How to set up a Time Machine Backup

You might wonder why “faster” is important. Speed factors in three ways: one, when you’re just trying to get that first backup done, two, when you’re restoring items from Time Machine, and three, when you are using the Time Machine backup to transfer stuff to a new Mac.

Samsung T5 SSD
Samsung T5 SSD (personally recommended)

Affordable, external SSDs are fairly new (it’s the “affordable” part that’s new). Samsung makes some really good ones and you can find them at Amazon. The Samsung T5 is the one I use. In addition to being fast (Samsung says 4.9 times faster than regular, spinning external disks) the Samsung T5 includes regular USB and USB-C cables.

You’ve done the hard part– you bought a disk. Now connect it to your Mac. Assuming it’s a new disk, and assuming you haven’t set up Time Machine on your Mac previously, you’re going to get a dialog box with three choices:

  • Use as Backup Disk
  • Don’t Use
  • Decide Later
The Time Machine “Do you want to user this disk” dialog box

More than likely, if you got this far down the page, you’re going to choose “Use as Backup Disk.” If you’re not sure, click “Decide Later” and the Mac will ask you again, next time you connect the disk to the Mac. “Don’t Use” means “don’t use,” and you won’t be asked about using that disk for backups again.

About that Encrypt Backup Disk checkbox: for some people, checking the box is the right thing to do. What it does is lock the information that’s on the backup disk, protecting you from someone walking away with it and getting into your stuff. Sounds like a good idea, but there’s a password involved, and if you forget the password, you’re sunk. You won’t be able to access the files on that backup disk without the password. In my experience, encrypting the backup leads to extra stress and confusion when trying to use the Time Machine backup to restore files, because it’s one of those passwords that isn’t required very often, so people forget that there even is one. Being locked out of your backup disk is a very bad thing, so I don’t advise encrypting the backup disk. Remember, your information isn’t flying across the internet, where it’s easy to steal. It’s going from your Mac, through a cable, to a backup disk on your desk. Unless you think someone is going to take that backup disk off your desk, I would not encrypt it.

If you saw the dialog box and clicked “Use as Backup Disk” the backup will begin in 120 seconds. If you go to System Preferences/Time Machine you can watch the progress. If you check “Show Time Machine in menu bar” you can keep an eye on things without opening System Preferences. See below: same info, presented different ways.

Time Machine preference pane
Time Machine preference pane
Time Machine in menu bar
Time Machine in menu bar

When Time Machine is working you’ll see the second arrow head in the menu bar’s icon, like so:

Zoomed-in view of Time Machine's menu icon
Zoomed-in view of Time Machine’s menu icon

What do to if Time Machine does not recognize your disk, and does not ask you whether you want to use it as a Time Machine backup disk

It might turn out that the Mac doesn’t put up the box asking about using your new disk for Time Machine. That’s OK– we can set things up by hand and they’ll work just as well. All you have to do is click the “Choose Disk…” button in the Time Machine preferences.

Note: don’t click “Enter Time Machine.” That’s what we do when we want to restore files. I’ll cover that in another article.

Select Disk... in Time Machine preferences
Select Disk… in Time Machine preferences
Choosing a new backup disk for Time Machine
Choosing a new backup disk for Time Machine
Replace, or use both?
Replace, or use both?

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2 thoughts on “How to set up a Time Machine Backup

Add yours

  1. Great article 🙂
    It might also be worth mentioning the following:
    1) Time Machine can backup via your home wifi network to a suitable wifi drive (e.g. Apple Time Capsule). This is really convenient, but can be expensive.
    2) You can connect more than one drive and Time Machine will alternate between them. Obviously this adds to the expense, but does give peace of mind as a drive might fail at some point in the future.

    1. Howdy Nigel–

      Good points, both. The first point was a better option when Apple was still making the Time Capsule. Even the Apple Airport was a good candidate for connecting a drive to. If you have an Apple Airport already this is a good option and I think I will add this to the article.

      The second point is so good I mentioned it in the article. 😃

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