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A Quick Guide To Setting Up Time Machine Backup On Mac

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012 by | Filed Under: Mac OS

Backing up a Mac – probably one of the most important things you should do as a Mac owner and one of the most neglected. Don’t worry, I’m not here to lecture – instead I’m going to show you a quick guide to getting started with using the Time Machine Backup feature that comes built into all Macs.

Time Machine is the automatic back up program built in to the Mac operating system. Once switched on and linked to a hard drive, it will back up your Mac every couple of hours or so, as long as the hard drive is plugged in.

The program will back up any changes that you make to your mac, too (for example, an extra file saved or something deleted). It will note the changes and make a backup, which means if you saved a file today and it’s not there next week, you can track back and find it.

…and although time machine would have backed up several hundred times by then, it will still have a back up of previous files right up until the day you started backing up.

Setting Up Time Machine

Before you get started you’ll need a hard drive of some sort – ideally at least the same size as the hard drive already in your Mac. Portable or desktop doesn’t make a difference, really – unless you spend a lot of time away from home and use a laptop, in which case I’d recommend a portable so that you can take it with you.

Once you have a hard drive, plug it in and allow it to load. You should be able to see it in two places, either on your desktop or in the finder – on the left hand side under the devices menu. (The finder is the smiley icon in the dock, far left).

Once you know it has loaded close the finder.


Next, you want to click on the apple in the top left hand corner and go to system preferences.


You will then see the Time Machine symbol in the preferences box. Click it and enter the options panel. 

Setting up time machine backup 2

You’ll then be taken to the Time Machine settings panel and will want to flick the switch and select on.

setting up time machine backup 3

You will then a get pop-up asking which drive you are selecting for your backup. Select the drive that you have just plugged in, and press OK.

Setting up time machine backup 4

Close the preferences and you are done! 

Common Questions:

How do I know if the Time Machine has backed up?

You will often see this symbol spinning in the bar at top, this shows you that it is backing up. If it hasn’t backed up, you will get an exclamation mark in the middle. This is not an issue – just make sure your drive is plugged in and ready to back up at the next opportunity you have.

Setting up time machine 5


What if my hard drive fills up with backed up stuff?

Time machine will automatically go to the oldest backup that it has and delete from there. The likelihood is that it will be several months old or longer, which means you have either forgotten about it or you don’t need it! At this point, it will also prompt you and ask you if you want it to delete the oldest files on record to free up space.

What type of hard drive should I use for Time Machine?

This is down to user preference really; as long as it is a reliable brand, it won’t make too much difference. USB or Firewire hard drives will both do the same job. The only thing you need to make sure is that your hard drive is at least a similar size to the hard drive on your mac. If it’s not, and you have a lot of files, it will fill up very quickly and you wont have much of a backup history on the Time Machine hard drive.


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3 Responses to “A Quick Guide To Setting Up Time Machine Backup On Mac”

  1. DAN says:


  2. Carolyn says:

    Can I attach my macbook to my desktop windows pc to do the backup? And since it is a macbook, I don’t want to leave it attached all of the time. Can I back up only when I go attach my macbook to my pc (or an external hard drive if I can’t use the pc)?

  3. Jeannette says:

    Good article. I would like to see more Mac articles.
    Thank you

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