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How to Back up Your Mac Manually with OS X Mavericks

OS X Mavericks allows you to manually back up your Mac. If you’re too cheap to buy a second hard drive, the most rudimentary way to back up is to do it manually.

You accomplish this by dragging said files a few at a time to another volume — a CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, or DVD-RW. (If you use an optical disc, don’t forget to actually burn the disc; merely dragging those files onto the optical-disc icon won’t do the trick.)

By using this method, you’re making a copy of each file that you want to protect.

Yuck! If doing a manual backup sounds pretty awful— it is. This method can take a long, long time, you can’t really tell whether you’ve copied every file that needs to be backed up, and you can’t really copy only the files that have been modified since your last backup. Almost nobody in his right mind sticks with this method for long.

Of course, if you’re careful to save files only in your Documents folder, you can probably get away with backing up only that.

Or if you save files in other folders within your Home folder or have any files in your Movies, Music, Pictures, or Sites folders (which often contain files you didn’t specifically save in those folders, such as your iPhoto photos and iTunes songs), you should probably consider backing up your entire Home folder.

Backing up your Home folder is even easier if you use special backup software.

How to back up by using commercial backup software

Another way to back up your files is with a third-party backup program. Backup software automates the task of backing up, remembering what’s on each backup disc (if your backup uses more than one disc), and backing up only files that have been modified since your last backup.

Furthermore, you can instruct your backup software to back up only a certain folder (Home or Documents) and to ignore the hundreds of megabytes of stuff that make up OS X, all of which you can easily reinstall from the OS X Install DVD.

Your first backup with commercial software might take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours and use one or more optical discs — CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, magneto-optical disc — or nonoptical media, such as another hard drive or any kind of tape backup. Subsequent backups, called incremental backups in backup-software parlance, should take only a few minutes.

If you do incremental backups with optical discs, be sure to label and number all the discs you use during that operation. Your backup software may prompt you with a message such as Please insert backup disk 7. If you haven’t labeled your media clearly, you could have a problem figuring out which disc is disc 7 or which disc 7 belongs to that particular backup set.

One of the best things about good backup software is that you can set it up to automate your backups and perform them even if you forget. And although Time Machine is a step in the right direction and might be sufficient for your needs, it’s not good enough for me.

Why You Need Two Sets of Backups

You’re a good soldier. You back up regularly. You think you’re immune to file loss or damage.

Now picture yourself in the following scenario:

You leave the office one day for lunch. When you return, you discover that your office has been burglarized, struck by lightning, flooded, burned to the ground, or buried in earthquake rubble — take your pick.

Alas, while you did have a backup, the backup disk was in the same room as your Mac, which means it was either stolen or destroyed along with your Mac.

This scenario is totally unlikely — but it could happen, and it does demonstrate why you need multiple backups. If you have several sets of backup disks, and don’t keep them all in the same room as your Mac, chances are pretty good that one of the sets will work even if the others are lost, stolen, or destroyed.

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