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10.5: Use Time Machine to create a bootable backup
Authored by: zegor on Oct 05, '08 09:32:15PM

A variation on the method (to make it a self-contained solution).

1) Partition your backup harddisk right away. Once disaster strikes you DO NOT want to do anything to the harddisk that has all your precious data. So - partition it NOW, when you still have the original data if the partitioning goes bad... Leaving an empty partition the size of your system disk is well worth the (marginal) extra cost.

2) Partition as follows:
- Mac OS X Install (7.2 GB)

- Boot partition (The size of your backed-up harddisk)

- (For the really experienced or disaster-prone:) A snapshot partition (The size of your backed-up harddisk))

- Time Machine (the remainder of the space on your backup harddisk).

E.g., my USB-powered Macbook Air recovery disk is partitioned 7.2 + 55 + 55 + 390GB

3) Populate the partitions as follows:
- Use the hard disk utility (or another block level duplication utility, e.g., Carbon Copy Cloner) to block-level copy the install dvd (disk 1 if more than one) to the "Mac OS X Install" partition. The result is a bootable partition.

- Leave the boot partition empty

- Make a system snapshot to the "snapshot partition" (using CCC or the equivalent - making it a bootable volume). Redo whenever you feel like it.

- Point the time machine to the "Time Machine" partition.

4) WHEN disaster strikes (and it will), do the following variant on the hint:
a) Boot from the "Mac OS X Install" partition

b) Then follow the hint given: On the second panel (after choosing a language) go to the utility menu and select "restore from backup". When given a choice about which one, pick the (most recent) one from the "Time Machine" partition, and for destination select "Boot partition."

Why the variation?
1) Some machines do not have DVD drives (e.g., the Macbook Air)
2) This way everything is in ONE place (on that one harddisk). Just one thing to remember to bring when you travel (which is when disaster strikes)

A couple of notes:
1) Restore from backup is a LOT faster than an installation followed by a migration. On my MBA the restoration takes about 90 minutes, whereas the install + migration takes hours. I suspect it is also a higher fidelity restoration of the original system.

2) Small, USB-powered disks are getting very cheap - I carry a 500 GB Store-it Drive with me when I travel, and the safety it provides is wonderful (see below)...

The DVD media distributed with the early Macbook Airs (system 10.5.2) is DEFECTIVE: The "restore from backup" crashes almost immediately. The media distributed with later MBAs (I have 10.5.4) functions well.

An anecdote illustrating why this is important:
I once arrived in Mumbai at midnight after 14 hours of work done on the plane. During work I had my USB drive plugged in, and time machine did its thing. Upon arrival I realized that I did not have the phone number of hotel, and upon opening the MBA to retrieve it discovered that its harddisk had gone missing.

Recovery (this done e middle of the night, balancing the MBA on a luggage cart in a sea of people):
- Boot from the USB disk into the snapshot partition (20 seconds).
- Use time machine to retrieve the file with the phone number (20 seconds).
- Shut down the MBA and,
- Call hotel

- Arrive at hotel
- Boot from the "Mac OS X install partition" (<1 minute)
- Use "restore from backup" to the empty boot partition (90 minutes)
- Restart from the (now restored) boot partition, and then
- Continue working, with data current as of the time of arrival in Mumbai.

- Get home (one week later, lots of work done, all on the USB disk)
- Turn in the MBA for repairs while continuing to work on another computer, off the USB disk (now safely backed up, of course).
- Retrieve the Air from the shop, and image the USB boot partition back to the repaired Air.

1) Your harddisk WILL DIE. and at the most inopportune time imaginable.
2) With proper preparation (in this case $2-300 worth of harddisk, properly set up) recovery is a matter of an hour or two only.

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