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How to Use Apple Time Machine

Even though this is PC Backup Review, some of us have Macs at home or work. It wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t include a basic article about Time Machine. I mean, it is just so slick, PC users need to know what they’re missing!

Not only does Time Machine keep backups of individual files, it also keeps backups of your entire system at frequent intervals (think of these as restore points.) How frequent you ask? Time Machine keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups until your backup drive is full. So you can literally go back in time, pun intended.

In this article I will explain how to back up your personal computer using Time Machine, which is already built into your Mac when you first purchase it. You just need to turn it on.

Setting Up Your Backup In Time Machine

In this first part we’ll talk about setting up Time Machine using a regular external hard drive. It only takes six easy steps.

1. Plug in an external hard drive to your machine via USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt connection.

2. Go under the Apple menu and choose “System Preferences.”

3. Click on “Time Machine.”

4. Time Machine will likely be set to “Off.” Click to turn it “On.”

5. Select your backup destination from the available list. If you have a second internal drive or a plugged-in external drive from step 1, it should appear on the list.

6. Click “Connect.”

That’s all it takes. A countdown timer will pop up, and when it completes the countdown, your backup starts! It’s so easy!

Using a Time Capsule

As if Time Machine isn’t easy enough, you can replace the external drive with a Time Capsule – a wireless storage device that’s a perfect match for your Mac, in both function and fashion.

This little white box (think of it as a time capsule) will store your backups safely and securely, too. You can get it in a 2TB or 3TB version for $299 or $499, respectively.

It carries a premium price tag, but it’s not an ordinary drive – it contains a “server-grade hard drive” that’s more durable than a typical external drive (i.e. less likely to crash from constant use.) You can also use it to backup multiple Macs. Thanks to the wireless connection, you can backup virtually every Mac in your house to a single Time Capsule.

The backup process is almost identical to the steps listed above. The difference is when you’re choosing a backup device from the list, select “Time Capsule.” You will probably be prompted to select the Time Capsule if it’s your first time setting up backup. In the alert window that appears, enter the password for your Time Capsule.

Click “Connect” as before, and your backup will begin.

Restoring Backups Using Time Machine

If you would like to restore a backup from Time Machine, it’s simple.

How to restore individual files and folders:

Go under your Time Machine menu and select “Enter Time Machine.” You’ll be presented with the restore interface that includes a timeline on the right side.

Scroll through the timeline until you find your desired date to restore from. Under each date will be a list of the backed up files as they appeared at that point in time.

Select whatever file or folder you want to restore and click “Restore.” It will be immediately copied from your backup device to your computer.

How to restore your entire system:

Once you make sure your backup drive is connected, start up your Mac from the Recovery system (Command-R at startup) or Mac OS X installation disc. Once loaded, use the “Restore From Time Machine Backup” utility. It will do the rest.

How to restore your entire system onto a new Mac:

If your computer was completely wiped out and you’re going to restore the backup onto a new one, the process is slightly different.

You’ll want to go under Applications/Utilities and use the Migration Assistant. Follow the on-screen prompts and your backup will be restored onto the new machine. When finished, simply choose “Inherit Backup History,” and your new Mac will have Time Machine configured automatically.

Apple Time Machine FAQ

Here are common questions about Apple’s Time Machine backup system and the Time Capsule backup drive.

Q: Is it possible to backup to a Time Capsule via Ethernet?

A: Yes. Most people prefer to perform their first backup over an Ethernet cable because it’s much faster than wireless. If you have lots of GBs to back up, it will save a substantial amount of time.

But after your initial backup is complete, all subsequent backups are incremental and occur easily over a wireless connection. So just switch to wireless for the convenience at that point.

Q: How secure is it? What if someone picks up my Time Capsule and walks off with it?

You can use FileVault 2 to encrypt your Time Machine backup on any external drive, and in OS X Mountain Lion, Time Machine itself lets you encrypt Time Capsule backups.

If someone wants to access your backups, they’ll have to figure out how to decrypt them first.

Q: Is a Time Capsule worth the $299? What about getting a regular external hard drive?

A: Well, a high-quality external drive is going to run $100-200. And it will work fine. But you’ll only be able to use it with one computer at a time, whereas the Time Capsule can be used with as many Macs as you have in the house. If you value convenience, the wireless capability and easy integration make the Time Capsule worth the price. (The price is on par with other NAS units.)

Personally, if I had a Mac at home, I’d jump at the opportunity for such simple, streamlined backup!

Q: What if I lose it all in a house fire or flood?

A: You are out of luck… unless you implemented some sort of offsite, remote backup. Local backups on a Time Capsule are great if your computer crashes, but they’re only safe as long as the Time Capsule is.

That’s why everyone should have online backup in place. Most popular backup services these days – BackBlaze, Mozy, CrashPlan, IDrive, and DollyDrive, just to name a few – are compatible with Macs and are very affordable.

Once you get your Time Machine backup set up, sign-up for some online backup, too.

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