Clone Hard Drive Mac App

Finalize Your Drive Clone This may take a while, but when it's done, you have two choices. If you want to replace your Mac's internal drive with the new drive (say, if you're migrating to a larger drive), you can open up your Mac and swap those now, then boot up as normal.

A clone of your Mac is essentially a backup of all the data you can make bootable, so when you connect the disk to another Mac, you just reboot and carry on from where you left off.

Cloning your Mac’s main drive is a great way to protect yourself against potential problems when, for example, you might be installing a new version of macOS — especially if it’s still in beta. But clones can also be of use during travel or business trips, if you’re worried that your Mac might get lost, stolen or damaged.

If you need to recover files from a failing system, you can clone the whole drive and then recover files from the clone, removing the possibility that the drive will fail completely before your files are recovered.

A clone backup differs from the now popular incremental backup in that it creates a snapshot of your Mac that is preserved for as long as you want it, whereas incremental backups update themselves at regular intervals.

How to create a clone of your Mac

There are a few things you need in order to clone your Mac and use it as a backup. First, you need an external hard drive or SSD with a volume that’s clean and empty, which means it should either be brand new or completely erased beforehand.

Next, you’ll need software to create the clone. There are several applications that are available for Macs that you can use. We recommend going with Disk Drill. Disk Drill can help you recover data from a failed drive and allows you to create byte-for-byte copies of a disk and save them as a disk image. In other words — clone your Mac.

Finally, you need a safe place to store your clone — a backup is no good if you can’t find it when you need it.

Before you start

If you have a regular backup routine, it’s a good idea to run one before you start the process of cloning your Mac. It sounds daft to run a backup just before you create a backup, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

If you’re using a disk that’s been used before, you’ll need to erase it completely to make it ready for the clone. We’ll assume you’re going to use the whole disk as a single volume.

Erase the drive and create a disk image

Plug the external hard drive into your Mac, and launch Disk Utility. Go to the Utilities folder in Applications and double-click on Disk Utility to open it.

Erase the drive. Click on the external drive in the sidebar and then the Erase tab. In most cases, the format will automatically be set to macOS Extended and the scheme to GUID Partition Map. You can leave it at that. If you’re running macOS Mojave and will only use the drive with a Mac using Mojave, you can choose APFS from the Format menu. Give your drive a name and click Erase.

Then open Setapp desktop app and launch Disk Drill. If you haven’t already installed Disk Drill, get Setapp account and install the app.

Create a disk image of your drive

  • When Disk Drill opens, click Backup in the toolbar and choose Backup into DMG Image from the menu. In the next window, click OK, Let’s Do It.
  • Now, choose your Mac’s boot disk in the main window and click Backup. You’ll be asked where you want to save the disk image.
  • Navigate to the external drive you’ve just erased and select Save.

Disk Drill will now create an exact copy of your boot drive as a disk image, saved on the external drive.

Once the disk image has been created, you can double-click on it to mount it in the Finder. It will then be treated like any other volume by macOS and you can drag and drop files from it to your main drive. That’s fine if you only lose a few files and folders and need to recover them, but what if your boot drive fails or you need to recover the whole disk from the image?

Restore the clone

You can’t boot a Mac from a disk image, but you can restore the clone to your Mac’s boot drive if you need to. Here’s how.

  1. Shut down your Mac
  2. Restart in recovery mode. Restart your Mac while holding down the Command and “R” keys.
  3. Erase your boot drive. Click on Disk Utilities in the Utilities application and then Erase. If the disk image you’re restoring from has macOS High Sierra installed, choose APFS from the format menu, otherwise, choose macOS Extended (Journaled). Give it a name and click Erase.
  4. Restore the disk image. Still in Disk Utility, click on the drive you just erased. Now go to the File menu and choose Restore. Click the Image button and navigate to the disk image you created in Disk Drill. Then Restore.

Alternatively, if you know beforehand that you’re going to need to boot from the clone, choose Create Boot Drive and then Boot Drive for data recovery instead of Backup when you've created the disk image of your drive.

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Recover files from disk image

If you don’t need to completely replace your Mac’s startup disk, but need to recover files from a disk image — perhaps because you created the image from a failing drive that has now failed completely — you also can do that in Disk Drill.

  1. Mount the drive. Double-click on the disk image in the Finder to mount it.
  2. Recover data in Disk Drill. Select the mounted volume in Disk Drill’s main window and click Recover. Follow the on-screen instructions to scan the volume, identify and recover the files you need. Remember that you should never recover files to a failing hard drive, so choose a destination that you know is stable.

All the ways to clone

You now know how to clone your Mac so you can use it as a backup for files and folders, as well as to recover files and, if you need to, boot from the clone and restore the image to your Mac’s startup disk. Let’s hope you never need it, but, if the tragedy comes around, at least you are prepared.

