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Protect your Mac's data with a backup drive

James Galbraith | April 2, 2013
Looking to protect your data as part of World Backup Day? You'll need a hard drive. We'll tell you what to look for and which models have impressed us.

Happy World Backup Day, an occasion dedicated to encouraging you to make sure that all of your digital data is safe and secure. If you've procrastinated in the past on implementing a backup strategy for your Mac, why not mark today by taking action? We'll help you get started.

With Time Machine built into all editions of OS X dating back to 10.5 Leopard, most Mac users need only to connect a drive to their computers to have Apple's handy backup utility offer to start keeping snapshots of their precious photos, videos, music files, and documents. Sure, data-recovery companies like DriveSavers might be able to save your digital bacon if your hard drive fails, but it's much easier (and a lot less expensive) to protect yourself ahead of time.

What to look for

What about the drive you're going to connect to your Mac? The main things to look for are capacity and connection options. If your MacBook Pro has a 1TB hard drive humming at its core, don't purchase a 500GB drive as your backup drive. I recommend using a drive with at least twice the capacity of the volume that you're backing up. The surplus space will allow Time Machine to back up all of your data and keep track of changes made to your files over time.

As for connections, Thunderbolt may be the fastest option, but many people use Macs built before that port debuted. USB 3 is speedy and cheap, but again, not every Mac supports it. The ports are backward-compatible to USB 2.0, but in that case the drive will run at poky USB 2.0 speeds. Of course, after your first backup, most updates to your Time Machine will be incremental and won't require the fastest connection. FireWire 800 is faster than USB 2.0, but the drives for that standard tend to be more expensive and the number of drives that provide the connection is in serious decline.

Some drives offer redundancy in the form of RAID technology. A RAID 1 array creates a mirror image of the backup so that if one of the drives fails, you can recover the data from the other drive. A RAID 5 array uses multiple hard drives; and if any one drive fails, the system can rebuild the data set from the others.

If you want to protect your data further, consider rotating a couple of backup drives, keeping one of them off-site. If you have only one drive, and it's attached to your Mac during a fire or robbery, your would-be backup may be of no help in retrieving your lost data.


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