Drive-cloning utilities: The best Mac apps for making a bootable backup

“Good backups are essential for every Mac user,” Joe Kissell writes for Macworld. “Tools such as Apple’s Time Machine, included as part of OS X, make it easy to store multiple versions of every file from your computer on an external drive or an AirPort Time Capsule. And if you want the security of off-site backups without having to physically move drives around, an online backup provider such as CrashPlan is a good option.”

“But while both these forms of backup serve important purposes, I also recommend maintaining a clone (also known as a bootable duplicate)—a complete, identical copy of your startup volume, stored on an external drive in such a way that you can boot your Mac from it if necessary,” Kissell writes. “What a clone offers that the likes of Time Machine and CrashPlan do not is immediate recovery: You can get back to work almost instantly after a drive crash or other severe problem with your startup volume. You simply attach your clone drive, restart while holding down the Option key, select the clone drive in OS X’s Startup Manager, and press Return. A few moments later, you’re back up and running—and you can then repair (or replace) your main startup drive more or less at your leisure.”

Kissell covers the pros and cons of the following apps:

• Carbon Copy Cloner
• ChronoSync
• SuperDuper

Much more in the full article – recommendedhere.

21 Comments

  1. I clone all of my disks. Sooner or later, your disk will fail. Recovering from a disk failure takes forever with a mere data backup. You need your OS, applications, preferences and settings all saved, too.
    For Mac drive cloning, I use Synchronize Pro.
    For a Bootcamp drive (i.e. in a Mac Pro), I use CopyCat X.
    For a Bootcamp partition (e.g. in a iMac or MacBook), I used WinClone.

  2. That’s an excellent article. Well done.

    Most cloning articles simply get into the fact that Time Machine is not bootable. It’s nice to see an article go indepth about the cloning software and the differences in features.

  3. I use SuperDuper to create a bootable clone. The free version saved my ass once, when the internal disk on my old iMac finally gave out. I just installed the new disk, copied the clone over to it, and booted right up where I left off. I then happily paid for the full version.

    The free version copies the whole disk every time, and the paid version will copy over just the changes (much faster).

  4. One big advantage of Carbon Copy Cloner is that it has a setting in Schedule Tasks > Settings to ignore the volume ID of the backup disks. This makes it very easy to rotate multiple backup drives. I use this for clients to easily rotate off site backups. They just have to eject the current back up disk and mount the replacement. SuperDuper provides a tool to change your dives volume IDs to be the same, but you have to go into terminal.

    1. Hmm. Don’t understand.

      I rotate three different backup disks using SuperDuper with no problems or annoyances. I do the “smart” (incremental) backups, usually, but sometimes do the full backups.

      The drives have different volume names, but I don’t see the advantage of having the same volume IDs. Must be some very tiny timesaver? I can do whatever I want with them, without worrying about their volume IDs.

  5. I don’t clone anymore, on a regular basis. I only do it when I’m taking a specific action, such as physically upgrading my internal drive. Then, I clone to an external drive, and then “clone the clone” back to my (new) internal drive. Or, if I’m doing a clean install of a major new OS X release, I’ll make a clone of my existing startup disk, just in case I need or want to go back to it (exactly as it was before).

    For “backup” purposes, I’ve come to trust Time Machine. The key reason is because it is “set it and forget it,” and is up-to-date to within one hour of use. I can also restore to an older “state,” in case something like a recent system update (or third-party software installation) screwed up my system; I can restore to a state immediately before that incident. With a cloned backup, it’s only up-to-date to the last time I cloned (which could be days, weeks, or even months ago), and unless you keep multiple clones (which takes a lot of space), I only have that one most recent state. Also, if there is only one cloned backup, during the time I’m creating the newest clone, I’m vulnerable because NO BACKUP exists.

    I also trust Time Machine because I have used it “for practice” and testing multiple times. I start up from Recovery HD and used the command to restore the full startup volume from the Time Machine archive. I use a blank external drive volume as the “test target,” so nothing happens to my actual (internal) startup volume. Then, I boot from the restored volume to make sure everything works as expected. And it does, every time I’ve done it. I encourage everyone who uses Time Machine, to try that “restore complete volume” command on a blank “test volume,” so you understand how it works. It would be best NOT to do it for the first time when you actually have a problem.

    NOTE: You can also use the built-in Disk Utility to do a “clone” using the Restore tab. Select your current startup volume as the “Source” and your external (backup) drive volume as the “Destination.” You do need to be started up from another disk (or from Recovery HD) when you do this with Disk Utility, but that’s actually a good idea (not to be started up from the volume you are cloning) with any cloning utility (even if you can).

    For cloning, I like Carbon Copy Cloner. It is no longer freeware/donation-ware (although you can try it for free); well worth the one-time cost especially after using it for free all these years.

    1. I use Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner. They do different things. Time Machine is great for the reasons you described, but CCC allows me to clone my internal drive on to another internal drive in an external enclosure.

      When I travel, I take my externally enclosed drive with me and update it with CCC. If ever anything goes wrong with my internal drive, I can swap drives and be up and running 100% in about 5-10 minutes.

      While Disk Utility can do a clone, there are some limitations, like the fact that it can’t do incremental cloning… it has to wipe and clone instead of just making the changes since the last clone. It also can no longer clone drive on a smaller drive even if there’s enough space for all of the data on the smaller drive. It also can’t “safety clone”, meaning it can’t write the changes on to the clone while keeping the previous files archived.

