Mac Backup Software Review
Why Use Mac Backup Software?
The top performers in our review are Acronis True Image 2017, the Gold Award winner; Paragon Hard Disk Manager, the Silver Award winner; and Data Backup 4, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing Mac backup software to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 applications.
Lightbulbs burn out – it's literally what they do to create light. So when you buy a lightbulb, you do so with the understanding that it will provide you with months or years of light, and that you’ll eventually have to replace it. You may even have a drawer in your house filled with replacement lightbulbs.
Macs also burn out. Every component in the Mac is subject to wear and tear over time, but the hard drive is the most susceptible and the most important. The hard drive is where all of your important files are written. If a lightbulb burns out, the darkness is your biggest inconvenience. But when a hard drive burns out, you risk losing information critical to your day-to-day life. Fixing it is not as simple as turning to a drawer and pulling out a new hard drive.
Backing up your Mac is one of the most important habits you can develop. At any moment, your hard drive could fail. You could drop your Macbook or spill coffee over the keyboard, or it could be stolen. Mac backup software protects your data in anticipation of these events. It turns a potentially catastrophic moment into a minor inconvenience – like switching out a lightbulb. It doesn’t matter if you use a Mac backup app, the natively installed Time Machine or a Mac online backup service, you need to have a backup strategy.
Developing A Backup Strategy for Your Mac
The most basic way you can protect your data is by making a copy of it. This principle is not unique to the digital age of information either. Creating copies of important information is a practice that has existed for thousands of years. Ever since information was deemed worthy of recording, it’s been copied for protection.
You can develop a backup strategy in a countless number of ways. The most common principle used by IT experts is the 3-2-1 strategy. Of course, you can develop your own backup strategy, but this one is popular for a reason – it’s simple and it works.
Three: Always maintain at least three copies of every important file you want to protect. You can make more copies, but three is the minimum. Think about it this way: The third copy is a backup of your backup.
Two: Always store the files on at least two devices. One of the devices is the primary hard drive on your computer. You should never store your backed up data on the same hard drive as your primary copy. If something happens to the hard drive, you lose both copies. The second device can be an external hard drive, flash drive, CD, DVD, online data backup service or a network-attached server drive. Whatever the case, never keep all your eggs in one basket.
One: Always store one of the two devices off site. If you store the backed-up copy on an external hard drive that sits on top of your computer and your house catches on fire, then you lose both copies. Storing one of the devices off site protects against data loss from catastrophic events.
Mac backup software helps you create the second and third copies, and it helps you write the backed-up information to a second device, but it doesn’t ensure that you keep a copy off site. This is something you have to do for yourself. A Mac online backup service is ideal for this. Not only do these services have desktop apps that are much easier to use than every program in this review, but they ensure your data is redundantly stored in multiple off-site locations. The only downside of using a Mac online backup service is the subscription costs, though these costs are generally between $5 and $10 a month.
Prioritizing Your Files: Deciding What to Back Up
Most Mac backup apps allow you to back up on a macro-level by creating an image of your hard drive, including your operating system. However, these full system backups are very time consuming. Most users just care about protecting their files, and many are only concerned with backing up specific files. There are likely files you won’t miss or need if your computer’s hard drive crashes, and there are files that would be devastating to lose. Rather than backing up everything, you may want to prioritize your files.
Sentimental: This category includes any file that has sentimental value and cannot be replaced. These are generally photos of your children, home videos, journals, creative projects, etc. For most people, sentimental files hold the highest priority.
Practical: Any file that’s used for practical reasons is high priority. These are tax returns, banking info, financial records, etc. These are the files you need to run your day-to-day life. Most of them aren’t irreplaceable, but losing them can cause major headaches.
Professional: Any file you use for your career has value, though the priority can vary. These are documents, spreadsheets, resumes and CVs, portfolios, networking connections, etc. They are often files that change frequently, so they may need to be backed up the most often. Losing some of these files can have major implications on your career, but many of them are replaceable. For example, you can always recreate your resume, but you may not be able to retrieve a valuable networking contact.
