Most of us never quite understand the importance of backing up our data, until something actually goes wrong. If you’re a Mac user, you should already be aware of a free included utility called TimeMachine which allows you to make incremental backups of all the data on your Mac hard drive, then repair if something does go wrong. There’s no faulting TimeMachine, it’s easy to understand interface and restore functions make it extremely attractive to use, but for those who want a bit more flexibility and direct control, there’s SuperDuper!
What does it do?
SuperDuper! is a free tool which allows you to make a exact bootable replica of your Mac’s hard disk on an external hard drive. The advantage it has over TimeMachine is that you can use your backup drive as a boot drive powering on your Mac with it connected and entering the boot menu. Restoring your Mac’s hard drive is as simple as booting into your OSX install disk and restoring through the disk utility.
Backing up isn’t the only thing you could use SuperDuper for though. Upgrading your Mac’s hard drive used to involve hours of time reinstalling the OS and all your applications and files. SuperDuper! allows you to move everything from your Mac onto a new hard drive, after which all you have to do is swap the old hard drive out and replace it with the new one. If you’re upgrading to a larger hard drive, all the free space would be available to use straight away.
How good is it?
Backing up the entire contents of your Mac’s hard drive can take a long time (2 hours on my 250GB HDD). You can easily reduce the time taken to back up your drive by excluding certain files which you don’t need in the backup such as your Downloads folder or Cache files. The scripting interface which allows you to do this may not be as easy to use as the excluding interface on TimeMachine, and it does seem daunting at first, but it takes only 2 minutes to figure out. It is worth noting that scripting to exclude files requires the paid version.
Excluding files is a doddle
What you also get in the paid version is SmartCopy. This essentially means that instead of erasing your entire backup drive and copying everything again when you want to do another backup, SuperDuper! simply erases and copies data which has changed since the backup by comparing the two. This typically takes 1/5 the time needed for a full backup depending on how much has changed since the last backup.
Scheduling is useful for those who can’t be bothered to manually back up their drive. You could also set SuperDuper! to back up when the drive is connected to your computer, although arguably, you would probably want to do this on a desktop Mac rather than a MacBook as you’ll probably have your hard drive connected most of the time.
Scheduling a backup
It can’t be all good right?
The problem I’ve had with scheduling on SuperDuper! for it to backup my Mac when the drive is connected is that it is very easy just to remove the drive and forget SuperDuper! is running. Removing the hard drive while SuperDuper! is backing up to it would cause it to stop at an “unknown state”. I must admit though, I have removed my external hard drive a few times when a backup is running, and just used SmartCopy afterwards and it seemed to carry on fine.
The main drawback of SuperDuper is that it doesn’t support file history like TimeMachine does. For example, if you accidentally save and close a document and your Mac is backed up with TimeMachine, you would be able to go back and restore the previous version. SuperDuper! doesn’t store incremental backups of your files, which could be a blessing or curse. The main gripe I had with TimeMachine are the size of the backups; because versions of the same file are saved, your backup eventually becomes bigger. SuperDuper! allows you to have full control over the size your backup becomes.
MacOS uses the HFS+ filesystem. The advantage this has over NTFS or FAT is that it automatically defragments certain small files and moves frequently used files to a “hot zone” on the drive (the outside of the disk where it spins “faster”). It also avoids writing large files into fragmented space where files have been previously deleted from. The problem is that MacOS doesn’t actually defragment free space, or large files for that matter meaning that if you deal with large files (iMovie imports, videos or large applications etc), your drive would become fragmented and write operations would become slow.
The advantage of SuperDuper! is that it can be used to defragment your drive, and relatively quickly. Just do a full backup of your Mac’s hard drive, test the backup by booting into it and erase your Mac’s hard drive and restore the contents of it onto your Mac. Because SuperDuper! copies individual files and not blocks of raw data, the contents of your “new” Mac hard drive would be defragmented and free space would be contiguous. SuperDuper! however wouldn’t move frequently used data onto the “Hot zone” however. Thats the job of another great application (iDefrag)*.
Full version worth $27.95?
I have to admit, $27.95 is quite pricey for an application which shares a feature set similar to TimeMachine which comes free on all Macs. Having said this, the features you get with the full version can justify the price if you factor in the usefulness of scheduling and SmartCopy which drastically reduces incremental backup times and sandboxing which allows you to test applications without harming your Mac.
Of course, you don’t have to purchase the full version if you don’t want to. The free version does all the things the full version does (albeit slightly slower without SmartCopy and file exclusion) and you still end up with a bootable copy of your Mac’s hard drive. It’s a great app though, and the developers deserve a bit of support.
*I shall be purchasing a license of iDefrag soon and will post up a review :)