How to Back Up My Mac to a Hard Drive Without Time Machine

By Mark Pool

Regular backups keep your data safe if your Mac is lost, stolen or damaged.
i Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Apple's Time Machine backup system is available in Mac OS X v10.5 and above. But if you have a previous version, or prefer not to use Time Machine, you can use one of several alternative methods. To be effective, the backup should be on a separate hard drive. If the main drive of your Mac fails, you can use the backup drive to restore your system and files after replacing the failed drive.

Step 1

Copy your hard drive using the Mac OS X installation DVD. The installation program includes Disk Utility for working with your Mac's hard drive. Use Disk Utility to create a disk image copy of your hard drive. After selecting your language, click the "Disk Utility" option from the "Utilities" menu of the installation program. Create a disk image file from your hard drive by selecting it and clicking the "New Image" option. Verify your disk with Disk Utility's diagnostics first. The disadvantage of this method is that a new complete copy of your hard drive must be made each time you perform a backup.

Step 2

Download and install Carbon Copy Cloner to back up your Mac. CCC is a free Mac OS X cloning program. It is compatible with Mac OS X v10.4 and above on both Intel and PowerPC systems. After installing, it is a good idea to quit all open programs before cloning your hard drive using CCC. The initial backup process takes the same amount of time as the Disk Utility method. CCC includes a scheduling option to back up your Mac automatically on a periodic basis -- just make sure the backup hard drive is plugged into your USB or Firewire port. Use the "Incremental backup of selected items" option after the first backup. Instead of backing up the whole system again, CCC only backs up items that have changed since the first backup when using this option. If your Mac supports booting from a USB or Firewire port, you can also start the system using your cloned drive if necessary. This works because CCC creates an exact copy of your drive on the backup drive.

Step 3

Download and install SuperDuper to clone your Mac's hard drive. SuperDuper is another hard drive cloning program. The free version clones your entire drive each time you perform a backup. The paid registered version includes a smart backup option similar to CCC's incremental setting. SuperDuper's smart backup option only backs up items on your drive that have changed since the last backup. SuperDuper includes a scheduling utility to make backups automatic. It also includes options to run custom scripts before and after your backup. For example, use a script to quit applications such as VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop before you run your scheduled backup. A post-backup script might turn your applications back on so they're ready for use in the morning. A cloned drive created by SuperDuper is capable of starting up an Intel or PowerPC Mac that supports booting from the USB or Firewire port.