Entertainment: Files used primarily for entertainment purposes are replaceable and should be low priority, which isn’t to say you can’t back them up. Entertainment files include movies, music, podcasts, etc. Losing them can be deflating, but you can always download them again or rip them from your CDs or DVDs.
System Files: Files used by your Mac’s OS, as well as your installed apps, are system files. You don’t generally pay much attention to these files because they aren’t opened independently from the apps. Backing up these files helps you restore apps, including the settings, but it’s usually a low priority for most users because these backup sets are more complicated. As with media files, you can always download and reinstall apps, which is often easier than trying to restore system files.
Mac Backup Software: Speaking the Lingo
The backup industry has its own language, which is foreign to most novice users. If you’re unfamiliar with the lingo, you might find the software you buy has a significant learning curve. Here are some common backup terms you should familiarize yourself with:
Backup Set: A backup set is a specific task you set up with your Mac backup app. A backup set can consist of all of your data, or it can consist of a single file. The backup set saves in the program so you can maintain backup schemes on those specific files.
Full Backup: A full backup is the first complete backed-up version of a file. When you first run your software, it creates a full backup, which can be very time consuming. The app generally uses the full backup set as the base for other backup schemes.
Incremental Backup Scheme: With this backup scheme, the program only backs up the changes you made to a file since the last incremental backup. It is best for files that change often. Since only the changes are backed up, these sets are very small, which means backup performance is good. However, incremental backup sets can be unreliable to restore because there are so many pieces. Restoring incremental backups is like putting together a puzzle with one large piece and many small pieces. If any of the small pieces are lost or corrupted, you can’t restore the file.
Differential Backup Scheme: This scheme backs up all the changes made to a file since the last full backup. This is good for files that don’t change frequently. Instead of backing up all the changes made to a file since the last incremental backup, the differential backup is more comprehensive. These backup sets tend to have more data, so they take longer to complete and can have a significant impact on CPU resources. However, they are more reliable to restore than incremental backup sets because they consist of just two parts – the full backup and one differential backup.
Cloud Backup: You’ve probably heard of the cloud. The term has become popular in recent years, but many people are still confused by what it means. The cloud is simply a connection to a server where data is stored and accessed through the internet. A cloud backup occurs when you back up to one of these servers. Instead of storing your backed-up data on an external drive, you upload the files to a cloud service, which requires a monthly fee. It’s like renting an external hard drive that you access through the internet.
You can also create a private cloud by backing up to a private server or network-attached storage. When you back up to a private cloud, you can access the data from all of your devices.
Full Image Backup: This is a backup set where you create an image of the hard drive and make a copy. You perform this type of backup when you want to be able to restore your operating system and installed software.
What About the Time Machine?
Since 2007, the Mac operating system has had a built-in backup utility called Time Machine. The Time Machine app works with both local storage and remote storage devices like iCloud and other cloud storage services. So if your Mac already has backup software, why buy Mac backup software?
Well, that’s the thing – you don’t need to. The Time Machine app is easier to use than most of the software in our review, and it has above-average backup and restore speeds. It backs up your entire system and easily integrates with other Mac apps like iWork, iLife and iCloud. It’s an effective Mac backup app, and it’s free.
That said, the Time Machine is also very limited. You either back up everything or nothing, and it’s not great for archiving data. Older backup sets are replaced by newer ones. So while it’s a very simple and effective app, it isn’t the best option for many users.
Mac Backup Software: What We Tested, What We Found
Most Mac backup software is relatively simple, especially compared to its PC counterparts. In fact, most of the apps we reviewed simply copy or sync files from one drive to another with no compression and no encryption. You could just as easily copy the files and paste them to another drive. Still, the best Mac backup software is easy to use and fast, and it has very little impact on your Mac’s CPU.
We have a Mac dedicated to testing apps like Mac data backup software. To make sure our results were comparable, we tested each app on this Mac, and we used the same data in each test. We ran many rounds of testing to create averages, so none of our results are based on a single sample of data. During the tests, we used the activity monitor to record the average CPU usage. We also backed up our test data to the same external drive. The process was maintained throughout the tests of each product.
Ease of Use
Everyone with a computer should back up their data – it doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time computer user or an IT manager with a master’s degree in computer science. No one should be unable to protect their data because they lack technical experience. As such, the backup software you use for your home computer should not cater to advanced users. It needs to be easy and intuitive to use for people of every experience level.
