Don’t mix up your backups & archives

A backup is always a second copy of a file. An archive is auxiliary storage for additional files.

You can make a backup yourself by dragging items to a hard drive, DVD or flash drive. A better plan is to use Time Machine, the Mac’s built-in backup system. No matter what backup method you use, always leave the original items where they were. If you delete them, you don’t have a backup!

What about archives? If you are running out of space, add an external archive drive. Then copy movies, complete iTunes or iPhoto libraries to the archive drive. Don’t bother burning files to DVDs or CDs – you make changes, files are hard to locate, and it’s too much work. Besides, the DVD is quickly disappearing and new Macs don’t have DVD drives.

It’s important to back up archive drives just like your built-in drive. You might have a 250 GB internal drive, a 500 GB archive drive, and 1 TB backup drive. The backup should be at least 1/3 larger than the total capacity of the originals.

A great backup system should have these elements:

  • separate – copies to an external storage device, not the same drive as the original
  • automatic – runs on a schedule without depending on a user to remember
  • incremental – tracks which files have already been copied and which are new or modified
  • historical – retains older copies of files so a user can revert to earlier versions
  • redundant – every file should remain in its original location as well as on the backup
  • complete – backs up everything: documents, pictures, music, movies, email, settings, apps & OS
  • scalable – provisions for deleting old backups when needed
  • easy – allows users to navigate the backup and restore files quickly

Apple’s Time Machine satisfies all these requirements. It comes with every Mac sold since late 2007. All you need is a USB drive or Apple Time Capsule with at least 30% more capacity than your original data. With 1 TB drives under $80, there’s no reason not to protect yourself from drive failure and human error.

Many backup systems (including Time Machine) add new and modified files to the drive until it’s full. Then they automatically make space by removing items from the backup, starting with files you deleted long ago. If you care about your files, keep them in place and let the backup system take care of the rest.

Learn more about transferring files and backup.

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