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Choosing a Time Machine Backup Drive

Last updated March 02, 2010 - Send Feedback

There are several issues to consider in choosing a drive for Time Machine:

  • Capacity for current and future needs;
  • Performance: a slow drive can interrupt your work or take a very long time to finish. A USB drive is therefore a poor choice;
  • Convenience, location, etc: internal or external, at your Mac or in a closet, etc.

These issues are discussed below.

Capacity of the Time Machine backup drive

Time Machine keeps a backup of everything that you don’t explicitly exclude (except for some types of external drives).

In addition, Time Machine keeps versions of files as they change. Lacking enough space, Time Machine will forget about older versions to make space for newer versions, so be sure to provide a large enough backup volume to get maximal benefit of the versioning feature.

A figure of 30% should be considered an absolute minimum, double the space of your data is ideal eg a 2TB backup drive for 1TB of data.

Note that this guideline is about how much data you actually have. For example, you might have a 2TB drive with only 200GB of data. You therefore could quite reasonably use a 500GB backup drive for Time Machine, at least until such a time as your data grows much larger.

Which hard drive?

A high capacity unit with USB3 is the best option as of 2014. Many users will find 3TB capacity enough, but go with 4TB to extend the years of use without filling up.

Older Macs without USB3 should use eSATA if possible, then Firewire 800 if eSATA is not an option.

Apple’s Time Capsule

Apple’s Time Capsule is an option for some, but its price is relatively high. However, the Time Capsule can also backup another Mac, which brings its relative price down.

Time Capsule has the appeal of being available on a network, so you can locate it away from your Mac. However a wireless network might not deliver acceptable performance (interrupts/degrades use of the computer).


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