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Optimizing Time Machine

Last updated March 02, 2010 - Send Feedback

Some tips on using Time Machine:

  • Time Machine is much faster and more reliable on Mac OS X Snow Leopard. While it’s useful on Leopard, it’s buggy and slow. In my experience, it can be relied upon with OS X Snow Leopard.
  • Use a dedicated drive for backup: a fast hard drive is best. Avoid molasses-slow USB 2 or Firewire 400, use Firewire 800 or an internal drive (Mac Pro).
  • Exclude caches and other items that do not need to be backed-up.
  • For fastest operation when Time Capsule is used, do not use wireless, use wired ethernet. Wired ethernet is much faster and more reliable than wireless, not to mention more secure from snooping.

In general, exclude everything that does not need to be backed up, for whatever reasons apply to your particular situation. But don’t waste your time excluding every little thing— think big.

Time Machine Best Practices

Tips for using time machine.

Time Machine = short-term data protection

It is essential to have formal external backups stored safely away from the computer (a minimum of three is best, but two is acceptable for some users). Use the cloning backup strategy.

Time Machine should be thought of as a short-term protection system. The value of Time Machine lies in backing up (every hour) your current work.

Using Time Machine to backup files created last year that never change— that’s a pointless use of Time Machine. Yes, it is convenient to have one huge TM backup of everything, but when backup-volume capacity gets in the way, this strategy becomes a nuisance, as does the very slow restore speed should one need a complete restore. Cloning is a far better solution for fast and efficient system recovery, including booting a bootable clone.

Capacity of the backup volume

The volume capacities are not directly relevant. What matters is how much data is actually backed-up.

For example, a system might have a 2TB working drive with only 200GB of data stored on it. In that situation, one could reasonably use a 500GB volume for the Time Machine backup.

Exclude unchanging (static) items

If the Time Machine volume has too litle space to backup everything, exclude older items on the backed-up volume.

On most every system, 80% or more of the files do not change. You can exclude folders of older material, which can free up huge amount of space on the Time Machine backup volume.

and thus should be backed up to at least two or three external backups. Time Machine is best used for protecting yourself for recent and changing files.


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