After you bring home a Mac computer, one of the first things you should do is set up Time Machine, a free tool to back up your computer and avoid a data disaster. Time Machine automatically backs up your computer’s data hourly, which can come in very handy in the event of an unexpected crash. Time Machine can also restore individual files if you delete them accidentally.
How Time Machine Became My New Best (Tech) Friend
If you’re a regular reader of The Wonder of Tech (and I hope you are!), you may remember way back to two weeks ago when my MacBook Pro laptop computer, a/k/a “The Beast” crashed. As in Boom!
When I took it into the Apple Store for repair, the Genius diagnosed the trouble as a graphics card failure. He advised that the graphics card and the logic board would need to be replaced, which was good news since that meant that I shouldn’t lose any of my photos, documents, music and other data on The Beast.
Except that the Genius was wrong.
When I went to pick up The Beast I learned that its hard drive had been replaced. The good news is that my computer had had a complete overhaul and it all was covered under AppleCare. If my computer were a car, it would be as if I were told that I needed a couple of parts but when I went to pick it up I found out that the entire engine had been replaced, and that the repairs were covered under warranty.
But the bad news was that I lost all of my data on The Beast . Car engines don’t have data but my computer sure did, over 300 GB of data. (Note to Self: Put more files on Dropbox!)
Time Machine Backup to the Rescue!
The very good news is that I had used Apple’s Time Machine to back up my data. Time Machine is a backup program that comes included with Macs running OS X 10.5 (Leopard) or later.
Time Machine is a program that will back up your Mac automatically as space permits:
- Local snapshots
- Hourly backups for the past 24 hours
- Daily backups for the past month
- Weekly backups for previous months
By backing up automatically, Time Machine eliminates the need for you to back up your computer manually, a task that most people fail to do regularly. Even if you have a set schedule for backing up your computer, what are the chances that you will have backed it up within an hour of it crashing?
Restoring My Computer Using Time Machine
By using Time Machine I was able to restore my computer to its exact state within an hour of when it crashed. If you’ve ever switched to a new iPhone or iPad and restored it from a previous backup, you know that your new iDevice will look very similar to your old one, saving you a lot of time versus setting it up as a new device.
Time Machine does the same thing — The Beast was restored as if it had never crashed. Everything was in its place, I was logged into my accounts, my settings were restored and my preferences had been saved. Restoring The Beast from Time Machine saved me countless hours and lots of frustration.
The only glitch was that my replaced hard drive didn’t have the current operating system, OS X 10.10.1 (Yosemite), which was what I had when The Beast crashed. Instead The Beast’s new hard drive was running OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) so Time Machine didn’t recognize The Beast’s backup.
Pablo from Apple Support helped identify the issue and assured me that he had great confidence updating The Beast back to Yosemite would work. He was correct, after I updated to Yosemite, Time Machine recognized The Beast’s backup and I was able to restore my data using an Apple tool called Migration Assistant that walked me through the process.
Finder => Go (in the top Menu bar) => Utilities => Migration Assistant
Restoring 300+ GB of data to The Beast took 12 hours, but was well worth the time. I didn’t have to do anything to the computer during the 12 hour process, all I had to do was wait patiently and hope for the best.
I was back in business as The Beast was restored to its former glory.
Setting Up Time Machine
If you have a Mac, take a few minutes to set up Time Machine to make the most of this very useful tool. You can get to Time Machine from System Preferences (the gear icon on your dock) and click the Time Machine icon:
Or click the Time Machine icon on the top tool bar:
If you haven’t set up Time Machine, you’ll see a message the Time Machine hasn’t been configured:
Click on the Select Backup Disk button. The first time you use Time Machine you’ll have to select a location where the backup data will be stored. You can choose an internal or external hard drive.
Highlight the backup disk you want to use and click Use Disk. You’ll be asked to enter a password if your external hard drive is password protected.
AirPort Time Capsule can be used with multiple computers so other family members who have Mac computers can also use it for backing up their data.
Click the slider on the Time Machine window to On (if it isn’t already On). The initial backup will begin. Time Machine will tell you how long the backup will take.
Time Machine runs in the background so you can continue using your computer while it’s backing up. If you’re doing heavy-duty computing, such as streaming videos, you may want to pause the backup till you’re done.
Time Machine Options
You can customize Time Machine backups by clicking the Options button. You can:
- exclude certain files from being backed up
- opt to have Time Machine perform backups when your laptop is using battery power
- be notified by Time Machine when your backup hard drive is full and old files are deleted
Time Machine doesn’t allow you to change the backup schedule for either the frequency or time of day when the backup will be performed. You can turn Time Machine off or pause a backup in progress, but don’t forget to turn it back on later!
Time Machine Tool Bar Icon
The Time Machine tool bar icon can alert you to an issue and also let you know when a backup is being performed. You can pause a backup by clicking on the icon and then clicking Pause from the drop down menu.
Clicking on the icon can also show you when the last backup was performed. You can click Back Up Now if you want an immediate backup to be performed.
Time Machine is also handy to restore individual files in addition to restoring your entire computer. Click on the Time Machine icon and Enter Time Machine. You’ll see an animated screen with a stack of Finder windows for you to select. You’ll also see a timeline on the right side of dates for your backups.
Choose the date and file you want to restore by searching the date or for the file name. You can leave Time Machine by clicking Cancel.
For more information about Time Machine, check out Mac Basics: Time Machine backs up your Mac
Have you set up Time Machine to back up the data on your Mac? Has Time Machine ever helped you restore a computer? Have you ever been able to retrieve a lost file using Time Machine? What do you use to back up your computer files? Let us know in the Comments section below!
* DIY Time Machine Wallpaper image (edited) courtesy of FHKE via Flickr and Creative Commons
** Time Machine Icon image courtesy of Rafael Poveda via Flickr and Creative Commons
*** Enter Time Machine image courtesy of Michael Dunn via Flickr and Creative Commons