      I use Time Machine mostly to have “yet another backup”, but also for archival backup beyond what I normally have in my workflow.

    2. Using Time Machine alone has a few major risks attached to it : Reliable WiFi transfer of data bits…
      Encryption adds another fallible step…

      A backup is only as good as the backed up data’s integrity.

      One transfer hiccup is all that is needed to corrupt and yield a backup useless – I don’t think there’s anyone that will vouch for a hiccup free WiFi or internet connection. Add to that a possible encryption hiccup, as a result of a momentary stall and your time machine backup is corrupt.

      i have witnessed too many corrupt Time Machine backups to rely on it entirely.

      1. You should use a direct connection to a USB (or Firewire or Thunderbolt) hard drive of sufficient size, NOT a wireless connection to a network drive. That is SLOW (especially for the first backup), dependent on the quality of your wireless networking, and may not be available when a complete volume restore is needed. Thanks for pointing that out…

        Time Machine creates an archive that is NOT a monolithic backup archive, like many backup utilities, which can become corrupted over time. The Time Machine backup is stored as actual files (in a “multi-linked” setup), which I can access (if needed) using Finder. I’m not worried about my Time Machine archive becoming “corrupted.” Even if I can’t do a complete volume restore for some reason (which I’ve not encountered in my test attempts), my user data is right there as actual files.

        When you back up Time Machine to a network volume, THEN it is done using a disk image as a target volume, which is a single file. And that’s another reason you should use a directly connected external drive as the Time Machine archive. And that’s not any different from doing clones, and a lot less time consuming.

        1. If the circumstances are as you suppose… The circumstances I had in mind involved 3 Macs using a Time Capsule for backups after the initial 1st backup using USB…

          If one’s data is critically important, better use a dedicated utility software in addition to time capsule, which is does corrupt backups occasionally.

          1. Time Machine is very reliable and efficient, if you use a dedicated external drive that is (1) directly connected and (2) large enough so that Time Machine is not constantly removing the oldest archive states to make room for new states.

            Speed of the drive is not an issue (especially compared to using a Time Capsule) when using it with Time Machine, so the external drive can be plain old inexpensive USB 2.0. I used to have mine connected using one of those cheap USB 2.0 to SATA “adapters” (a case without a case), with a bare 3.5-inch hard drive that I got on sale at Newegg, and that worked fine.

            There is convenience in using a Time Capsule, if the Mac is a notebook, because it is annoying to constantly connect and disconnect an external drive. But if the Mac is a desktop model, I would spend $60-80 for a large capacity “desktop” (self-powered) external drive and connect it directly, for use with Time Machine.

            1. “There is convenience in using a Time Capsule, if the Mac is a notebook, because it is annoying to constantly connect and disconnect an external drive.”

              You must mean inconvenience… That’s exactly what I mean…

  6. The article is good but IMO unfairly overlooks ChronoSync because its focusing on only the cloning abilities. If you have any needs for syncing that go *beyond* just cloning your drive, your $40 is far better spent on ChronoSync than it is on CCC. I have used CCC and like it very much, but because I routinely want to keep certain folders on two machines in sync as well as make clones of the two systems, ChronoSync was a better option for me.

    1. Overlooks? It’s mentioned significantly (not just in passing), and I think it is described fairly. I also use ChronoSync to keep certain folders “in sync.” One way, that’s related to backing up, is to keep my VERY IMPORTANT data folders backed up separately from Time Machine, to a network volume. So, for that VERY IMPORTANT data, I have three copies… (1) The primary “in use” copy. (2) The Time Machine backup to a directly connected external drive volume, which is automatically up-to-date to within one hour of use. (3) The secondary backup to a network volume kept “in sync” by ChronoSync, once per day (as needed).

      Another use I have is to back up things that I have intentionally excluded from my Time Machine backup, such as the virtual drive disk images used by WMware Fusion. These are large multi-GB files, and every time I run a virtual machine, the disk image file used by that VM is updated. Therefore, the next time Time Machine does its hourly incremental backup, another version of that very LARGE file is saved off to the archive, taking up more and more space unnecessarily. So, I have that folder with the VMware Fusion disk image files excluded from Time Machine’s backup. Instead, I have ChronoSync do a backup (manually) “on my command,” to a folder on the same backup large volume used by Time Machine

      I think ChronoSync is very useful. But I still like using Carbon Copy Cloner, because it does that one thing (cloning) very well, in a simple easily understood way, and I trust it for that one thing because I’ve been using it for many years.

  7. I do weekly bootable Volume clones to external USB drives, which I rotate and keep offsite. But I boot into Recovery Mode and use the Disk Utility “Restore” tab, which works like a dream. Note that USB 3 devices will make this a relatively speedy process.

    Fun Fact: this process can be invoked from the Terminal command-line:

    sudo asr restore –source /Volumes/”YourSourceVolume” –target /Volumes/”YourDestinationVolume” –erase –puppetstrings –noprompt

  8. Something is better than nothing. Moreover, CCC is like an apple of eyes. But I used Stellar Clone drive for making a bootable clone of my Macbook Pro. Sensible GUI and compatibility with the latest OS X Mavericks made easy to work with this software.

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