We acknowledge that ease of use is an inherently subjective measurement. Your experience with the software will depend on your previous computer knowledge. That said, we evaluated and graded the ease of use from the perspective of a novice. As we tested each app, we counted the number of steps between opening the software and initiating a backup or restore set. We also evaluated how well the app is designed and how well the interface directs the user from one step to the next.
The best backup software is clearly designed for a novice. However, many of the apps in our review have overly technical interfaces that are easy for beginners to get lost in. These apps are not inherently worse than the easier programs; they are simply designed for a user with more technical knowledge – one who wants to have more control than a standard novice. Still, since our review focuses on novice users, these products received lower grades.
The first full backup set you perform can take many hours, especially if you have a 1TB hard drive that is nearly full. Every file in the backup set has to be read, processed, compressed, encrypted and written to the destination device. Speed is the most important factor to consider when looking at backup software performance. The best backup software is capable of processing data quickly so your computer’s resources aren’t tied up for long.
We ran multiple backup sets on our Mac to determine average speeds. We ran backup sets with full compression, and we ran sets with no compression. Some sets had encryption, and some sets had none.
After nearly thirty hours of testing, and after collecting all the data, we were able to compare speeds and grade the data backup software accordingly. Products with C grades were average, with higher grades indicating much faster speeds and lower grades given to much slower software. Based on the speeds recorded in our tests, the fastest product in our review could back up 1TB of data in about 10 hours, while the slowest product would complete the same backup set in about two and a half days.
The restore speed is very similar to the backup speed – the process is just run in reverse. Most Mac backup apps have to convert the processed backup data and write it back to the primary device. However, some only copy data from one device to another, which means that restoring the files is the same task as backing them up.
As with the backup tests, we graded the average speed of the restore sets. Products with a C grade were average. The difference between the fastest speed and the slowest speed was similar to the results of the backup speed tests.
Most Mac backup apps have a very little impact on your CPU. Still, we used the computer’s activity monitor to record each program’s average CPU usage. Products with an average grade used between 9 and 14 percent of our Mac’s CPU, which is of little consequence.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the Mac backup apps in our comparison through retail purchase. The software developers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. The results of our evaluation were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting Mac Backup Software?
Most Mac data backup apps are very simple compared to those made for PCs. Some apps only copy data from one device to another. Still, there are some features you should consider.
Some data on your computer is never meant to be seen by anyone but you. You should protect this data with encryption. While this feature is common with apps for PCs, it not very common with Mac backup apps.
There are more Mac backup cloud services than there are Mac backup programs. In truth, these services have better apps and protect data better than software. That said, some of the programs we reviewed can integrate with cloud backup services. For example, Acronis True Image provides 500GB of cloud storage for the first year after you purchase the software.
Software is only useful if you actually use it to back up your data. With a scheduling feature, the app runs automatically at specific times. This automates the task so you don’t have to worry about remembering to back up your Mac. Scheduling is such a common feature with PC backup apps that it rarely requires mentioning. However, many Mac apps don’t have a scheduling feature.
Help & Support
If you have problems with your app, it's important to have the necessary support in place. We looked for proper communication channels: phone, email and live chat. We also looked for FAQs, tutorials, user forums and a knowledgebase on each company’s website. Each of these support features is designed to minimize your learning curve and help you make the most of the data backup app.
Mac Backup Software: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The best Mac data backup software in our review is Acronis True Image. It earns the Gold Award for being easy to use and fast both when backing up and restoring data. It also has features that most other apps don’t, including cloud integration, data encryption and data compression.
Paragon Hard Disk Manager for Mac earns our Silver Award for excellent ease of use and above-average speed. It also has a host of advanced features.
Data Backup 4 earns our Bronze Award. While the backup and restore speeds were just average, the ease of use was above average. In addition, the app is loaded with advanced features.
If you don’t back up your Mac, you’ll eventually regret it. In one single moment, you could lose everything. When you back up your data, you ensure that moment is little more than a mild inconvenience. To learn more, read our articles about Mac backup software and other software.