Time Machine Backup with External Hard Drives

Whether it's personal files, important documents, or cherished memories, losing data can be devastating. That's why it's crucial to have a reliable backup system in place. One such solution is using Time Machine Backup with external hard drives. In this article, we will dive into the fundamentals of Time Machine Backup and how it works with external hard drives. We'll also explore the benefits of this method and provide a step-by-step guide on how to set it up. So, let's get started!

Jan 9, 2020

Understanding Time Machine Backup

What is Time Machine Backup?

Time Machine is Apple's built-in backup utility for macOS. It allows you to automatically back up your entire system, including apps, documents, and system files. Time Machine creates incremental backups, meaning it only backs up new or modified files, saving disk space and reducing backup time.

How Time Machine Backup Works

Time Machine uses a clever system of hard links to create incremental backups. Initially, it creates a full backup of your system and then automatically backs up any changes made to files or folders since the last backup. This allows you to restore your system to a specific point in time, hence the name "Time Machine."

Why Use Time Machine Backup Over Other Backup Methods?

There are several reasons why Time Machine Backup stands out among other backup methods:

  1. Seamless Integration: Time Machine is a native feature of macOS, which means it's seamlessly integrated into the operating system. You don't need to install any third-party software or configure complex settings.

  2. Ease of Use: Time Machine is designed to be user-friendly. After the initial setup, it runs in the background, continuously backing up your data without any intervention required.

  3. File Versioning: With Time Machine, you have the ability to restore previous versions of files or even restore deleted files. This is especially useful in case of accidental deletion or file corruption.

  4. Complete System Restore: Time Machine not only backs up your files but also creates a snapshot of your entire system. This allows you to restore your Mac to its previous state, including installed apps, settings, and system files.

Fundamentals of External Hard Drives

What are External Hard Drives?

An external hard drive is a portable storage device that connects to your computer via a USB or Thunderbolt interface. It provides additional storage space for your files and can be used for various purposes, including data backup.

Different Types of External Hard Drives

There are several types of external hard drives available in the market, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Here are three common types:

  1. HDD (Hard Disk Drive): HDDs are the traditional mechanical drives that use spinning disks to store data. They offer large storage capacities at an affordable price, making them suitable for backups.

  2. SSD (Solid-State Drive): SSDs use flash memory technology, providing faster data transfer speeds and higher reliability compared to HDDs. They are more expensive but offer better performance.

  3. Portable vs. Desktop: External hard drives come in both portable and desktop form factors. Portable drives are compact and powered via the USB connection, while desktop drives require an external power source and offer larger storage capacity.

How they can be used as Backup Storage Devices

External hard drives serve as excellent backup storage devices due to their large storage capacity, portability, added security, and ease of use.

Benefits of Using External Hard Drives for Time Machine Backup

Increased Storage Capacity

One of the major advantages of using external hard drives for Time Machine backups is the significant increase in storage capacity. Internal drives on Macs often have limited space, especially on laptops or older models. With an external hard drive, you can have terabytes of storage dedicated solely to backups.


External hard drives are highly portable, which means you can easily carry them with you wherever you go. This is especially useful if you work with multiple Macs or need to access your backups on the go.

Added Security

By keeping your backups on a separate external hard drive, you add an extra layer of security to your data. In case of a system failure, hardware malfunction, or even theft, your data will still be safe and accessible from the external drive.

Ease of Use

Setting up Time Machine with an external hard drive is a breeze. Once you connect the drive to your Mac, Time Machine will automatically detect it and prompt you to use it for backups. From there, the process is fully automated, and Time Machine will handle the backups in the background.

Step-By-Step Guide on How to Use Time Machine Backup with External Hard Drives

Now that we understand the benefits of using external hard drives for Time Machine backups, let's walk through the process step-by-step:

Preparing the External Hard Drive for Time Machine Backup

  1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac using the appropriate cable.

  2. Open the "Applications" folder, then navigate to the "Utilities" folder and open "Time Machine."

  3. In the Time Machine preferences window, click on "Select Backup Disk."

  4. Choose the external hard drive from the list of available disks and click "Use Disk."

Setting up Time Machine Backup

  1. In the Time Machine preferences window, check the box next to "Back Up Automatically." This ensures that your Mac gets backed up regularly without any manual intervention.

  2. By default, Time Machine will include all files on your Mac for backup. If you want to exclude specific files or folders, click on "Options" and add them to the exclusion list.

  3. Click "Save" to apply the changes and start the initial backup process.

Performing the Backup

Time Machine will now start the initial backup, which may take some time depending on the size of your data. Once the backup is complete, Time Machine will only back up new or modified files, making subsequent backups faster.

Enabling Automatic Backups

By default, Time Machine will perform backups hourly, but you can adjust the frequency to your liking. Open the Time Machine preferences window and click on "Options." Here, you can set the backup interval to every hour, every day, or customize it according to your preferences.

Restoring Data from a Time Machine Backup

To restore data from a Time Machine backup, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Finder and navigate to the location where you want to restore the files.

  2. Click on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and select "Enter Time Machine."

  3. Use the timeline on the right side of the screen to browse through different backups.

  4. Once you find the desired version of the file or folder, select it and click "Restore" to bring it back to your Mac.

Essential Tips and Tricks while Using Time Machine Backup with External Hard Drives

To ensure effective and efficient backups while using Time Machine with external hard drives, consider the following tips and tricks:

How to Ensure Effective and Efficient Backups

  • Make sure the external hard drive has enough storage capacity to accommodate your backups. It's recommended to have at least double the amount of space compared to the data you want to back up.

  • Keep the external hard drive connected to your Mac as much as possible to ensure regular backups. If you disconnect it for an extended period, Time Machine will resume backups when you reconnect it.

  • Encrypt your Time Machine backups for added security. This way, even if someone gains unauthorized access to your external hard drive, they won't be able to access your data.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

  • Don't use the external hard drive for any other purpose than Time Machine backups. Formatting or repartitioning the drive may cause compatibility issues with Time Machine.

  • Regularly check the status of your backups to ensure they're running smoothly. If any issues are identified, troubleshoot them promptly to avoid potential data loss.

Security Considerations

  • Use secure storage solutions for your external hard drive. Look for drives with hardware encryption or consider software encryption options.

  • Be cautious when handling and storing your external hard drive. Protect it from physical damage, extreme temperatures, and potential theft.


Time Machine Backup with external hard drives provides a reliable and user-friendly solution to safeguard your data. By following the step-by-step guide and adopting essential tips and tricks, you can ensure effective backups and enhanced data protection. Don't compromise the safety of your cherished files and documents—leverage Time Machine Backup with external hard drives for peace of mind.


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