Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #208

Last week I said that you should, get yourself a big, external hard disk and use Time Machine for backups. And, for additional protection, attach another hard drive or two and let Time Machine back up to each in turn. I also suggested you store a backup in a different location or in the cloud in case of disaster.

The elephant in the room is how to afford those backup disks. Never fear. Allow me to share a few of the secrets I’ve discovered in nearly 30 years of backing up data.

Disk Features (for Backups)

To start with, there are a bewildering array of features associated with hard disks—such as SATA type (I, II, or III), capacity (500MB–6TB), rotational speed (4,200–15,000 RPM), brand, and platform support to name a few. Don’t worry—none of it matters much when it comes to backup disks. Bearing in mind that all hard (and solid-state) drives fail eventually, my advice is to buy the biggest, fastest, and least expensive brand-name disks you can afford.

So-Called Mac Disks (for Backups)

Here’s another secret: hard disks for Macs and PCs are the same, but most vendors try to squeeze an extra US$10 or $20 out of Mac users. Don’t get ripped off—there’s no such thing as a “Mac” disk. The only difference between a so-called Mac disk and its less-expensive generic counterpart is that the Mac disk has been pre-formatted for macOS (journaled).

So, buy the least expensive hard disk you can find—PC or Mac—and then use Disk Utility (included with macOS) to erase and reformat it as “MacOS Extended (Journaled) with GUID partition map.” It will only take a few minutes and may save you $20 or more.

Disk Docks (for Backups)

My final tip is that if your backup system (including offsite backups) is going to require more than a couple of hard disks, you can save money, desk space, cables, and power outlets by using smaller, less-expensive internal drives with a drive dock instead of individual external hard disks. All you need is a drive dock, such as the OWC USB 3.1 Drive Dock ($68.75) I’ve been using with my 6 internal backup disks.(TMO reviewed something similar in 2014.)

My drive dock with two disks inserted and four disks on its left...

My drive dock with two disks inserted and four disks on its left… Photo by Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus

Here’s how it works: The device has two slots, each of which accepts either a 3.5-inch (desktop—as shown in the figure above) or 2.5-inch (laptop—not shown) hard disk.

So, instead of having six external hard drive enclosures with cables and power supplies, I have one small device on my desk that lets me use two backup disks at a time. I can clone one disk to another. And, in addition to saving desk space, cables, and power outlets, it lets me easily create and maintain offsite backups.


1. Drive Dock. $68.75. Other World Computing. https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/external-drives/owc-drive-dock

2. Internal and external hard drives from around $100. www.amazon.com; www.macsales.com; www.frys.com; www.newegg.com.

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