Did You Buy the Wrong Time Machine Backup Drive?

When you bought your Time Machine backup drive, did you opt for a solid state drive or a hard disk drive? One is better than the other when it comes to backups.

Comments: 39 Responses to “Did You Buy the Wrong Time Machine Backup Drive?”

    Jun
    3 months ago

    Let's imagine I create a fresh file today(original). It goes into my time machine backup automatically. On next 15 days, I made little changes everyday. So, all 15 versions went to the backup. Now on 16th day, lets say time machine couldn't find enough space, so it deleted backup containing 1st version of file. And, continued with 16th version. And same on next(17th) day, it deleted backup containing 2nd version and took backup putting inside 17th version. Now, how to revert to original?

    Henning
    3 months ago

    Jun: What type of Backup Drive should that be? A 16 GB Stick?
    Let's stick to the real world here...

    3 months ago

    Jun: You can't. Your example is a good one to illustrate why you need a big backup drive. In your case, the drive ran out of space on day 16. So maybe a 2TB internal drive with 1TB used, and a 1TB backup drive. It runs out of space quickly because the initial backup takes almost all of it. So you end up losing a 16-day-old original version of a file. This is why you get a much bigger drive, like a 12TB drive. Then instead of old files dropping off after 16 days, it would be more like 3 years. This is why size matters so much more than speed. A 1TB SSD would fail you at this point, and a 12TB HDD would get you the backup you really need.

    Jun
    3 months ago

    Thanks Gary for the answer that it can't restore the file as its corresponding backup got cleared off to make room for newer backups.

    Henning: sticking to the real world - 16GB (or any GB/TB) is 'size' and not 'type'. Plus, my query was a hypothetical one which will still hold good regardless of 'size' (just that GB will turn into TB and days into months/years) [and of course not 'type']

    Russ
    3 months ago

    Hi, In the past we could move TM backups to a different drive. I believe that you can no longer do that? Or is there a way to do that? thanks again for all your help. I always learn so much from your videos.

    3 months ago

    Russ: It has never been easy to move Time Machine backups. But there is really no need to. Start a new backup on your new drive. Keep the old drive around a while in case you happen to need a file from it.

    Arthur Busbey
    3 months ago

    Thanks for the article. I just had co-failure of my internal drive and my external Western Digital 8 TB (drive heads failed). Could you comment on the formatting option for an external rotational drive? I have read it is best to have rotational drives formatted as HFS+ rather than APFS. I also know that DiskWarrior can't reconstruct external directories on APFS drives but can for HFS+ drives, though data recovery software Disk Drill 5 can recover data from HFS+ or APFS.

    3 months ago

    Arthur: I use APFS. HFS+ is fine too, but the future is APFS. I wouldn't base my decision on what third-party apps can or can't do, especially if one is behind the times.

    Lyle Phillips
    3 months ago

    Regarding Time Machine, is there a drive available that can be attached to a LAN that can be used as a Time Machine for multiple devices?

    3 months ago

    Lyle: Any drive that is attached to a LAN can be used by multiple devices. Just select the drive to use on Mac 1, then do the same on Mac 2.

    Mark
    3 months ago

    At this point, you should be considering the legacy of this backup drive when your heirs inherit it. Will you pass along the password decryption to the drive? What will they find? How long into the future do you think it will be readable/compatible for archaeological exploration?

    Jeff Pylant
    3 months ago

    Gary, thank you. Your timing on this is exquisite. I am sending a SSD drive back to Amazon now that Iā€™ve seen your video and replacing it instead with a much bigger and less expensive hard drive. Thank you again. This was so incredibly timely advice. You rock.

    JL
    3 months ago

    We exchanged on this before I made my purchase & I want to confess I didn't listen (hope others will). I went with the 2TB SSD on sale for a 256 GB iMAC M1. I put it in place in Dec. 2022 and it's currently at 0.4 TB full. So, you're so right, as I estimate I'll be full within 2 years and need to plan for longer. Since I 'm currently not TM backing up on a 2019 iMac (was rarely used, but will be), at this point should I do a HDD on LAN (and cloud both, to have a 2nd backup - business reason)?

    3 months ago

    JL: Since they are both stationary Macs, I would go with attached drives for both. I would only use a network drive if my main Mac was a MacBook and I didn't plug it in at a desk very often.

    JL
    3 months ago

    Thank Gary! I will be using a Macbook too, but not primarily - I'm posting on the M1, so you confirmed a little feeling I had to not trouble myself with networking the HDD. I'll keep each separate for now.

    Ian
    3 months ago

    Gary, great video thank you.

    I often find that my Mac pauses waiting for my Time Machine HDD to spin-up. I've been looking for a solution to this for quite a while now, If there a way to avoid this frustrating delay?

    Waiting for a HDD to spin-up does defeat the point of having a super fast Mac.

    Thank you for your help.

    3 months ago

    Ian: Check System Settings, Battery/Power/Energy Saver for "Put hard disks to sleep when possible."

    Graeme Salmond
    3 months ago

    Very timely advice, thanks Gary

    Jonathan
    3 months ago

    Is it possible to simultaneously connect two different external hard drives, that serve as time machine drives, to a Mac?

    David
    3 months ago

    I recently went through this thought process myself and thankfully came up with the same outcome that you suggested that is to use a HDD but I still have that nagging issue of durability. I take your point that it unless both internal and TM drives fail at the same time it's easy to get another HDD up and running on TM, but what about all those years of data you have lost. As you say one of the advantages of TM is that you have those older copies if you ever need them.

