Backing Up Your Data: The Where, The Why, and The How

February 14th, 2010

Apple / Mac, MS / Windows

Most of you out there (hopefully all of you, actually) have heard of the importance of backing up your data. Some reasons are universal between Macs and PCs while others are not. PCs need to be backed up because of the possibility of hardware failure and the chance of getting Viruses, Spyware and the like, while Macintoshes need it solely because of the possibility of hardware failure. Macs may not be prone to all of the things PCs are but, then again, I did say Macs, and not Hackintoshes.

A hackintosh, though not susceptible to viruses just like real Macs (due to them running the same Operating System), has unique reasons why it should be the victim of a regular backup. The Hackintosh user constantly installs new kexts that damage his system and render it unbootable. The need to backup your Hackintosh’s data skyrockets because of this factor. I can think of 10 instances alone in the past month where, if I had not backed up my system before installing a new kext, I would be reinstalling OS X and starting completely fresh. And don’t take the word system lightly either as I don’t just mean all of my pictures, music, and documents; I mean copying those previously mentioned files, as well as the filesystem (the system that organize these files and allows you to access them), to an external hard drive. This includes copying every document, application, setting, etc. on your Hard Drive (HDD) to another location. However, there are countless backup methods, so I’ve outlined the three most common for you today. From this information, you will then be able to decide what works for you and what doesn’t. Be sure to post in the comments which method you decide to go with.

All three of these common methods are universal amongst Macs and PCs; however, the specific programs in the third option are OS specific. For the reader’s convenience, I have included programs compatible with both OS X and Windows. Sorry Linux guys, guess you’re left out on this one. You can use an online service, NAS (Network Attached Storage), or another physical Hard Drive to backup to. Each one has its own benefits and downfalls.


Online Services– Backing up your data to a web sites servers can be both beneficial and inexpedient. Looking at the positives, you always have access to your files. Access to your files from any computer with internet access can be great for someone who travels a lot, or is just rather forgetful. Additionally, there’s the added protection of having an offsite backup of our data. Weighing in the negatives, this method is not recommended for users looking to make complete system backups. Transfer speeds to backup servers are slow, not all file types are supported, and storage plans can get pricey. There’s also the risk of not being able to access your data if the company’s website is down, and even the risk of losing your data if the company suddenly goes out of business.

Nevertheless, if simple document and media storage is all you require, a great yet fairly unknown service is They offer 50gb of free storage and support OS X, Windows, and even Linux. Paid storage plans include even more space, FTP access, File Sharing, SSL Encryption for transfers, and a desktop application that can automatically run backups.

As another alternative, Google Docs is widely used for sharing, accessing, and editing your documents from any computer (or mobile device) with internet access. You get 1GB, or 1024MB, of free storage, and then additional plans start at $5/year for 20GB. Plus, a recent update to Google Docs now allows you to upload files of any format (including media and files in other proprietary formats) of up to 1GB in size. One of the biggest advantages to the service is that it’s owned and operated by Google, so you can be sure it won’t be disappearing any time soon.


Network Attached Storage (NAS) – Network Attached Storage is a storage device that’s attached to your router and broadcast over your network. A NAS is accessible to any internet-enabled device on your network, and data can be both read and written to your NAS by any of these devices. NAS are great if you want to backup data from multiple computers, but don’t want to connect an external hard drive each time you want to use it on that computer. It also allows you to access the data simultaneously from multiple computers. In the Mac/OS X world, you can even use a NAS as a Time Machine for multiple computers running OS X.

There are two types of NAS: a router with a built-in Hard Drive and a router equipped with a USB port for connecting your own third-party External Hard Drive. Each option has pros and cons, and should be weighed if taking this route. Routers with built-in Hard Drives tend to have faster transfer speeds (in most instances, SATA 3GB/sec vs. USB 480MB/sec), though the data is inaccessible when outside the range of your home network. Routers with USB ports do require you to purchase your own External Hard Drive, but the size of the Hard Drive is always upgradeable and you can take the Hard Drive with you. Two features to look for when choosing either NAS are Wireless N and Gigabyte Ethernet. Wireless N provides better range and much faster speeds than Wireless G, while Gigabit Ethernet provides better wired speeds. Just make sure to connect to the NAS with either a Wireless N adapter or computer equipped with a Gigabit Ethernet port otherwise the speed improvements will not be utilized.

Personally, I recommend Time Capsule due to its support for Wireless N, dual-band operation, Gigabit Ethernet ports, and ability to connect to computers running Windows and OS X. Unfortunately, the Airport Extreme is not only rather pricey, but only users running Leopard or Snow Leopard can access the built-in Hard Drive. So essentially, if connecting from Windows, Time Capsule acts as a router instead of as a NAS. When shopping for routers with USB ports, there is a much wider variety of products to choose from. Any product from Netgear, Linksys, and other well-known brands are viable options. Just be sure to check reviews from trusted online sources before purchasing any products. Do note that most NASs are compatible with Time Machine, so don’t be suckered in to purchasing Time Capsule for the sole purpose of using this feature.


External Hard Drives & Third Party Software– External Hard Drives are Hard Drives placed in external cases that are accessible through either USB (common), Firewire (uncommon and dying), or eSATA (becoming more common). External Hard Drives are not only great for backing up user data, but are your best option when making complete system backups. This is due to their high compatibility in cross-platform file sharing when formatted in the FAT file system. They are also great because they boast faster transfer speeds than either of the previous options, their relatively small size, and high portability. External Hard Drives are also fairly cheap, with deals that calculate to the consumer spending no more than $0.10 /gigabyte.

To take full advantage of backing up to an External Hard Drive, third party software is required. For a full system backup solution in OS X, both Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper are fine choices. In Windows 7, the built in backup utility, Backup & Restore, is much improved and even allows the user to create an image of his/her entire Hard Drive (for restoring the entire OS, including Programs and Data). For XP, Vista, and 7 users, the free Microsoft SyncToy allows for scheduled backups of entire disks, as well as individual files.

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About Thomas

Thomas is a self-proclaimed guru (just ask him). He enjoys long walks on the beach, running Mac OS X on his Inspiron 1525, and tweeting about nonsensical life happenings. You can follow Thomas on twitter, email him, or search the interwebs for all his personal information. Neither should be too difficult.

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4 Responses to “Backing Up Your Data: The Where, The Why, and The How”

  1. frog

    when i make a backup with ccc or superduper it never actually becomes bootable. Why is this?

    • Thomas

      This is because both CCC and SuperDuper are unable to copy our proprietary bootloader (Chameleon) onto the device. Therefore, assuming you backed up to a USB Drive, you cannot boot straight from the USB Drive. Instead, you would have to boot normally and then select your USB Drive at the Chameleon boot prompt. To remedy this, you can follow the Chameleon install guide and install Chameleon onto your USB drive.

  2. Sahand

    What about Time Machine? Isn’t that also a solution?

    • Thomas

      Time Machine is a great tool for users on real Macs, though it’s very hit and miss on Hackintoshes. These programs listed are unique in that they make a backup you can boot off of, limiting your potential downtime to next to none.