You don’t really understand the importance of backups until your hard drive crashes. With most backups, you’ll need to reinstall the operating system and then restore all of your data. OS X comes with a handy tool that will let you create a live copy of your hard drive that can be started up and run just like it is your computer.
My Powerbook had to go in for some repairs a few months ago, but I couldn’t afford to be without my computer for 3 days. By creating a live bootable copy of my entire computer to an external drive, I was able to ship off my laptop, plug my hard drive into an old G3 iMac, and continue working just like I was on my Powerbook. It was slower of course, but I still had access to all of my data, programs and settings. When the Powerbook came back, I simply copied the external hard drive over my laptop hard drive, rebooted and continued working with very little downtime.
This feature is part of the Disk Utility application stored in your Application > Utilities folder. It is simple to use, but you have to pay attention to make sure you are copying your data in the correct direction–you don’t want to accidentally copy an old backup over your working data.
When you launch Disk Utility, it will show you a list of the available drives on your computer. In the example, I have my internal hard drive (a 74.5 GB hitachi) with a single partition called Macintosh HD. My 232 GB LaCie drive has three partitions, Test, Backup, and Storage. The Backup directory is where I want to put my data.
In the right hand side of the application, I’m going to select the Restore tab. I’m going to “restore” my internal drive into the Backup partition on my external drive. This will make the Backup partition into an exact copy of my local drive–even changing its name to Machintosh HD.
With the Restore tab selected I simply drag Machintosh HD into the source and Backup into the destination and tell it to erase the destination. At this point I always double check carefully to make sure my source and destination are correct and that I’m not accidentally going to overwrite important data.
Clicking on the Restore button starts the process. It isn’t particularly fast. Ideally you should make the partition you are restoring to as close in size to the original in order for the transfer to be as efficient as possible.
If you ever need to bootup the drive on another computer simply tell that computer to start using the external drive as the startup drive. This is done from the System Preferences using the Startup Disk icon.
Once you reboot the system, it should boot up using the external hard drive as if it is the system you backed up originally.
To restore from your hard drive, you’ll simply perform the restore process, but this time moving the data from your external drive back to your computer’s internal drive.
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