Protect your Mac's data with a backup drive

Happy World Backup Day, an occasion dedicated to encouraging you to make sure that all of your digital data is safe and secure. If you’ve procrastinated in the past on implementing a backup strategy for your Mac, why not mark today by taking action? We’ll help you get started.

With Time Machine built into all editions of OS X dating back to 10.5 Leopard, most Mac users need only to connect a drive to their computers to have Apple’s handy backup utility offer to start keeping snapshots of their precious photos, videos, music files, and documents. Sure, data-recovery companies like DriveSavers might be able to save your digital bacon if your hard drive fails, but it’s much easier (and a lot less expensive) to protect yourself ahead of time.

What to look for

What about the drive you’re going to connect to your Mac? The main things to look for are capacity and connection options. If your MacBook Pro has a 1TB hard drive humming at its core, don’t purchase a 500GB drive as your backup drive. I recommend using a drive with at least twice the capacity of the volume that you’re backing up. The surplus space will allow Time Machine to back up all of your data and keep track of changes made to your files over time.

As for connections, Thunderbolt may be the fastest option, but many people use Macs built before that port debuted. USB 3 is speedy and cheap, but again, not every Mac supports it. The ports are backward-compatible to USB 2.0, but in that case the drive will run at poky USB 2.0 speeds. Of course, after your first backup, most updates to your Time Machine will be incremental and won’t require the fastest connection. FireWire 800 is faster than USB 2.0, but the drives for that standard tend to be more expensive and the number of drives that provide the connection is in serious decline.

Some drives offer redundancy in the form of RAID technology. A RAID 1 array creates a mirror image of the backup so that if one of the drives fails, you can recover the data from the other drive. A RAID 5 array uses multiple hard drives; and if any one drive fails, the system can rebuild the data set from the others.

If you want to protect your data further, consider rotating a couple of backup drives, keeping one of them off-site. If you have only one drive, and it’s attached to your Mac during a fire or robbery, your would-be backup may be of no help in retrieving your lost data.

What to buy

If you’re committed to investing in protecting your data, here are a few of Macworld’s favorite drives for you to consider, from among those we’ve reviewed over the past 12 months.

Seagate Backup Plus

Seagate Backup Plus: Easily the most intriguing attribute of this affordable and highly portable drive is the bundled dashboard software, which lets you automatically back up your Facebook and Flickr photos and videos, and share your content directly from your drive to Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. (Read our full review of the Seagate Backup Plus.)

CalDigit AV Pro 3TB

CalDigit AV Pro 3TB: The AV Pro is a speedy desktop external drive that comes with some cool extras. It’s incredibly easy to use right out of the box, and it performed impressively in our lab tests. Plus, if you fill up a drive, the AV Pro’s drive module allows you to remove and replace it with a fresh one—quickly and easily. (Read our full review of the CalDigit AV Pro 3TB.)

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt 1TB

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt 1TB: If you have a late-2011 Mac with Thunderbolt, or a 2012 model that supports USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt, this drive has your name on it. (Read our full review of the Buffalo MiniStation 1TB.)

Iomega px2-300d NAS

Iomega px2-300d NAS: This drive is more than capable of providing a small to medium-size business with flexible and speedy network storage. In comparison to similar products, the px2-300d shines especially brightly at backups and video surveillance. (Read our full review of the Iomega px2-300d NAS.)

ioSafe Solo G3

ioSafe Solo G3: If you’re paranoid about the possibility that a natural disaster or a freak accident might destroy your beloved files, ioSafe’s Solo G3 may be the perfect storage solution for you. Not only is it fireproof and waterproof, but ioSafe provides free data recovery service for up to a year. (Read our full review of the ioSafe Solo G3.)

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