Practice safe computing, use a clone

Backup, backup, backup! The three most commonly uttered words from any experienced computer user to more care-free users. After moving to OS X as my sole computing solution, I mistakingly adopted the mantra that Apple products were rock solid, unwavering, trouble-free dream machines. For the most part – during the better part of my Apple experiences – they were. That was until I convinced myself to acquire certain Revision A. product – cough Apple cow.

The secret to a worry-free computing experience? Reliable cloned hardrive backups allowing anyone to move and continue working with critical data as though nothing inconvenient had happened. The necessary tools?

The tools – USB 2.0 / Firewire external

An external drive should be part of every computer users hardware collection. Larger externals can be partitioned allowing for a dedicated drive for clones while the remaining can be used for various archival reasons. Booting from an external drive carries with it certain requirements. PPC based Macs can only boot off of Firewire while Intel Macs switch hit booting off of Firewire or USB 2.0. Keep that in mind while shopping. Personal recommendation? Any drives which offer USB 2.0 & Firewire 400 / 800 connectors.

Keep in mind that the type of Mac hardware you run will dictate the type of drive worth investing in. Going with a USB 2.0 / Firewire combo drive will offer the most flexibility for users with multiple computers.

The tools – OSX cloning / backup software

OS X users enjoy a great number of backup solutions. From the original favorite Carbon Copy Cloner, to Deja Vu and iBackup, users have no excuses as far as software is concerned. For this particular walk-through, we will utilize Shirt Pockets SuperDuper utility.

SuperDuper comes in two robust flavors: a functional free version, and a fully featured $28 version complete with smart updates, scheduling, and additional functionality to fine-tune & customize your backups. Fortunately, the free version is everything the average OS X user would ever need with support to create bootable clones [minus the options].

Bootable disk clone in three steps

Creating a bootable image using SuperDuper

Assuming SuperDuper is installed and the external is mounted on the desktop, fire-up the backup utility embrace the simplicity of the interface. Rather than bombarding users with too many options. Copy [XX Drive] (your internal) to [XX Drive] (your external). The specifications read in an intuitive manner for beginners and experienced users alike.

superduper interface

As you can see from the screenshot, my internal drive – ‘Udon’ – will be copied / cloned to one of two partitions on an external drive. I have conveniently titled the future clone “SuperDuper” to alleviate any confusion as to the exact contents of the drive. The third drop down menu defaults to “Backup – all files” which means “SuperDuper, create an exact copy, byte-for-byte, of my internal drive”. Once your internal and external drives are designated in the drop down menus, continue to click ‘Proceed’ after which SuperDuper will confirm that your settings are correct.

Testing your disk clone – Live boot

After completion, you will have a completely bootable backup clone of your existing hardrive. Care to test?

startup disk preference pane

Open System Preferences and select ‘Startup Disk’. In the following window, you should see two startup folders: Mac OS X, 10.X.X on [Internal] & Mac OS X, 10.X.X on [External]. Select the backup clone on the external drive and select ‘Restart’. Note again that PPC based Macs require a Firewire drive while Intel based Macs can boot off of USB / Firewire.

OS X will proceed to reboot using the external as the source. The familiar Apple startup chime will sound, followed by the reassuring loading status bar before your desktop, icons, applications, and personal files are displayed on your screen. Everything is as you left it last before the backup – software licenses, preferences, and system settings – all where they should be. Ah, the beauty of bootable backup clones. Congratulations, you are now running OS X directly off your external hardrive.

Restore your backup clone using Disk Utility

Laugh at the inconvenience of loosing your computers due to hardrive failure or cough having to send your main machine off to Apple – for weeks on end – due to random shutdowns. With a bootable clone in-hand, you can restore your personal work environment on a backup computer using Apple’s Disk Utility.

restore with disk utility

Thankfully, Disk Utility is as simple to use as SuperDuper. Assuming you are currently running off of the external clone drive, continue with the following Disk Utility steps:

  1. Select the internal drive on your computer from the source-list on the left. This is usually the topmost drive.
  2. Select the ‘Restore’ tab in the right-pane.
  3. identify your external drive in the source pane and drag it to the ‘Source’ field in the right-pane.
  4. Drag the internal drive into ‘Destination’ field.
  5. Tick the ‘Erase Destination’ option and proceed to select ‘Restore’.

Once the process is completed, shut down your computer completely, unplug the external, and restart. Your computer will boot off the internal drive which you successfully cloned using your backup.

Practice safe computing, use a clone

Now that you possess the knowledge, continue to make regular backups of your hardrive. The licensed version of Shirt Pockets SuperDuper offers the convenience of scheduled backups reducing the time spent manually cloning your disk. Whichever route you elect to adopt, remember that your hardware is will crash, disappear, break, or possibly require multiple visits to the repair depot. Don’t break stride and maintain a current disk clone of your system for restoring.

Discuss - 36 Comments

  1. John Warne says:

    [quote comment="7244"]PPC based Macs can only boot off of Firewire while Intel Macs switch hit booting off of Firewire or USB 2.0.[/quote]

    That’s not entirely true. I’ve got a Powerbook and a USB 2.0 drive that I can boot from. If you hold down the option key while restarting it will show you a list of bootable drives. Not all USB 2.0 drives are bootable with PPC, but it’s more than zero.

  2. Zach says:

    Are you using the free version of SuperDuper?

  3. Derek says:

    [quote comment="7469"]Are you using the free version of SuperDuper?[/quote]

    I was using the free version. I upgraded in order to accomplish the automated backups.

  4. Derek thanks for posting this, it was just in time. I have to send my ibook to Apple’s factory tomorrow, which means all will be lost on its harddrive – but I’ve got it all here on my external firewire now!

  5. Mike says:

    Hey, Thanks for the tutorial. I am new to Mac with a MacBook and love it. I just did a back up using SuperDuper like you said, onto a USB external. It worked perfectly. When I use disk utility to try to restore the backup onto my Mac HD it says the operation is not allowed. Can you help with this? Thanks again!

  6. Derek says:

    Are you sure that you’re booting off your external clone? OS X will not allow you to restore a clone on to the drive that you’re currently booting off of.

  7. Mike says:

    [quote comment="8559"]Are you sure that you’re booting off your external clone? OS X will not allow you to restore a clone on to the drive that you’re currently booting off of.[/quote]

    Yes, I am booting off the external, and everything works fine. the only strange thing i noticed was that the Internal Mac HD has approximately 100,000 more files than the external, and anything i do, like download a pdf from the net while on the external boot shows up as a file on the internal HD. Did I set up SuperDuper wrong? I am using the free version. Thanks.

  8. Derek says:

    [quote comment="8598"][...] anything i do, like download a pdf from the net while on the external boot shows up as a file on the internal HD. Did I set up SuperDuper wrong? I am using the free version.[/quote]

    So you’re booting off the external, running off the external as you normally would (browsing, email, etc), and upon restarting off the internal drive the files are reflected on the internal drive?

  9. Mike says:

    So you’re booting off the external, running off the external as you normally would (browsing, email, etc), and upon restarting off the internal drive the files are reflected on the internal drive?[/quote]

    Yes, I thought it was strange. I did make sure the external disk worked by removing the internal drive and having it boot from the external, but i never thought that the two disks would communicate when running at the same time. Though, when I boot from the internal disk and access files, they are not present on the external system.

  10. Derek says:

    I am at a complete loss for ideas. Did you drop the developer an email concerning the issue?

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  12. Vineet says:

    Hey,

    I know this article is like 4 months old…but I just read it today and it was very informative and rewarding. Great info!

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