically checked by default to uncheck the boxes next to the information that you don’t want backed up.
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    Upgrade your iCloud storage plan. If you wish to store more data you can purchase a larger storage space.
    • Select the Manage button in the iCloud window of System Preferences.
    • Click Change Storage Plan in the upper right corner.
    • Choose the amount of storage you want (additional 10GB, 20GB or 50GB).
    • Enter payment information when prompted.
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    Enable Photostream. When you check the Photostream box, iCloud will save the last 1,000 photos for 30 days. If you have set up iCloud on your iPhone, this will automatically sync photos you have taken without having to connect your phone to your Mac.
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    Close the System Preferences window. iCloud will now automatically sync the data you have chosen to back up.


  • Stay proactive and regularly check on your backup devices to check their integrity, ensure that your stored data is current, and to see if new, better methods for backing up your data are available.
  • A portable hard drive is convenient for travel, but alternatively one that requires an AC outlet offers an internal fan that can keep your data cooler and therefore safer.
  • Include one off site backup away from your computer, either using iCloud or external hard drive, where you can retrieve your data should something disastrous take place near your computer.
  • Prioritize the data you back up to make sure that you are protecting the materials that are most valuable and irreplaceable.
  • iCloud may not offer enough space to back up all of your data, especially if you have lots of music, videos and photos. In that case, you may want to consider another cloud storage program such as Backblaze or DropBox.
  • Back up your data to multiple places[6], including external hard drives and iCloud storage, to ensure that you have a variety of options in case one backup fails.
  • Save your data on CDs[7], DVDs or Flash Drives as a supplementary backup.


  • No single backup option is completely foolproof, so again, be sure your backup plan includes multiple locations for your data.

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Categories: Mac