How to back up data on a Mac

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2020

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Maintaining regular backups of your most important data is critical because, without it, you will suffer a data loss at some point. So in this article, I will share Mac tips about how to backup sensitive data to prevent data loss using a layered approach.

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How to prevent data loss

I have made the experience that automation is key to a successful data backup and recovery strategy. Additionally, I have learned that there is no silver bullet when it comes to data storage, archiving and backup. As a result, I decided to use a layered approach to data backup and recovery.

Importance of data

Some data is more important than other. Applications, for instance, are of low importance since I can easily reproduce them by re-downloading or, in the worst case, re-purchasing them. Business-critical data (finance files, contracts, etc.) is important since I may not be able to reproduce it quickly. Same with family photos and videos.

Size and volume of data

The size of data also plays an important role since it determines storage price and speed of backup/restore.

How often do I use the data

Data I don’t use on a regular basis, I store in a slower and less convenient-to-access storage container, whereas data I use frequently I want to keep easily accessible (i.e., Dropbox).

How long does the restore take

Restore time is a major factor if the backup size is beyond a few gigabytes. I once had to restore my MacBook Pro via Time Capsule over WiFi, and it took hours to complete, during which my MacBook Pro was unusable, and I couldn’t work. Besides the above reasons, I also try to avoid single points of failure.

Mac tips: How to backup important data and prevent data loss
Dropbox keeps your data in sync

My layers of backup


I store most of my documents and files in Dropbox. As a result, I have access to them from all of my devices, plus I can restore accidentally deleted files or previous versions. So in a way, Dropbox provides built-in backup capabilities and version control.

Benefits: Automatic sync with all devices, version control, backup, all data locally available.

Caution: Not ideal for bulk data that frequently changes, such as large Aperture/Photos libraries.

Mac tips: How to backup important data and prevent data loss
Time Machine on macOS

Time Machine

Even though I have barely used Time Machine to restore files, I use it as an extra safety net, in case I have to restore data that is not stored in Dropbox. A recent example included the signature file of Apple Mail that got somehow corrupted. Since Time Machine is storing my backups on a Thunderbolt-connected drive, it’s faster than restoring from Backblaze.

I have configured Time Machine to backup to a dedicated partition of an external LaCie d2 drive. The d2 I have daisy-chained via Thunderbolt to my larger LaCie 5big Thunderbolt 2 RAID. As a result, backup and restore are incredibly performant.

Benefits: Runs hourly in the background, can be used to restore full system image as well as individual files.

Caution: Depending on the size of your hard drive and connection type, restore process can be quite slow. I recommend to connect the Time Machine backup drive via USB or Thunderbolt instead of using a network-enabled drive, such as Time Capsule. If you do use Time Capsule, connect it via Ethernet, at least for the restore process, because WiFi is painfully slow.

Mac tips: How to backup important data and prevent data loss

LaCie 5big Thunderbolt 2

My LaCie Thunderbolt 2 attached RAID provides performance and massive storage for my bulk data, including archives, Virtual Machine images, Final Cut Pro X video files, Photos libraries, etc. I have connected the LaCie 5big via an optical Thunderbolt cable to my iMac for maximum performance.

Benefits: The LaCie 5big is incredibly fast and offers plenty of storage, in my case 20 Terabytes (TB).

Caution: Depending on the hard drive configuration, the LaCie 5big can quickly become expensive. But in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Mac tips: How to backup important data and prevent data loss
LaCie d2 Thunderbolt 2

LaCie d2 Thunderbolt 2

I use the LaCie d2 with a 5TB drive to mirror the most important data I have stored on the LaCie 5big. So every night, ChronoSync copies selected directories from the LaCie 5big to the LaCie d2. I do that for the unlikely event that my LaCie 5big dies, and I need to restore important data quickly. I have split the d2 into two partitions, one 3.5TB partition to mirror data from my 5big RAID and another 1.5TB partition to store Time Machine backups. For maximum performance, I have connected the d2 directly to the 5big via Thunderbolt. If you haven’t used ChronoSync before, I would highly recommend you check it out!

Benefits: The d2 is relatively inexpensive, but adds an important second layer, in case its big brother, the LaCie 5big has a problem. Plus, it provides a fast and reliable storage for Time Machine backups.

Caution: If I accidentally delete data from the LaCie 5big, that data will also get deleted from the d2 the next time Chronosync synchronizes the drives.

SuperDuper hard drive image

Every night I let SuperDuper create an exact copy, in the form of a bootable image, of my iMac’s internal hard drive. From that image, I could restore large amounts of data quickly, or I could also boot off that image. I bought a dedicated LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt drive for that purpose. The drive originally came with a regular spinning drive, but I replaced that with a Solid State Disk (SSD) for maximum performance.

Benefits: Creates an exact copy of my internal hard drive, so I am back in business immediately after a drive failure.

Caution: I recommend configuring SuperDuper to make a “Smart Update” of your hard drive. That’s the quickest way of mirroring your internal drive, plus, it excludes the mirrored drive from Spotlight.


Backblaze is my last layer of protection, in case my house burns down and I lose all local backups. I have configured Backblaze to back up the internal drive of my iMac as well as all data I have stored on the LaCie 5big RAID. Cloud services offer the slowest form of backup and restore because they are limited to the speed of your internet connection. When I say slow, I mean in comparison to the backups I do via Thunderbolt. Backblaze is incredibly performant and reliable and continuously runs in the background.

As of this writing, I have approximately 6TB of data stored in Backblaze that I could quickly restore if I had to.

Benefits: Backblaze runs in the background, provides unlimited storage space, and it encrypts all data before it leaves my system.

Caution: As with most other backup methods, Backblaze is not a data archiving solution. As a result, it removes locally deleted data from the backup after a while. A few weeks ago, my wife asked me for photos from her time as an Aupair that we must have accidentally deleted a few years ago. As a result, we couldn’t find them in any of the backups I had.

How to back up valuable data and prevent data loss

While the above may look like a complicated and hard to maintain data backup strategy, it’s the opposite. All my backup jobs are fully automated, so I don’t have to think about them. Despite all of that, I still manage to lose data by accidentally deleting it, without noticing until it’s too late. So next time you do some spring cleaning with your data, or re-install macOS, double-check that you don’t delete anything you may need later.

What is your backup and recovery strategy? Let me know how you prevent data loss by leaving a comment below!

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