For those who have bought a new computer or have updated their machine to Apple’s Big Sur operating system, here are some things to know about the new(ish) APFS disk format, bootable backups and the Carbon Copy Cloner backup program…
Q: Should I continue to use Carbon Copy Cloner to make backups of my data?
A: Absolutely. A backup to an external drive is the best way to recover from a sick drive mechanism, failed operating system update or lost/stolen computer.
Q: Should I make my Carbon Copy Cloner backups “bootable”?
A: This is a tricky question to answer. Prior to Big Sur, the answer was “absolutely”. Today things are a bit more complicated… Start with this article by Carbon Copy Cloner’s programmer Mike Bombich:
As noted in this article, the answer depends on several factors, including which Mac hardware you have (Intel processor vs. Apple “M1” processor), and if you want to preserve previous “Snapshots” (points in time from which you can restore data).
If you’re running an Apple silicon “M1” Mac, I recommend using Carbon Copy Cloner’s “Standard” data-only backup strategy. For Intel-intel based Macs, I still recommend the “Legacy Bootable Backup”.
Q: What do I need to know about backups in Big Sur (or Catalina)?
A: Disks used to boot a Mac are now required to be formatted in Apple’s newer file system (APFS). If you have an older backup drive which was previously set up for an earlier operating system (“Mac OS Extended, Journaled”, a.k.a “HFS +”, it is will likely need to be erased and reformatted as APFS. Note: This will permanently destroy all previous backup data on the drive.
Q: Can I continue to use my old external spinning hard drive for Carbon Copy Cloner bootable backups of Big Sur?
A: I don’t recommend this. The performance of a spinning hard drive formatted as APFS is terrible. In an emergency it may take 8-10 minutes to boot from a spinning APFS drive (vs. <60 seconds to boot from a backup made to a solid state drive (SSD). SSDs are becoming much more affordable per Gigabyte, are exponentially faster than spinning hard drives, and are more resilient to bumps and bruises due to them having no motor or moving parts to wear out.
As of this writing (October, 2021), a name-brand 1TB SSD can be had for around $155 and a 2TB model for ~$300.
Q: Should I upgrade to Carbon Copy Cloner 6?
A: If you’re running Mac OS Big Sur, I recommend updating to Carbon Copy Cloner 6. CCC6 is significantly faster and the upgrade price is only $20. Here’s a list of some of the new features:
Note: Carbon Copy Cloner 6’s user interface is a bit different and may take some getting used to. If you’re running a version of Mac OS before Big Sur, Carbon Copy Cloner 5 still works fine.
Q: Should I run both Carbon Copy Cloner and Time Machine backups?
A: Yes. Keeping multiple backups is always a good idea and Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner will work to save your data in different ways, depending on the crisis/scenario.
Q: Can I keep using my old spinning external drive for Time Machine backups?
A: Yes. As long as you have enough ports on your computer to connect both drives (or are comfortable rotating external drives on a regular basis), your old Time Machine disk can still be used. If your old spinning drive was previously partitioned for both Carbon Copy Cloner and Time Machine, the Carbon Copy Cloner volume can usually be deleted, making more room available for future Time Machine backups.
Q: Should I exclude my external backup drive from Spotlight indexing?
A: Yes! This prevents a scenario where you search for a file and inadvertently open the copy on the backup drive. If you then edit and save your changes, those changes will NOT reside in the original file on your internal storage. This can be confusing later when you open the original file and your edits are not there!
Q: The icon for my external backup device disappeared from the Desktop during the first run of a Legacy Bootable Backup run. What’s up with that?
A: This is a normal, (but annoying) behavior of Apple’s ASR tool which Carbon Copy Cloner uses to create a bootable clone. The destination disk’s icon will appear again when the copy is finished.
There are plenty of options and questions involved in backing up your Mac. Feel free to contact me via email or the “Contact” section on the right of this page for technical translation and/or advice on or help with any of the above.
Kirk van Moon