    3 months ago

    David: Having older versions of files is a luxury, not a necessity. You typically use those older versions if you make a mistake with a file. If the drive fails and if it happens to be at the same time you need to revert to an old file, then you may lose that one file. But that is two "if"s. If that is your concern, then I mention in the video that the solution is to also have another backup, like an online one. Spend the money on that and also get a second location rather than on an SSD (which could fail too!)

    Paul
    3 months ago

    This drive is USB3. Will I have to connect it to an external Thunderbolt extender, and will that affect the transfer of files in a negative way? (https://www.amazon.com/12TB-Elements-Desktop-Drive-WDBWLG0120HBK-NESN/dp/B07X4V2M3B)

    3 months ago

    Paul: I have no idea what you mean by "an external Thunderbolt extender." Do yo mean a USB hub or Thunderbolt dock of some kind? That maybe slow it a little bit, but for Time Machine backups that is fine.

    Paul
    3 months ago

    Yes, a hub or dock with the USB3 on it. Mainly because I can't find anything Western Digital that will plug right into the back of my new Mac. I have several WD SATA drives on my old Macs, but that doesn't work either.

    3 months ago

    Paul: So you just have the wrong USB connector? Either replace the cable with one that is USB-C, or get an adapter. Either option cost a few dollars and is much better than going through a whole hub/dock.

    Paul
    3 months ago

    I was hung up on data transfer rates etc. thinking that "USB3" was something different. I've already got the adapter poking out the back of my Mac! Thanks, Gary, for putting up with these comments!

    Umesh Kumar
    3 months ago

    Very useful. I wish you had also discussed how to revive a portable HDD that the Mac refuses to recognise. It has happened with me a few times. I also wish you had discussed available online backups as a second backupfor Time Machine

    Ian
    3 months ago

    Gary, I find that the System Settings, Battery/Power/Energy Saver for "Put hard disks to sleep when possible." does seem to have much effect on external USB drives used for TM.

    Thank you for your help.

    Kalani
    2 months ago

    Just bought a 12 TB external HDD per your recommendation. The Time Machine backup is using less than 2 TB. The 12 TB external HDD is not allowing me to put Time Machine backups in a folder so that I can store other things on the drive, such as videos, some of which I want to edit. In fact, Apple says somewhere that my external HDD should be used only for Time Machine backups. I have not had to do that in the past and don't want to do it now. What's the best solution?

    2 months ago

    Kalani: As you create, modify and delete files Time Machine will use more and more space. It will create a "history" so you can recover files you accidentally deleted or modified and want to revert. That's the whole point of Time Machine. Don't try to put anything else on that drive. Use it only for Time Machine and never access it directly in the Finder. Get another drive if you want to store other things on it. Storing files on a Time Machine drive is not only bad for the backup, but also means you can't back up those files. See https://macmost.com/why-you-should-never-partition-your-backup-drive.html

    Kalani
    2 months ago

    Thank you, Gary. In that case I think I'll get a smaller capacity external HDD and use my present 12 TB HDD to store videos, some of which I will be editing for publication. Years ago when I tried to erase my Time Machine backup from an external HDD which was also holding other files, the HDD became unusable, if I remember correctly. Do you think I'll run into any problems if I erase my 12 TB HDD and stop using it for Time Machine? It will still be usable, correct?

    2 months ago

    Kalani: I would use the largest drive you can for Time Machine, not a smaller one. Never store anything else on the Time Machine drive at all. If you need to erase a drive, do it properly in Disk Utility and you should have no problems regardless.

    BJ Flora
    2 months ago

    I used to used a hard drive but changed to a SSD because we found the noise of the disk annoying. In fact, it was the same reason I bailed out on my beloved Tivo. We don't need that much storage, so expense was not a major factor. Different priorities.

    Martin Bagish
    3 weeks ago

    I'm thinking of buying an external HD for Mac. I have a 2015 laptop and a 2007 desktop. Can I use time machine for the same HD using both without any problem?

    3 weeks ago

    Martin: Only if you have a network setup where you can attach a drive or you buy a NAS. Otherwise, you'd be shuttling the drives between your Macs all day long. Are you using iCloud Drive to sync all of your files across these two devices though? Because if you have the same files on both, then you really only need to backup one.

    Mark
    1 week ago

    First, I would stick with 4 or 5 TB max in a spinning drive. The technology used in higher density spinning drives seems to be so "on the edge" that failures are more likely (google "shingled magnetic recording).

    Second, whenever I wake my mac, it pauses, waiting for my Time Machine HDD to spin up -- a little annoying, but I like my 4TB reliable (8-10 years+) LaCie spinning drive!

    FYI you can backup an external drive to a Time Machine drive.

    (So tempted to buy a $129 2TB SSD backup!)

    Mark Love
    1 hour ago

    While all you said was true, you left out one important consideration that substantially colors your recommendation - the file system used on the backup device. TM backups to APFS drives have several advantages over HFS+ drives (faster, more reliable, less prone to damage) and should be used if at all possible. The biggest drawback to using TM to an APFS drive housed on an HDD is performance degradation from fragmentation.

    28 mins ago

    Mark: Yes, use APFS (most people just let Time Machine format the drive for them anyway). I would argue that "performance degradation" is not really an issue here since you are using the drive as a backup. I doubt anyone will see notice slowdown.

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