How to Back up Your Mac With Time Machine and SuperDuper!

A cloning backup method is an excellent complement to Time Machine

Creating a backup system for your Mac is critically important. With a reliable backup in place, it's easy to restore your data if the original files are ever deleted from your Mac, or if the hard drive is erased, damaged, or replaced.

Time Machine is Apple's convenient and effective built-in file backup system. We'll look at how to create a Mac backup system using Time Machine in conjunction with a tool called SuperDuper!. SuperDuper! uses a cloning backup method that works as an excellent complement to Time Machine's capabilities.

Why Use Both Time Machine and 'SuperDuper!'?

The Time Machine backup utility was introduced back in 2008. It's a "set-it-and-forget-it" solution that backs up your entire Mac, including system files, apps, music, photos, emails, and documents. When you turn on Time Machine, it automatically backs up your Mac and performs hourly, daily, and weekly backups of your files.

While Time Machine is a fantastic tool, it's not perfect. It doesn't clone your entire drive, so if you have a disaster and need to get up and running fast, having another bootable backup option is a great idea.

SuperDuper! is an example of backup software that clones your entire hard drive. Using a tool like SuperDuper! along with Time Machine delivers the best of both worlds, backing up files and creating a clone of your Mac. And if something goes awry with one of your backup methods, you still have the other to fall back on.

Midsection of man using laptop with backup label on external hard disk drive at table
Halfdark / Getty Images

Getting Started With Time Machine

To create a backup system with Time Machine, you need an external storage device. This can be a NAS device, such as Apple's own Time Capsule, or a simple external hard drive connected directly to your Mac, such as a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire drive.

The first step is to connect your storage device to your Mac. When you do this, you may receive a message that says, Do you want to use [Backup Disk] to back up with Time Machine? If so, check Encrypt Backup Disk and then select Use as Backup Disk.

If Time Machine doesn't automatically ask to use your drive, add it manually. Once you add your drive, Time Machine will automatically start making backups.

When your external drive gets filled up with backups, Time Machine will start overwriting the oldest backups to ensure there is space for the current data.

  1. Select the Time Machine icon (clock) in the Mac's menu bar.

    If you don't see the Time Machine icon on your menu bar, select System Preferences under the Apple menu, choose Time Machine, and then select Show Time Machine in menu bar.

    The Time Machine icon.
  2. Select Open Time Machine Preferences.

    Selecting Open Time Machine Preferences menu option.
  3. Choose Select Backup Disk (it may say Add or Remove Backup Disk).

    Selecting back up disk option.
  4. Select your external drive from the list options. Check Encrypt backups (recommended) and then select Use Disk.

    Selecting Use Disk in Time Machine.
  5. After you select your backup disk, Time Machine will automatically make periodic backups. You don't have to do anything else.

    Your first backup may take a while, depending on how many files you have, but you can still use your Mac during the backup process. Future backups will be faster because Time Machine only backs up files that changed since the prior backup.

Exclude Files From Time Machine Backup

If you don't want certain files or folders backed up, or if your external drive doesn't have enough space, exclude files and folders from backup.

  1. Select the Time Machine icon on the menu bar and choose Open Time Machine Preferences.

    Selecting Open Time Machine Preferences menu option.
  2. Select Options.

    Selecting Options in Time Machine.
  3. To choose files and folders to exclude from a backup, select the plus sign on the bottom left.

    Selecting the plus sign in Time Machine.
  4. Double-click on a file or folder to add it to the excluded files list.

  5. When you're done, select Save. These excluded files won't be backed up.

    Time Machine Options

    If you're wondering if Time Machine is working correctly, it's easy to verify your Time Machine backups.

Clone Your Startup Drive With SuperDuper

Time Machine is a great backup solution, but you can greatly optimize your backups by using SuperDuper! or another cloning-style backup system.

SuperDuper! (which costs $27.95) clones your Mac's hard drive, so you always have a complete backup of all your data. It allows you to keep a bootable copy of your startup drive for emergencies or for when you're taking care of routine maintenance on your normal startup drive.

To use SuperDuper!, you'll need an external hard drive that's at least as large as your current startup drive. SuperDuper! has a lot of options and ways to customize your backup process, but for our purposes, we'll look at the process of making an exact copy of your startup drive.

SuperDuper! is just one of many great cloning backup solutions for the Mac. Others include Carbon Copy Cloner, SmartBackup, and ChronoSync.

  1. Launch SuperDuper!.

  2. Select your startup drive as the Copy source.

    Selecting a source disk in SuperDuper.
  3. Select your external hard drive as the Copy To destination.

    Choosing a destination disk in SuperDuper.
  4. Select Backup - all files as the method.

    SuperDuper ready to clone startup drive
  5. Choose the Options button and under During copy, select Erase [backup location], then copy files from [startup drive].

    Selecting what to do during copy.
  6. Select OK, and then choose Copy Now. In a short time, you'll have a bootable clone of your hard drive.

    Once you've created the first clone, you can change the Copy option to Smart Update, so SuperDuper will update the existing clone with new data.

    Selecting OK to begin copy.