Last week was not a good week for one of my neighbors. His Mac died. It was an older iMac so perhaps it was due. Did he have a backup? Yes. Two backups. One to Time Machine and one clone to an external disk drive.
What could go wrong? Everything. First, the iMac itself died. Dead. No power chime. No nothing. But no problem, right? There’s a cloned backup and a Time Machine backup. As to the latter, I never recommend a Mac user have only a Time Machine backup because they are flakey and problematic. Check the Time Machine post on Apple’s Support pages. Ouch.
Second, a cloned backup to an external hard disk is also a permanent recommendation, but with a single caveat. Test it from time to time by rebooting the Mac to the cloned backup. If all goes well during the test, all should go well when the cloned backup is needed. In this case, my neighbor also had an aging MacBook Air which was to be used with the cloned backup which just didn’t work. The external hard disk drive was one of those that used USB power and it simply wouldn’t start up using the MacBook Air.
So, my neighbor waited a few days for his iMac to get a new disk drive, new motherboard, and new power supply (AppleCare to the rescue) and all was good. Except for the Time Machine’s external backup which probably was contaminated by the iMac’s system failure and would not restore. That’s alright because there was another backup– the external clone.
Again, and sadly, that backup would not boot up the newly refurbished iMac, either. For some reason, some of those lightweight USB-powered external disk drives do not like to be the startup disk for a Mac. I had one that did the same thing on my MacBook Pro last year.
Mincey Miracles to the rescue. Here’s what we did to fix the situation. I bought a couple of NewerTek external drive docks a few years ago and use them to clone my Macs (they’re butt ugly but work very well; and similar versions are on Amazon, and I’m drooling over the USB-Thunderbolt version on MacSales). Disk drives are easily removed and installed. All we had to do was plug in my neighbor’s external USB disk drive and clone to my external drive dock, and then clone back to the newly refurbished iMac. It took a few hours but in the end my neighbor had his iMac up and running again, and learned the need to test out clones backups.
What did we learn from that experience?
Your Mac’s backup is not safe. First, a single backup won’t be enough. Second, Time Machine has value but not as the only backup. Third, a cloned external backup needs to be tested to make sure the hard disk drive can successfully be booted up on another Mac. Finally, none of those solutions fixes the catastrophic problem of fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, or theft. For that, an off premise (away from home or office) backup of important files is a must.
Otherwise, if you’re using only an untested clone backup or Time Machine, and your backups are only in the home or office, your backup is not safe.