I don't often post How-To type stuff here, but some things are important to share, and this is one of them.
Last fall, I lived in a building that got hit with some sort of crazy power surge which left me without a computer for a few days. When a computer dies, my first thoughts go to the data rather than the computer itself.
All of my work!
All of my music!
All of my photos!
All of my notes!
And my calendar!
All of my work. Past, present and future projects in progress. Gone.
I got really lucky. Somehow, the power surge blew up a PCI card in my computer, but it was a card I didn't even need anymore. As soon as I figured that out and removed the dead card, my Mac started right up and seemed happy as a clam. Crazy, eh? My only loss was time since it took me a few days of taking things apart to figure that out.
Still, the experience left me absolutely rattled. I decided there and then to do something to prevent it from ever happening again. Let my almost-pain be your gain, because, if you have a Mac, peace of mind comes with ridiculous ease.
The first thing to do is buy an external firewire hard drive. Make sure it's one that has both firewire and USB 2 for the sake of future compatibility. Some computers can boot from USB whereas others can't. My Mac is old enough that it can't boot off a USB drive, but firewire works.
Set up your new hard drive with a name that you'll remember since you'll only need it if there's a problem. I have a hard drive just for my iTunes library, so I named the backup drive "backup iTunes HD". Intentionally obvious. If you're backing up multiple drives to the new external hard drive, make sure you partition the external drive first. I back up three drives to one big backup drive, so I partitioned it into three.
Next, buy backup software called SuperDuper! Yes, the exclamation point is part of the name. This sucker is so good it deserves the exclamation point!
I'd tried using backup software before, but it was always so tedious or complicated that I never ended up making a habit of using it. SuperDuper! makes backing up ridiculously easy.
Here's how ridiculously easy SuperDuper is to set up: It's two steps.
Step 1: Copy what to where: I'm copying my iTunes HD to my Backup iTunes HD.
Step 2: Tell it when to make this copy. I backup my iTunes drive three times a week.
All I have to do now is remember not to power down my Mac. The backup happens automatically. The best part is, the backup of a drive with an OS is bootable, and a Smart Update means SuperDuper! only copies new/changed data each time. So, the first backup takes a long time, but all future backups are really quick.
As you can see from the pics above, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4:30 am, SuperDuper copies my iTunes hard drive to a drive named Backup iTunes HD.
I back up all of my drives overnight while I sleep. Actually, I don't do anything. I set this up once last fall, and it's been running flawlessly ever since.
And that's it. SuperDuper! is "set it and forget it" software, and it's absolutely superb.
One creepy closing thought. Look up. I'm willing to bet that somewhere above you right now, or at least nearby, is a smoke detector. I know this isn't the sort of thing you want to think about, but... one of the benefits of having a backup of everything on an external drive is that if the smoke detector goes off... or if there's a flood or some other disaster where you have to quickly leave, all you need to do is grab the external drive and all of your data is safe. Sure, it would suck to have to buy a new computer, but I guarantee that some of your data is irreplaceable.
Think about it.
P.S. If you REEE-EEEE-EEEALLY want to have secure backup, buy two external drives instead of one. Give them both the same name, and once a week, swap them. Keep the spare somewhere else.
P.P.S. Since I wrote this back in 2007, I've also started using Apple's "Time Machine" which is built into OS X. Time Machine is great for finding a file I deleted days, weeks or even months ago. Yeah, it's that good. But if a hard drive dies, Time Machine doesn't give you a clone you can instantly swap in.