Apr 03


There are two main ways to backup your Apple computer.

1. Use Time Machine to automatically backup. This is the Apple way – the easy way.


2. Manually backup your computer with some other software such as Super Duper or Carbon Copy Cloner.

If you are a beginner I recommend Time Machine. Look here.

Apple’s way (Time Machine) is a lot simpler. It’s automatic. It doesn’t rely on you remembering to do anything. The big disadvantage  is that the backup is not bootable.  So if your computer crashes you need to insert the original DVD and restore from the Time Machine backup. This process can take hours – not good if you are just heading out the door and need a file. But it will get your computer back to what it was like the hour before it crashed!

The second method takes a few steps longer to set up, but  your backup will be bootable. That means if  you plug your backup drive in, and then hold down Option-Command-Shift-Delete during startup,  you can boot instantly off your backup drive. In an emergency you can plug in your backup and be running from it under a minute. You can’t do this with Time Machine. The downside it it will only take you back to THE LAST TIME YOU BACKED UP.

I do both. I have time-machine running so my most recent work is always backed up, and I do a CCC backup monthly so I have an instant bootable backup ready to go for emergencies.

This article describes how to manually backing up using Super Duper. If you want to use Time Machine as well, here’s an article on how to backup using time-machine.

To make a bootable backup you need to:

  1. Buy an external hard drive
  2. Format the hard drive
  3. Download some backup software
  4. Backup your Hard Drive
  5. Run the backup software often

Now let me explain those steps in more detail.

1. Buy an external hard drive

You need an external hard drive at least as big as the hard drive on the computer you are intending to back up. Eg if you have an 200G hard drive on your imac, you should get at least an 200G for your backups. This way you will always fit your backup on the external drive.

2. Format the hard drive

Plug in your new hard drive. Run Disk Utility (in your Applications/Utilities folder). Select your new Hard Drive in the left pane.

Before you format it, check in the bottom right of the window that it says “Partition Map Scheme : GUID Partition Table”. If it doesn’t go to the partition tab, choose ‘1 Partition’ choose ‘options’, and make sure it is set to ‘GUID Partition Table’ then ‘Apply’.

Now in the Erase tab check it says ‘Mac OS Extended (Journaled)’ as below, type in the name you would like to call it e.g. “Backup” and press Erase. It will now erase and format your external Hard Drive ready for use and call it Backup.



3. Download some backup software
Go to http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper/SuperDuperDescription.html and download the latest version of SuperSooper. It’s free to be able to do a basic backup, or you can pay if you want extra features such as incremental backup (it’s faster, but the end result is the same).

4. Backup your Hard Drive

Run SuperDuper.

Select your Macintosh HD in the left menu, select your new firewire drive in the right one, select ‘backup – all files’. Press copy now, go and have a cup of coffee while you wait for it to copy all your files, perhaps up to an hour or so.




It’s good to select ‘Repair permissions before copying in the options tab, see below. This makes sure your OS X is functioning well before you back it up, otherwise there can be some problems.



5. Run the backup software often
The most important thing about backing up is to do it regularly. It’s also a good idea to do a backup before you install any new system software in case something goes wrong in the installation so you can go back to what it was when you backed up.


How do I use the backup in an emergency?

  • Plug in your external drive. Go to System Preferences, select ‘Startup Disk’, select your external Backup, press Restart.


  • Plug in your Hard disk and Press Option during startup. This will bypass the primary startup volume and seek a different startup volume such as the external one.

You are now running from your backup.

You can now run Disk Utility and erase your main Macintosh HD, then run Superdooper and backup from your Backup to Macintosh HD. When the backup is finished, select Machintosh HD, and restart. You will now be running from your main computer again.

You might want to print these instructions out, so they are handy in an emergency. It’s no use having the instructions on how to boot in an emergency on your computer – you won’t be able to read them. Don’t laugh, I’ve done it!

Here’s an article on how to use time-machine.

81 Responses to “How to make a bootable backup of your computer”

  1. wayne says:

    I use Carbon copy cloner instead of Superdooper, it is a little bit more complicated but does the same thing. The only advantage that I can see is that CCC is free to do incremental backups, but if you are able to pay, or if you don’t care how long it takes to do a backup, Superdooper looks better.

  2. Glen says:

    Very helpful! I have been using macs for over 10 years and have never had a reliable back up system. Normally I only managed 6 monthly or yearly back ups!
    Your instructions were very easy to follow, and now I can start a weekly back up in under 30 seconds and it is completed in 10-20 minutes.
    I don’t know where I’d be if my hard drive crashed before!!!

