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How to Back Up with Apple Time Machine

written by: Matt Isaac•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 6/21/2010

Step by Step instructions for backing up your Mac with Apple Time Machine.

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    While Macs may be renowned for there stability and reliability it does not mean that you can expect to never have a problem. I myself am working on my third hard-drive for my Mac. And, while this situation may be far from the norm, it helps to be prepared for the worst. The most important part of any computer system is the information that it stores for us. This data could be anything from treasured family photos to important financial documents; either of which would be devastating to lose. Luckily, users have a built in utility which can securely back up their important data. "Time Machine" is a simple to use, incremental backup utility which can use a variety of devices to back up your data.

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    To begin setup, first click on the Apple menu then scroll down and click on System Preferences. Once the System Preferences pane is open locate the System row and click on the icon labeled Time Machine. This will open the Time Machine preferences pane which you can use to activate and tweak system backups. The first step in setting up Time Machine is to choose a device to backup to. A proper backup device can be a external/network hard drive or a Apple Time Capsule; a wireless device designed specifically to be used with Time Machine. Simply click on the button with the label "Choose Backup Disk..." and choose a drive from the list. Once you have confirmed your choice you will notice that the on/off switch has already switched to the on position and is preparing to perform your first system backup. Click on the Options button to specify how the system will delete old backups and perform new backups while on battery power(notebooks only).

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    Setup Images

    Apple menuTime Machine icon in the System Preferences paneTime Machine pane prior to setupChoosing a backup deviceChanging Battery and Backup Deletion options
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    The great thing about Time Machine is that you really don't have to do anything. Unless you interfere, Time Machine will back up your entire machine once a day and any subsequently changed files once an hour. If you decide that your machine needs to be backed up immediately then locate the Time Machine drop-down menu on the right side of the menu bar. Once you have located it scroll down and click on 'Back Up Now'. These backups will be stored by date in a folder labeled 'Backups.backupdb' located on the selected external device(hard drive or Time Capsule). To access the backups you may either browse the aforementioned file or run the built in graphical interface which can be accessed by clicking on 'Enter Time Machine' from the drop-down menu. From this interface you can browse through each days backup, viewing the files exactly as they appeared that day. You can quickly restore your system from any of these dates by clicking the corresponding button located on at the bottom right of the interface.

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    Backup Images

    Automatic backup beginingTime Machine drop-down menuBackups.backupdbTime Machine interface