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Mac OS X Tiger Backups: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Now that we’ve successfully moved our ISP-In-A-Box to Tiger, we really need a backup solution that works. Our definition of "works" is that the backup copies all of your data to an external backup device, the files are intact, and you can boot your Mac from the backup drive in the event of a catastrophic failure of your main drive. Having said that, there are some other backup solutions that can duplicate all of your data but the resultant backup set is not independently bootable. In short, it’s better than nothing, but it leaves you with a good bit of work to do in the event your main drive croaks.

Our personal favorite in the Panther days was Carbon Copy Cloner in combination with psync. You can read all about it here. Unfortunately, Carbon Copy Cloner presently doesn’t work with Tiger unless you apply the 10.4.2 update. You can run it from a Terminal window; however, the resulting backup is not bootable. The developer’s web site does indicate that an update for Tiger is in the works, but it’s not soup yet. One of the major advantages to Carbon Copy Cloner (in addition to making reliable, bootable backups) was that it also was free.

Another free alternative that has been updated for Tiger is LaCie Silverkeeper 1.1.3. The price is right (free). The backup does appear to be complete. And your Mac will boot from the backup drive. However, when we booted from the backup drive after completing the backup, we got the standard Apple Welcome screen as if you had just installed Tiger on your system. This forces you to reconfigure your language preferences, your network, and walk through the remainder of the setup process before you can access your drive. Again, this may be perfectly acceptable to some. It wasn’t what we were looking for. But the price is right, and it might be adequate to tide you over until a Carbon Copy Cloner update is released.

A free option in which the backup is actually bootable is Apple’s own Disk Utility which is included with Mac OS X. To make a bootable backup copy of your local hard disk, insert the Tiger DVD, plug in an external firewire drive, and reboot your Mac while holding down the "C" key. Select your language. Then from the menu bar choose Utilities->Disk Utility. Click on your internal hard disk from the drive list. Click the Restore tab. Now drag your internal disk drive to Source and drag your external drive to Destination. If you want to checksum your backup, read the screen instructions. Otherwise, check Erase Destination and then click the Restore button. Click OK to erase your backup drive. Once the backup completes, test your backup by rebooting your system while holding down the Option key. Choose the backup disk (far right) as your boot device. Be patient! It takes about a minute after your Mac reboots until you can make a drive choice. Once you select the backup drive, click the right arrow key, and you’re off to the races. The only drawback to this option is having to boot your Mac from the Tiger DVD disk to make a bootable backup. Otherwise, it works like a champ … and it’s free.

A fourth option is to download and then run psync from a Terminal window with the following command: sudo psync -d / /Volumes/Backup/ where Backup is the name of your backup volume. The backup appears to be complete; however, you cannot boot from the external drive following completion of the backup. So this option suffers from the same drawback as the Carbon Copy Cloner solution. One advantage of psync is that it can easily be added as a cron job which will kick off automatically at times you specify. See our article on crontab and CronniX for further details on how to implement this if you are interested in this approach.

SuperDuper!Another personal favorite is D√ɬ©j√ɬ† Vu from Propaganda Productions. It works as a Preference Pane within System Preferences and does exactly what Carbon Copy Cloner used to do. Unfortunately, it’s not free unless you happen to own Toast 6 Titanium. If you do own Toast 6 Titanium, you can get the Tiger-compatible version of D√ɬ©j√ɬ† Vu by upgrading to Toast Titanium 6.1. Unfortunately, the Hobson’s Choice is that upgrading to version 6.1 eliminates your ability to burn music CDs using songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store, a nasty gotcha that we previously have written about. Fortunately, for $9.95 you can upgrade D√ɬ©j√ɬ† Vu only from Propaganda’s web site. If you don’t own Toast 6 Titanium, you still can buy D√ɬ©j√ɬ† Vu. It’s $24.95 for a single-user license and a very reasonable $34.95 for a household license which authorizes installation on an unlimited number of Macs in your single household. Or you can use it for 30 days at no cost. Perhaps by then the Carbon Copy Cloner update will be available.

Finally, our readers’ comments pointed us to another terrific shareware product, SuperDuper. And it really is. It has two modes: registered (for $19.95) and unregistered. The unregistered version which is free for downloading makes a perfect duplicate of your system disk to an external firewire drive which is bootable. That is exactly what we set out to do with our backup reviews in this tutorial, and it couldn’t get much simpler. You choose your internal drive as the source from the left pull-down menu and choose your firewire external drive as the target from right pull-down. Leave the default script and click the Start Copying button. Making a perfect clone of an iMac G5 with 20 gigs of data took roughly an hour. Then you can boot from the external drive to make sure everything went according to plan. It doesn’t get much easier than that, and you sure can’t beat the price.


  1. If you don’t know about it, I would highly recommend a program called Super Duper. It creates perfect, bootable backups which can be updated incrementally; it is clearly and simply designed and easy to use, while also having a lot of powerful features. It has been updated for Tiger. It is one of those Mac shareware programs that really emulates the Mac way of being user-friendly, from interface to marketing to documentation–like Transmit, for instance.

  2. SuperDuper! creates the best, most perfect clones. It doesn’t drop aliases, permissions, etc. I’ve tried others, but SuperDuper! does a better job than even CCC.

  3. Another backup solution using Apple’s built-in utilities:

    sudo asr -source / -target /Volumes/firewireBU -erase

    where firewireBU is the name of your mounted backup drive or partition.

    You can read all about it with man asr in a Terminal window. The -erase switch blesses the backup volume so that it will boot.

  4. The 10.4.2 update for Tiger was released this week and reportedly fixes the problem with Carbon Copy Cloner which explains why the software developer (who happens to work for Apple) didn’t release a patch. We’ve amended this article accordingly.

  5. Another SuperDuper satisfied user here! Well worth the price. Once you’ve done the first backup, "smart update" backups (where it basically sync’s between source and destination) can take 10 minutes or less, I run mine once a week, or whenever a new update comes out. 😉

  6. I’m surprised that you didn’t mention OS X’s built-in support for RAID. If you want, you can add a second drive to your Mac and use RAID 1 to mirror the contents across both drives, so that you can simply replace a drive when it fails.

  7. I’m using a mirrored drive as my backup against drive failure. I’m using an offsite storage backup site updated via rsyncX for the data folders, in case something happens to the drives. The use of SSH confers some security to the data as it is transferred over the internet.

    I know the offsite backup isn’t bootable. It isn’t supposed to be. If anything happens that we need the offsite backup data, I anticipate we’ll have some other more urgent problems.

    RsyncX is free and using a shell script and cron, it is automatic and trouble free. The system has been working for over a year now without maintenance.

    I should note that the file server also backs up the user data folders on their individual machines via RsyncX. It is the unfortunate reality that users tend to deposit files that should go on the server all over their individual home folders. For those of us who aren’t using NetBoot or network home folders, backing up that data is important in making sure that nothing is lost.

    RsyncX works well, and its ability to sync data from remote machines is useful. I’m sure people have come up with better ways to do this, but as of a year ago, most of them were pay-to-use or would’ve required periodic maintenance.

    [WM: Thanks for your note. Rsync is a great tool. We’ve recommended it for Asterisk server backups for a long time. The only trick is getting it configured. Here’s our article that shows how.]

  8. Regarding the RAID comment by Thom Rosario: RAID mirroring is not an adequate backup solution. It will keep you running even if one drive should fail. BUT if you mess up your database with some buggy code, accidentally delete something, or just happen to get h4xx0r3d, then it affects both drives in the RAID — sayonara data!

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