How to: Make a backup drive

It’s 8 AM. You’re just about to email the TPS reports you’ve been working on since 1 o’clock this morning when suddenly your computer stops responding to your inputs. In a panic, you shut down the system by holding the power button, but on the next startup, the screen doesn’t even reach the desktop. Before starting to pull your hair out, you suddenly realize that you’ve prepared for an event like this — you’ve made a backup drive.

By and large, Macs are very stable systems. Even with little or no maintenance, they’ll run for years without a problem. Unfortunately, they do occasionally decide to take a vacation, which most often comes at a very unlucky time. To protect yourself from such problems, you should have a bootable drive that contains only the bare minimum of applications, hopefully allowing you to remain productive in desperate times.

Important note: There is an important difference between making a drive for Intel-based systems versus PowerPC-based computers. Intel systems can be booted from cases using the cheaper USB 2 standard, while PowerPC computers can only use FireWire drives. Be sure to use the correct case for your computer, as well as the right partition scheme: GUID for Intel, Apple Partition Map for PPC.

You’ll need:

  • 2.5″ SATA or IDE hard drive
  • USB or FireWire enclosure for said drive (depends on your computer)
  • SuperDuper!
  • OS X install CD

The drive that I built contains 3 partitions: a Leopard install (a clone of the Leopard install DVD), a Leopard boot system (this is my saving system, as it contains no 3rd party applications) and a simple storage partition for transporting data. Physically building the drive is easy enough, and I covered it in detail while explaining how to upgrade your MacBook. Formatting and partitioning is done from within Disk Utility (/Applications/Utilities). With the drive built and properly formatted, there are 2 steps left.

Clone an install DVD

While this part of the drive is not mandatory, it has definite advantages. By copying the DVD to a physical hard drive, you can install a new copy of the OS in a matter of minutes. Recently I learned that you can actually apply combo updates to these installs — meaning you can install a new copy of 10.5.4 instead of starting at 10.5.0 and upgrading after. The reason I used SuperDuper! was because it was the only application that would accept cloning a DVD to a hard drive.

Using SD is quite easy: with the DVD inserted into the drive, select it in the Copy from window, and change Copy to to the partition you wish to use. Enter your admin password, and in no time at all you’ll have a bootable clone of an install DVD.

Install a fresh copy of OS X

With this new install partition set up, you can easily install a new copy of OS X to a new partition and have a completely bootable, fresh install to fall back on should your main system fail.

To install a new system, the easiest method is to boot off the extra partition by navigating to System Preferences and choosing the new install partition from the Startup Disk panel. When you reboot, you’ll be presented with the OS X install interface, where installing the system is as easy to selecting the new partition in the install window. After letting that work, you’ll have a completely fresh, problem-free version of OS X that you can use whenever issues strike your internal disk. I would recommend leaving this copy as program free as possible to avoid complications.

With this little bit of foresight and a small investment, you can protect yourself from downtime and even angry bosses.

[tags]Apple, Mac OS X, backup, hard drives[/tags]

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One comment on “How to: Make a backup drive
  1. Sam says:

    Hey great post….I hope it is as easy and user-friendly as it sounds….I might just give it a try…really fed up of reinstalling my windows due to malicious softwares !