How to Prevent a Digital Death By Setting Up Automatic Backups On Your Mac

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Updated June 27, 2022

Time Machine is a backup utility that comes pre-bundled on all Mac computers. After hitting the scene in 2007, Time Machine has become a favorite of most Mac users for both its ease of use, and sophisticated – albeit simplistic – approach to data backups.

The automated tool runs in the background and makes periodic, user-defined backups of all their data to an external drive without any noticeable drop in performance. In fact, it works so well, that most can’t even tell when it’s running. Users operate their machines as they normally would, while an automated backup takes place behind the scenes at a pre-specified interval (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.).

Once Time Machine fills the external drive – or the allotted partition of the external drive – it automatically deletes the oldest backups in order to save space. It’s truly a great option for automated backups, and if you’re ready to start using it on your Mac, keep reading.

Picking an External Hard Drive

Luckily, Time Machine (the software) comes pre-installed on all newer Macs, so set up is as simple as telling it where to store your backups.  But first, you will need an external drive to use Time Machine, whether it be an AirPort Time Capsule, or a non-Apple specific model such as Seagate or Western Digital hard drive.

Apple Airport Variations

How to Use Time Machine With an AirPort Time Capsule, AirPort Express or AirPort Extreme

Before we start making backups to a Time Capsule, it’s important to follow the initial setup instructions that came with your Time Capsule device. Each device has slightly different instructions, and they’re found in the product manual that came with your Time Capsule. If you no longer have your manual, you can find a new one here.

Once your Time Capsule or non-Apple specific external drive is configured:

  1. Open the preferences panel by clicking the Time Machine icon (top right of the screen in the Menubar) and selecting Open Time Machine Preferences.
  2. Press the Select Backup Disk… button and select the AirPort device that you wish to use as a backup disk.
  3. Choose whether or not you’d prefer to encrypt your data by selecting the Encrypt Backups link.


How to Use Time Machine With a Non-Apple Specific External Drive

Most modern external drives work well with Intel-based Macs but unless they are made solely for use with Apple products, then you’ll most likely have to reformat the drive from FAT 32 or NTFS to Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) before using it.

To reformat your drive:

Note: This will delete any and all data stored on the drive. If you have files you’d like to save, back them up to another drive, your computer, or the cloud before starting.

  1. Attach your drive to your Mac via USB or Thunderbolt.
  2. Open Finder and choose Go > Utilities.
  3. Click to launch Disk Utility.
  4. Find your external drive, and click to select it.
  5. Click the tab marked Erase.
  6. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the dropdown menu titled Volume Format.
  7. Enter a name for the drive.
  8. Finally, Click Erase.

Once your drive is formatted, just follow the installation instructions above to complete the set up.

That’s it, you’re done.

Turning Off Automated Backups / Switching to Manual Backups

Now that Time Machine is installed and configured, your Mac will use the program in order to make automated periodic backups. If you’d like to turn off automated backups, and retain control over if and when these backups happen, you can do so by clicking the Time Machine icon in the Menubar, and selecting Open Time Machine Preferences. From there, you’ll just click the On/Off slider on the left-hand side of the menu.

Time Machine is an easy-to-use, and rock solid utility that remains insanely popular among Mac users. If you’re not using it to make periodic backups (either automatic or manually), you’re missing out on a simple and highly effective utility that costs you absolutely nothing, but provides you with piece of mind in knowing that your data is always safe from system failure, device theft, or accidental deletion.

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