How to get Time Machine to back up booted or partitioned disks

time machine backups

Apple's built-in Time Machine app makes it simple to back up Mac data. Here, you'll learn how to choose a backup disk and set encryption, when necessary.

Great backup drives

How it's done

Follow these instructions to select drives to backup:

How to enable Time Machine backups on your Mac

  1. In System Preferences, choose Time Machine.
  2. Next, click Select Backup Disk, Select Disk, or Add or Remove Backup Disk. Your choice will depend on whether you've already had a backup disk set up on your Mac.
  1. Highlight the disk you'd like to use for backing up, then choose Use Disk.
  2. If applicable, check Encrypt Backups. For an explanation, see below.

  1. If you wish to use multiple backup disks, repeats the steps above.
  2. After selecting encryption, you'll be asked to type in a password.

As explained by Apple (opens in new tab): "Time Machine works best if you use your backup disk only for Time Machine backups. If you keep files on your backup disk, Time Machine won't back up those files, and the space available for Time Machine backups is reduced."

About encryption

As we previously explained, if you forget your encryption password, no one can help you recover your data -- including Apple.

A good rule of thumb: if it's more important that no one ever gets access to your data, even to your detriment, encryption is good. If, however, your data's safety is more important (like your family photos, movies, etc.) then never encrypt.

How to exclude files from Time Machine

By default, Time Machine will back up everything on your Mac. To exclude items:

  1. In System Preferences, choose Time Machine.
  2. Click the Options... button in the lower right corner of the Time Machine system preference panel.
  3. Click the + button to begin the process of excluding files.

  1. Highlight the file(s) you'd like to exclude, then click Exclude.
  2. Repeat Step 5 if there are other files or folders from your computer you want to exclude from Time Machine backup.
  3. When you're finished selecting files, click on Save.

exclude files from Time Machine backup

Time Machine will tell you exactly how much you're excluding and will attempt to estimate the size of a full backup with those exclusions in place.

Our top equipment pick

There are countless hard drives available that support Apple's Time Machine app for backup purposes. These three are among the best on the market.

Also available with 2TB and 4TB, G-Technology's G-Drive is one of the easiest drives to use for backup. Just plug it in, and you're halfway there! It's available in silver, space gray, and rose gold.

Other options

The following hard drives are also among our favorites for 2019.

Sandisk 500GB

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SanDisk Extreme Portable External 250B, 500GB, 1TB, 2GB (opens in new tab) (starting at $65 at Amazon)

This product proves that even hard drives can be beautiful.

Lacie Porsche Design

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LaCie Porsche Design 1TB, 2TB, 4TB (opens in new tab) (starting at $75 at Amazon)

LaCie is well known for its backup devices; this is one of the most popular on the market.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.