Time Machine vs. Super Duper

October 31st, 2007


The long (and short term) benefits of sunscreen backing up your data regularly has been nothing short of proven by scientists. The feeling of losing a photo, a document, or anything else irreplaceable is horrifying to me, and the fact that people some people still don’t back up their computers appalls me. Therefore, here and now, I could not be any more proud of Apple, who has made regular backup the centerpiece of Mac OSX Leopard. They call it Time machine, and the name is about as revolutionary as the approach.

Time Machine, both automatically and regularly, backs up your data to an external drive invisibly, running in the background and keeping track of the files you delete. Hourly back ups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, weekly backups until your external drive is full.

This is extremely helpful, logical, and needed. But does this great feature render my favorite backup application – SuperDuper – useless? No. Here’s why:

Although Time Machine is a great approach to data backup, and is ideal for those looking for a quick and simple way to keep their data safe, one needs to remember what Time Machine doesn’t do. It doesnt create bootable backups, meaning that if ***knock on wood*** hard drive failure ever does occur, the process for system and file restoration after getting a new hard drive involves the following:

  1. Finding your Leopard Install Disc (if you even have it available)
  2. Reinstalling OSX (a couple hours if you install the languages)
  3. Restoring from a Time Machine Backup on your external

On the other hand, with your system backed up with SuperDuper, the restoration process involves the following:

  1. Booting you complete system from your external drive
  2. Running SuperDuper to copy your backup to your internal hard drive

As you can see, the SuperDuper restoration method is far superior for hard drive failure not only because it does not require any additional hardware (such as the Leopard Install DVD), but also because it gets you back into your fully functioning system immediately. By booting off of your external back up, you can delay getting a new hard drive if one is not available to you, and continue to work off of the external. With Time Machine, assuming you have your Leopard DVD with you (a pretty hefty assumption), you still have to go out and get a new hard drive, install it, and then sit and wait while Leopard completely reinstalls.

Now I don’t get me wrong Time Machine does everything it promises: it backs up your data for pretty much any unforeseeable disaster that can happen. In fact, Time Machine goes beyond this purpose, and allows you to retrieve individual files that you may have deleted some time in the past. This is not only quite amazing, its also something SuperDuper can do.

To make this even simpler, take a look at the stats:


Alright, enough winding back and fourth. What’s the verdict? My belief is this:

  • If you use nothing else, use Time Machine out of pure simplicity
  • If you want quick recovery from hard drive failure, use SuperDuper
  • If you want both, use both.

What am I going to use? I will use both because I like the idea of restoring files I delete in the past and old versions of files. I also like my computer up and running immediately if it crashes. Using both lets me do both.

I hope that helps, and if you have any questions, let me know in the comments!

[Update]: The second part of this post can be found here.

  • akahn

    Good post. I think I’ll stick with Super Duper, which is better for my needs.

  • http://george-edwards.co.uk George

    Nice post. I’ll stick with SuperDuper as well because it allows me to boot from my external to perform maintenance on my internal drive, for tasks that require exclusive access – for example repairing the directory and performing defrags.

    • http://www.eugenegordin.com egordin

      Thanks for the comment George! I agree – when not faced by a hard drive failure, its nice to be able to boot from the external to repair disk permissions and the like. Remember that you can also perform these kinds of Disk Utility functions by booting from the Mac OSX install disc, although for me my external is always easier to find.

  • Mon

    A colleague of mine recently had a hard drive failure. Luckily he had his entire disk backed up with Time Machine, however the restore process was a complete nightmare. It took him 4 days and about 4-5 tries. When you are restoring 600+GB it takes a long time and Time machine’s restore process for a complete drive was painful. Perhaps it’s simpler for individuals files and folders. He did everything by the book, as described in Apple’s guides, but it was in no way simple. Hard drive space was vanishing, files were not restoring properly, the system was crashing on reboot. It was pretty messy.

    I myself use SuperDuper and I swear by it. The disk image approach makes perfect sense to me and it has saved me on numerous occasions without fuss.

    • http://www.eugenegordin.com egordin

      Thanks for the comment Mon. I completely agree, and although I tried to use Time Machine for a while, SuperDuper just makes more sense as a reliable and efficient backup solution. I have it set to run every night, but for instantaneous backup, there’s nothing out there quite like DropBox. With revision control, portability, and minimal system requirements, DropBox is a much more revolutionary instantaneous backup solution than Time Machine.

      SuperDuper+Dropbox has me covered in all scenarios!

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my website is a collection of my work and writing since 2004, so please don't be surprised if things seem a little outdated, particularly in the technology section. That said, the concepts behind most posts should be interesting given all that's happened since they were written so enjoy!