Back up your Mac

HiTechMomMaster Your Gadgets, Uncategorized

We keep a lot of precious information on our computers. Photos of our children, videos of their important events, work, financial records, contacts, calendars, passwords, emails from people who are no longer with us, and many other valuable pieces of information. What would happen if all of that information was destroyed somehow? Or taken from you? How would you get that back?

Backing up your files is an essential part of owning ANY type of computer. Let’s imagine some horrible ways that you can lose your files:


  • Your cat spills a glass of water onto your laptop (happened to me).
  • Hard drive failure
  • Software issues that force you to erase your hard drive
  • You accidently delete a year’s worth of photos and realize your mistake after you empty the trash
  • Someone steals your computer
  • You decide to sync to a new device, miss an important step, and lose all of your contacts
  • A pipe bursts over your desk and destroys your computer

This is making me sad so I will stop. I think you get the picture. If you still don’t believe me, just listen to the advice of super cool ski instructor:

Backup your computer or you

Stop crying. It’s not hard to do. First you need a plan.


  1. Which files do you want to back up?
  2. Where do you want to back these files up to?
  3. How are you going to move the files?
  4. How often do you want to back up?

1. Which files do you want to back up?

How about all of them? Great! On to step 2

2. Where do you want to store these backup files?

The easiest way to backup your Mac is going to be to an external hard drive that you keep somewhere in your house. Your Mac comes with software called Time Machine that is built into the operating system. You simply connect an external hard drive, turn on time machine, and your computer does the rest of the work.

You may also want to consider backing up your files in a second location, outside of your home or online, in case of a disaster that happens inside of your house that destroys both your computer and your external hard drive (fire, water, theft, etc). We will talk about that in another article.

First, you need to decide what kind of hard drive to get. For a Time Machine backup, there are 3 popular choices:

Portable external hard drive

This is my personal favorite. It’s a small box that connects to your Mac with a cable. It draws it’s power from the computer so you do not have to be near a power outlet to use it. You can buy these almost anywhere. Electronics stores, Walmart, Target, and office supply stores all sell them. When you are shopping, don’t get overwhelmed by the choices. The most important thing to look for is the size. (Yes, size does matter.) Apple recommends that your external hard drive to be at least twice as big as the hard drive in your computer to successfully use Time Machine, so if you have a 500 GB hard drive in your computer, you will want a 1 TB backup drive. If you are not sure of the different types of connections (USB, firewire, thunderbolt), just stick with USB. It’s the slowest, but it’s also the cheapest and most universal. It does not matter if the drive says that it’s formatted for Mac or Windows. If you purchase one that is formatted for Windows, Time Machine will reformat it for the Mac after politely asking if that is OK. 

Desktop external hard drive

This is similar to the portable external hard drive, but a desktop model will plug into your computer and also have another power cord that you have to plug in to the wall. They are also quite a bit larger than the portable models. The nice thing about these drives is that they are usually cheaper than a portable model and they come in sizes that are much larger than their portable counterparts.

I have a couple of these Western Digital drives that have served me well, even after dropping one on the floor and busting the case open:

Western Digital 1TB Desktop Hard Drive

Western Digital 1TB Desktop Hard Drive

Time Capsule

This is a device that Apple makes that combines a hard drive and a wireless router into one. Throw your old wireless router out the window and plug this in. The setup is very simple. There is a little instruction sheet tucked inside of the box. Once the setup is complete, you can configure the Time Machine software to automatically backup to it with just a few clicks. The nice thing about this device is that you don’t have to remember to plug it in to do your backups. It automatically backs up new information whenever your computer connects to it’s wifi network. The downside to this device is that it is the slowest method and the most likely to give you issues with setup and connections, but once you get it set up, it is the most convenient by far.

 Time Capsule


Time Capsule on



3. OK, I have my backup drive. What’s the easiest way to get my files onto my hard drive?


Plug in your hard drive or connect your Time Capsule according to the instructions in the box. You may see a message that asks if you’d like to use this hard drive for a time machine backup. Click “use as backup disk” and you are done!

 Time Machine Setup 

If nothing like that happens, just click on the Time Machine icon in your menu bar and choose “Open Time Machine Preferences.” The icon looks like this:

 Time Machine Menu Bar icon 

(If you don’t see that icon, go to system preferences, then click on Time Machine)

Now you see this window:

Time Machine Setup

 Click on “Select Disk” and choose the name of your backup drive.

That’s all you have to do! Time Machine will backup everything on your computer. The first backup might take a few hours, depending on how much information you have to copy. After the initial backup, it it will check for new files every hour. If there is a new file on your computer that wasn’t in the last backup, it will copy it to your hard drive or time capsule.



If you don’t want to use Time Machine, there are many other applications that you can purchase that will automatically backup your data. A couple of highly rated applications are Super Duper and Carbon Copy Cloner.

There you have it. No more worries about losing your precious files. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below.