How to Back Up Your MacBook to an External Drive

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Whether you’re using your Mac for school activities, office work, or personal use, protecting your valuable data is very important. Corrupted software, hardware failure, virus or malware infection, power issues, and other computer problems could easily damage your device and make it inoperable.

No matter how careful you are with your Mac, these problems sometimes still do happen and cause data loss if you’re not prepared. Creating a backup of your photos, work files, and other important documents gives you peace of mind knowing that all your files are safe.

“There are several ways to create a backup for your Mac, and this article will focus on methods to backup your MacBook using an external drive. We’ll show you the step-by-step process to set up your backup using Time Machine and other utilities.

Once you have a backup of your files, you no longer have to worry if you accidentally deleted your documents or when other computer disasters suddenly happen. Using an external drive to back up Macbook can help protect your files so you can get back up and running again in no time.

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Preparing Your Computer for the Backup Process

If you’re using an external drive for backups, managing storage is important. Outbyte macAries is one tool that can help delete junk files, but make sure it’s the right solution for you.

Take note that the methods discussed below will only back up your data locally. To completely safeguard your files, you can also back up your data offsite or via cloud storage. This way, you have an extra layer of protection in case both your computer and external drive fail at the same time.

This guide will discuss three different ways to back up your Mac using a hard drive: traditional copy-paste method, via Time Machine, and by cloning your drive.

Method #1: Copy-Paste Files Manually.

If you want more control over the files you want to back up, this is the easiest and simplest method. All you need to do is connect your external drive to your Mac via USB cable, then copy over all the files that you need.

This process takes a long time because you have to go back and forth between your external drive and your computer. The speed of copying might vary from a few minutes to hours, depending on factors like the file size, the type of port in use, and the writing speed of your external drive.

This manual backup method is ideal for those who don’t have too many files to copy or those who want to do selective backup.

Method #2: Create a Backup via Time Machine.

macOS includes a built-in backup tool known as Time Machine. This tool is available for Macs running macOS 10.5 and above. Time Machine is a set-and-forget backup system, where you just need to configure it once and it will work independently from then on, without you needing to check and manage everything.

Time Machine works in the background, saving copies of all your photos, music, videos, documents, apps, system files, and other stuff you want to keep a copy of. And when you’re out of storage space, it will automatically delete old files to make way for new ones.

For this process, you’ll need an external drive that is at least the same size as your internal drive. It’s even better if you could get one that’s twice or three times your internal drive storage space.

By default, Time Machine will use up all the storage space on your external drive. So if you are planning to use the drive for other purposes, make sure that you partition it into two volumes first before creating your Time Machine backup. This way, you can limit the amount of space you want to allocate for Time Machine and your other files. You can partition the drive by using macOS Disk Utility under Applications > Utilities.

Once your drive is ready, you can start creating your backup using Time Machine by following the instructions below:

  1. Connect your external hard drive to your Mac using USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt.
  2. Turn on Time Machine by going to System Preferences > Time Machine. Toggle the switch from Off to On.
  3. Click Select Disk to choose which volume you want to use for your backup.
  4. Choose your external drive from the list, then click Use Disk.
  5. If you want to encrypt your backup, tick off Encrypt backups.
  6. Time Machine will prompt you to reformat your drive if it is not formatted as Mac OS X Extended (Journaled). This will erase all the files from your drive.
  7. Click the Options button to exclude volumes from being copied to your backup.
  8. Click OK to apply your changes and let Time Machine do its work.

Once your Time Machine is set up, it will then back up your files automatically every hour. It will keep hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all the past months.

To restore file or folders from Time Machine, just open Spotlight and type in Time Machine. You’ll be able to see previous saved versions of the file you are looking for. Just look for the version that you need, click the file to highlight it, and press the Restore button to copy it back to the folder where it was previously located.

If you encounter system errors, you can also use Time Machine to restore your entire system at once. To do this, hold down the Command + R keys while restarting, then release the keys when you see the Apple logo. Choose Restore from a Time Machine Backup and follow the on-screen instructions.

Method #3: Create a Clone of Your Mac.

If your disk is damaged, restoring via Time Machine will not work. To resolve your issues and boot into your Mac, you need a clone of your system, which is essentially a full system backup of your device.

There are two ways to create a clone of your computer: using macOS’s built-in Disk Utility or by using third-party apps.

To clone your drive using macOS Disk Utility, follow the steps below:

  1. Go to Finder > Utilities > Disk Utility.
  2. Click on the Erase tab.
  3. From the left-side menu, choose the volume you want to use as your backup drive.
  4. Choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as the Format type.
  5. Click Erase and wait for the format to be completed.
  6. Click on the Restore tab and choose the drive to be cloned by dragging it to Source.
  7. Next, drag the backup drive to Destination.
  8. Click the Restore button.

Note, however, that the clone created using Disk Utility is not a bootable one. There are also third-party applications, like SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner, that can create a bootable backup of your system, but it’s important to explore various options and choose what best suits your needs.


The threat of data loss is something that’s always hanging over our heads. Creating a backup ensures that your data is always protected no matter what happens. You can choose from the various backup methods above to save your files based on your needs and preferences.

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