  3. Bruce says:

    I need to send my iMac to Sydney to get the DVD player repaired / replaced. I’m going to backup my HD onto iPod incase anything vanishes whilst the computer is on holidays. I’ll let you know if or how successful it is.

  4. Glen says:

    Well, it happened! My computer won’t boot up, even with a safe boot.

    Thanks to your blog I am doing weekly backups and simply restored from a one day old backup with no fuss at all. The whole process took 15 minutes of my time, and two hours for the computer to copy the data. I lost only a few new emails, and they were still on the server.

  5. Elly says:

    Just what exactly do you think is the most effective weblog tool to make use of for an individual with a very restricted practical knowledge of technology?

  6. JohnnyBoyClub says:

    I don’t know why to buy another external HDD when you have so many cheaper options to store it online :|
    For example i am backing up my hdd with http://www.dmailer.com/dmailer-backup.html and save it on their servers and is free software.
    From this reason i think that buying another hdd will be throwing money

    • admin says:

      I’d hate to see how much of your monthly web bandwidth you used doing a 500G backup! (Eg I have 20G a month). IS this a serious comment or are you trying to advertise dmailer?

  7. Backing up your computer is a must today. So many people don’t even think about it. It’s worth it when you need it most. Great article!

  8. Nataraja says:


    I need some Help. I had to change my mbp hdd. The hdd had two partition on it. One for système and annoter for user home.
    I did a backup from the system. I tested it right after booting from this backup. Everithing ok.
    After i removed The old hdd an put the new one.
    If i try now to boot from the sys backup hdd i get an error mess saying ifs not possible to log in. User and pw are correct.
    Is this because my home is on another backup hdd ?
    What can i do now to fix that ??

    In advance thanks for any solution.


  9. Paul says:

    Time Machine is all I use… its saved my bacon countless times…. Incredibly easy to use.

  10. Davidpgh1 says:

    I had an issue with my wireless connection Went to the genius bar and was suggested that we reinstall the OS. When home and backed up harddrive with time machine, They reinstalled the OS. Went to time machine to reinstall backup and found nothing for the last 2 years. The genius at the Apple store finally figured out that my time machine had file vault on and therefore all the data in the back up was unattainable and lost. Up to that point I didn’t even know about file vault or how it got turned on.

    Can I recover from my back up drive? I think I know the answer to that with all the research I have done :( On the other hand can I recover the information on the laptop harddrive even though there was an OS reinstalled. I have not used the laptop since this happened in order not to overwrite in case a recovery is possible. Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



  11. Kwimba says:

    What do you recommend if I only have one external drive to back up to? Could I use carbon copy cloner or super dupa on that drive to back up all my data to the external drive and use Time Machine to back up on my computer’s hard drive? If I use Time Machine in that way, do I need to partition my computer’s hard drive first?

    The reason I back up is partly that I am worried about break-ins and computer theft. So I back up my files and take the external drive to my office and leave it there. I only bring it home about once a month to do back-ups.

  12. kishor says:

    thnks pal …..it was useful……

  13. Joel G says:

    First of all, thanks for the great information above. I just bought a new WD Elements SE hdd (1TB), and am running a MacBookPro, 10.4 Tiger. This is my second external drive, as my old WD I had had for a few years crashed.
    This version doesn’t come with its own software, so I’m trying to figure out how to best use it. I just downloaded CCC. I am wanting to have a bootable backup (just to have all my files, and also in case I need to re-boot), but also like using my hdd as just an extra storage device (where I can just drag files/folders over to store them separately as I wish).

    I’ve never actually done a bootable backup before, so my question is: Does the bootable backup take up the whole hdd? I tried starting it, and I noticed it started putting in all its sub-folders and such. Whereas before, I liked having my own folders that I could add content to as I wished. So does having a bootable copy mean I can Not any longer do this? Or would I need to partition it in 2: one for the bootable backup, and one section for my own separate file transfers? Or can I simply create a new “Bootable Backup” folder, so that all the bootable stuff is simply within a single folder, and thus less cluttered when I want to add additional stuff later on??

    Does this make sense, sorry if it was wordy or confusing. Appreciate all your help!

    • Joel G says:

      Well, I just found the answer to the first part of my question when I tried using CCC to make a bootable copy within a created folder: Mac OSX must be installed at the root of a volume to be bootable.

