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So you just got a hard drive -- now what?

Mel Martin

All day on December 25, TUAW presents "Now What?" We've got first steps and recommendations for all the Apple gifts you (hopefully!) found under the tree today. Happy holidays!

Some good soul gifted you with a hard drive for the holidays. I can't think of a better gift! There are two ways to use that extra disk space -- the right way, which I'll get to in a moment, and the way many people do it, which is to just expand their disk space because they are running out of room.

I'm here to tell you that is the wrong thing to do with a new hard drive if you don't have a backup strategy already. Let's make a few assumptions here. The new drive has a USB 2.0 interface, or it has a Firewire 400 or 800 interface. It also is at least as large as your primary hard drive. Even better if it is bigger. Use that drive as a backup device, not for more disk space. Old hands around computers already know this, but if you are just getting started, it really is extra important to have all your files duplicated on another drive.

With any computer, stuff happens, like a sudden power surge, a drive failure, or a kid in the house who loves to see how the Mac trash can works. Can you really afford to lose all those pictures, emails, documents and CDs you lovingly ripped to iTunes? I didn't think so.

Getting a heavy duty back up is not too challenging. If you plug a brand new drive in, your Mac (assuming you have Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard) will ask you if you'd like to use it as a Time Machine drive. Time Machine is Apple's built-in backup solution, and it is great for people who constantly change or update files and sometimes have a good reason to go back and get the old versions. The larger your extra drive, the further you can 'go back in time'. Time Machine allows you to restore all the data, but it can take several hours and may require your original system DVD if your machine isn't bootable.

Read on for more...

Another method, and the one I think is best is to use utilities like SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner. They will make an exact duplicate of your primary hard drive, and make it bootable so if disaster strikes your primary hard drive you can set the copy to be the startup disk, boot from it and you are good to go. For drive failures (as opposed to accidental file deletions), that is an advantage over Time Machine because a quick reboot and you are back running again. I use SuperDuper! for this backup task, and have it run in the middle of the night 3 times a week. It works really well, and gives me peace of mind.

Of course, no backup is foolproof, and if you are really wanting to make sure your most valuable files are protected it would be a good idea to get yet another hard drive, clone your primary drive again and put this drive in your safe deposit box. Then you should be safe from fire, many biblical plagues, and rising water (that hopefully won't flood your bank too).

Having good backups is like a really smart form of insurance for your treasured documents and memories. Don't be tempted to just throw more stuff on that new hard drive. Put it to work as a defense against disaster. Of course, it might also be smart to consider getting a larger primary drive too. Just make sure your backup is large enough to handle all those extra gigabytes.

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