Why I love Apple – Reason #67: Time Machine Backups

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted for a few weeks. There’s a good reason for that. My hard drive failed and I’ve been without a home computer or getting things back up to speed after the recovery process. However, I wouldn’t be back to where I am now without Apple’s incredible backup software and strategy. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how things went down.

I had been noticing some strange behavior on my late 2009 27″ i7 quad-core iMac. I was consistently getting messages that hard drives were being shut down unexpectedly. iTunes was pausing frequently even when my system wasn’t terribly loaded with tasks. Overall performance was sluggish and inconsistent. I found myself rebooting often in order to avoid this weird behavior.

Strangely enough, the system kept chugging along, though. I could get tasks done even though my machine was acting strangely. Coincidentally, my son had edited some video and exceeded my Time Machine drive’s capacity to back up my files. For some reason, I decided to run Disk Utility on my primary drive. I think my motivation was to see if a disk repair would minimize some of the strange behavior I was experiencing.

Imagine my surprise when Disk Utility said that my internal hard drive was failing and no repair option was available! I didn’t panic because I had a Time Machine backup that was less than two weeks old. The videos had kept me from getting the normal every hour backup but I hadn’t performed any major tasks since then that were absolutely necessary to recover. Still, I had a lot riding on that Time Machine backup. I immediately tried every utility at my disposal to see if I could recover some or all of my data. Nothing worked.

I made plans to take the computer to our offices the next morning to see if there were any other utilities our IT department might have that could retrieve some data. I didn’t hold out much hope but it was worth a shot. I knew that a visit to the Apple Store was in my near future. I’ve replaced hard drives before with an iMac and I knew it would be pricey.

Now, here’s where the story gets interesting. For some reason, I thought I might have purchased AppleCare for this iMac. The reason it’s interesting is that I very rarely purchase protection plans for anything. They usually seem to be a colossal waste of money and pure profit for manufacturers. Nevertheless, I went back through old receipts and e-mails to see if I could see any evidence of AppleCare for this machine.

I found the original e-mail receipt from Apple from December 2009 when I purchased the machine. On the receipt was each component of the purchase; the iMac itself, Final Cut Express, keyboard, etc. There was one item that I didn’t recognize however. When I looked up that Apple part number, the first five hits in the search engine were for AppleCare related topics! I immediately went to Apple’s website, entered my serial number, and discovered that I had purchased AppleCare. To say the least, I was stunned.

At that point, my strategy changed. I called Apple. They explained the repair process. I chose to use a local Apple authorized repair center. I had hoped to upgrade to a 2 TB drive in the process, but that turned out to be difficult to do. I settled on just replacing my existing drive with one of the same size.

The machine was ready to pick up a few days later. There were a couple hiccups with the operating system, but I was quickly back to a base version of Lion. Now the moment of truth had arrived. Would my Time Machine backup get me back (almost) to the point I was when the crash occurred. Amazingly, it did. It took overnight to restore my backup, but restore it did. I was prepared to reenter gobs of information, but as it turned out much of that wasn’t necessary. My Adobe suite worked right out of the box. Microsoft Office cranked right back up. I had to reenter serial number for Final Cut Express and Aperture, but after that they worked perfectly as well. It did take Aperture a full day to restore 50,000 or so previews of images, but I let it work away in the background. The next evening, Aperture was back to normal.

All in all, it was an amazing recovery. Even more amazing was that I never thought about my backup strategy for my primary drive after I set Time Machine in motion. It just worked – seamlessly, efficiently, and reliably. If only every software product worked so well. Thank you Apple. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making such incredible products. Some people may throw rocks at Apple. After reading Steve Jobs’ biography, I can understand why. Steve was temperamental, stubborn, and a pain to work with. But, he was also a genius. He knew that tightly integrated products (like the iMac and Time Machine) led to great customer experiences. I for one applaud Steve Jobs and Apple. Their vision and execution have been amazing. Their products have been incredibly impactful on my life since 1986. Here’s hoping for another 26 years of great Apple products.


  1. Time machine really is amazing, but like any backup solution, you have to use it. Good for you that you had a recent backup. Most people who come to me to help with crash situations have either never backed up or haven’t done so in months. Hard drive recovery services are expensive and not usually very effective. It’s a painful conversation to tell people that all their music, pictures, video, and documents are gone. Glad this crash only cost you some time.

    1. Tru dat, Stephen. That’s why I love Time Machine. Plug it in, set it up, and let it go. I just wish I had paid attention when the disk filled up. I would have lost at most one hour’s work. That’s pretty amazing.
      I hope you’re doing well. Seems like it’s finally snowing in Colorado. Enjoy the slopes.

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