      So I guess that leaves my second question: if i want Both a bootable copy and also separate storage space (aka, not be Limited to the bootable copy), then do I need to create 2 Partitions on the drive? I’ve never partitioned before. And if so, do I just need to figure out how much my bootable backup computer size is, and just set that as the size of the first partition, and leave 2nd partition as just the remaining free space?
      Thanks again!

  14. Wayne says:

    Just make a folder on the backup drive drive for your documents, and then tick the box in CCC that says don’t delete other stuff that’s on the root of the volume and ccc will leave it there.

  15. Eric says:

    Great article that helps me a lot!

  16. Daizy says:

    Although Time Machine is very good backup utility for Mac but it doesn’t keep bootable backup so, Mac users require to use third party tool for backup. I have used Stellar Drive Clone to keep my Mac backup. It has options like – ‘Clone’, ‘Image’ ‘Restore and Tools. You can create bootable DVD with minimal system features. For more details check – http://www.stellarclonedrive.com/

  17. Mattttttt says:

    You only have to hold down option. Not option-command-shift-delete

  18. Jeremy says:

    Just want to ask. Will cloning a drive have a possibility of also copying bad sectors from the source drive? My original (and internal) hard drive from my macbook pro is dying and I want to clone it as soon as possible. I’ve read somewhere that if my source drive has some bad sectors the cloning might transfer them to the newer drive.

    If this is true, how can I fix the bad or corrupted sectors so that they won’t be cloned?

  19. David says:

    Like to follow your method to create a bootable disk in case of my mac disk crash. I have two questions:

    1. Is it possible to use the bootable disk to first boot up my mac, then use the disk utility to do some repair when the mac could not boot properly by itself?

    2. I have an external disk as time machine backup, wonder if it is possible to use it to create a bootable disk? It’s rather large, 2TB.

    Thanks for your help

    • Wayne says:

      1. Is it possible to use the bootable disk to first boot up my mac, then use the disk utility to do some repair when the mac could not boot properly by itself?


      2. I have an external disk as time machine backup, wonder if it is possible to use it to create a bootable disk? It’s rather large, 2TB.

      Yes I’m pretty sure you can do this. Time machine can sit on an external drive as well as other files. But personally I’d keep my bootable disk separate. You can get a 1T hard disk for $50 or a 2T for $80.

  20. Vance says:

    One other question. Can I partition a hard drive into let’s say 3 partitions, one with a time machine backup, another with a bootable backup like carbon copy cloner, and another one with super duper or whatever?

  21. Alex Chapla says:

    I’ve bought a 500 GB external drive with a view to (i) cloning my OSX hard drive (200 GB) in HFS+, and (ii) using the remaining space (300 GB) for separate file transfers in FAT 32. Is it possible to partition the external drive this way prior to using CCC?

  22. danny says:

    very helpfully

  23. Knight says:

    I have three partitions on my hdd.
    1. OSX
    2. Software for DJing with audio tracks
    3. Software for music production and related files

    I would like to clarify something… If I follow your steps for backup with Super Duper will this bootable backup restore all partitions with all software installed on exact paritions as it was and specific customizations I did to it (+ other files on them like my music projects).

    In short… If I make backup, next day my macbook pro “dies”, I restore backup and everything will be to the detail as it was yesterday, as nothing happen ?

    Thank you in advance.


  24. Dominik says:

    Hi Wayne,

    i did this way of cloning several years since before TM came out.
    BUT: I actually have a windows partition on my internal drive also. I use it from time to time via Parallels.

    Will BOTH (!) partitions be saved to an external drive using SuperDuper?

    If not: Do you know a method to clone an internal drive FULLY and BOOTABLE? I could also use Linux or a PC for that maybe?

    Any hints appreciated

  25. Mike Murano says:

    Can I create a bootable drive using this technique and then on the SAME DRIVE setup time machine to keep docs up to date?

  26. Willie says:

    When I restore from my back up, will all of my programs/software packages work or will I have to reload and proceed with all the licensure, registrations, and all the other hassles?

  27. Andrew Watts says:

    Nice article but I am a little bit confuse about cloning my Mac with CCC or Stellar Drive Clone, what is the difference in these two tools. whether should I try CCC or latter one.

    • Wayne says:

      I’d use Time Machine for a backup, or for a clone: CCC or Super-duper, as they have been around a long time and have proven to be reliable even across different versions of OS X. I have not heard of Stellar Drive Clone, I just looked up their website and it was down. That’s not a good sign.

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