It is vitally important that you back up your Mac. Whether you do so locally using Time Machine, sending it to a cloud service, or installing a duplicate creation program (or all three). There is nothing more important than backing up your computer in case an unfortunate event happens so you don't lose your precious data.

One of the easiest methods is locally, using Time Machine. Another is by backing up your data via a cloud-based service, like Backblaze or CrashPlan. Here, we're going to explain how to clone your Mac using a program like SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner.

The difference between cloning and using Time Machine

Local backups through Time Machine, cloud-based backups, and clones all serve a great purpose to keep your data safe in case of an unfortunate even that renders your Mac useless (even temporarily). The thing that makes cloning different is that you can create a bootable copy of your entire hard drive, which means you can access everything on one Mac through another simply by exporting it to an external drive, connecting the drive to the other Mac, and then selecting it from the Startup menu.

Clones are great to have around if, for example, you have to take your Mac in for repairs, but still need to continue working while it's out. You can use the cloned copy while it's in the shop.

Most cloning programs have additional features that include the ability to make regularly scheduled backups. This is ideal since, if something happens to your computer, you aren't necessarily going to want to restore from a year-old backup. I highly recommend investing in these additional features if they are offered with the cloning program you are using (for example, SuperDuper! is free to clone, but costs a licensing fee of $28 for scheduling, smart updates, sandboxes, and scripting).

Before you start

Before you get started, make sure you have an external hard drive with enough storage to fit everything on your Mac. The smartest solution is to use a portable hard drive.

You'll also need to download and install your cloning program. I'm using SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket for this process. Most cloning programs operate pretty much the same. They will always have a detailed how-to guide to walk you through the steps.

How to prepare your external drive to use for your clone

You'll need to start with a clean external hard drive in order to make a bootable drive for your cloned backup.

  1. Connect your external drive into the appropriate port on your Mac.
  2. Use Spotlight to search for the Disk Utility app.
  3. Double-click on Disk Utility to open it.

    Source: iMore

  4. Find the hard drive under External and select it. It will usually be named after the company that made it.
  5. Click the Erase tab at the top of the window.

    Source: iMore

  6. Name the drive something that you will remember. I renamed mine 'mbp.' You will need to remember this name when you create a bootable drive.
  7. Select macOS Extended (Journaled) from the format list.
  8. Click Erase.
  9. Click Done once the process is complete.
  10. Close the Disk Utility window.

    Source: iMore

Your hard drive is now formatted for cloning your Mac.

How to make a clone of your Mac

After you've downloaded and installed your cloning program, you'll need to open it to get started. I'm using SuperDuper! to make a clone for this guide, so I'll reference it here.

Note: You'll need your administrator password in order to make a clone of your Mac.

  1. Use Spotlight to search for the SuperDuper! app.
  2. Double-click on SuperDuper! to open it.
  3. Select your Mac's hard drive from the drop-down menu next to 'Copy.'
  4. Select the external hard drive from the drop-down menu next to 'to.'

    Source: iMore

  5. Make sure Backup - all files is selected in the drop-down menu next to 'using' (Backup - user files does not create a bootable clone).
  6. Click Copy Now to begin the process.

    Source: iMore

  7. Enter your Administrator password when prompted.
  8. Click Copy when asked to confirm that you want to erase the external hard drive and then copy the files to it from your Mac.
  9. Click OK when the process is complete.

    Source: iMore

Most cloning programs will operate the same, general way. If you don't understand the process for the program you have chosen, refer to the user guide.

How to restore your Mac from a clone

If there is any reason you end up needing to restore your Mac from a backup, you can use a clone to do so.

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Connect your external drive into the appropriate port on your Mac.
  3. Turn on your Mac.
  4. Hold down the Command and R keys as soon as the system restarts to enter Recovery Mode. Your Mac will boot to the macOS Utilities screen.
  5. Click on Disk Utility and then click continue.
  6. Select your hard drive.
  7. Click on the Restore tab at the top of the Disk Utility window.
  8. Select your external drive next to 'Restore From.'
  9. Select your Mac's hard drive next to 'Restore to.'
  10. Click Restore.

Once the backup has finished restoring, restart your computer.


How to boot your clone on another Mac

If you want to work on your backup on another computer while it's in the shop, you can boot it up from the startup menu.

Important: You'll need to partition your hard drive in order to boot your clone as a separate startup disk. Be sure to do that before following the steps below.

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Connect your external drive into the appropriate port on your Mac.
  3. Turn on your Mac.
  4. Hold down the Option key as soon as you hear the startup chime.
  5. Select the external drive with the clone backup on it from the list of systems to start up your computer.

Now, you can use the clone to restore files to your partitioned drive.

Any questions?

Do you have any questions about how to clone your Mac so you can use it as a backup? Put them in the comments and I'll help you out.

Updated March 2020: Updated for MacBook Air.

Backing up: The ultimate guide


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