Superduper!: Disk Cloning/Backup For Mac

Image in this post have been lost.

I’d purchased and used Superduper! with my Mac Mini but when I moved to the iMac I stopped using it. I had used it as a cloner and I didn’t really want to do clones as my primary backup anymore (so I thought) so I switched to Apple Backup. Apple Backup has it’s faults (that’s a different story so see my Apple Backup post) so I decided to give Superduper! another spin for doing backups.

I don’t remember if I ever used Superduper! on my iMac but it was already installed so I fired it up. I was immediately prompted that there was an upgrade ready, version 2.1.4(82) [from 1.5.5 (v74)] so I clicked the button to do the upgrade. It came up as an unregistered version which answered the question if I had used it. The unregistered version does provide a subset of features that will never expire but I dug out the registration number and plugged it into the software.

Installation

Installation is simple. The download is a disk image file (.dmg), open it via double-clicking and drag the SuperDuper! icon to your Applications folder.

Using SuperDuper!

First I started with the basics. I wanted a backup of my home directory, not a clone of the hard disk. This way my backup uses less space and I can put other files on the target drive. When SuperDuper! starts the main screen is displayed.

The first time the program starts the fields up to are blank.

The “Copy” field is the source. You can pick any source drive, internal, external, iPod, USB thumb drives, etc… You do not pick a directory in this field but can limit the copy later. For the “To” (destination) you also pick any drive (other than the source). The destination has to have enough space for the actual files but can be smaller than the source if there’s enough free space for the files.

The “Using” field contains the pre-built (out of the box) scripts for file selection. You can also create your own scripts but that’s beyond the scopt of this review. The “Using” (script) choices are shown in this screenshot.

“Backup – user files” will backup your home directory. “Backup – all files” will clone the entire hard disk except for certain files that Apple says shouldn’t be cloned.

The “Sandbox…” selections are a nice feature of SuperDuper but aren’t really backups. The sandbox creates a bootable copy of your system on another drive (or partition) but the data is shared with you regular boot drive. The sandbox helps you recover quickly if your boot partition fails but your data is not duplcated.

Currently, I only use SuperDuper to backup my user directory on my iMac. On my Mac Mini I cloned the entire drive and could boot off of either drive at any time. I’ll concentrate on my iMac here. I backup it up to a Disk Image. There are two disk image destination options. The first, which is the one I use, is “Read/Write “Sparse” Image. The sparse image can be used over and over and it will grow to accommodate the data. The second type is a “Read Only Disk Image”. This is recreated in full each time. “Read Only Disk Image” is recommended when multiple systems are being restored from a single image.

Then you have a choice of options. You can repair permissions before the copy (only available when doing a full clone). You can do a “Smart Update” which means it will only make the changes (add/modify/delete) necessary to make the destination match the source. It’s much quicker to do the backup this way. You can also optionally erase the destination instead and start fresh. Other options include only copying new or updated files (nothing is deleted). These last two items are intended for merging images and should not be used to create a bootable disk.

You can also tell SuperDuper! what to do when it’s done: quit SuperDuper!, nothing, shutdown computer, sleep computer, restart from the destination, or set destination as startup disk. The last two options are only available if a full clone (not just user files) was done to a physical drive (not an image file).

I didn’t use any of the Advanced options but they include running a shell script before or after the copy, copying the ACLs, to create a disk image of the backup (in addition to your backup). You can also automatically install a package on the destination once the copy is done.

Once you’ve set everything the main screen will tell you what’s going to happen.

You can click “Copy Now” to start immediately. You can also click “Schedule” to set up a recrring schedule. Multiple schedules can be configured and the options for each schedule are presented on one screen.

Like the main screen, what’s going to happen is clearly described.

The Mac cannot be asleep (or off) when the scheduled time arrives but unlike Apple Backup it’s not affected if the Mac is scheduled to awake just before the scheduled backup time. Even the “Smart Update” can take some time if it has a lot of files to check (like your entire drive) but this is true of any backup software. (But “Smart Update” takes a fraction of the time on my Mac. Last night it took 14 minutes in total. It had to evaluate 186.2GB containing 159,641 directories, 726,663 files and 30547 symlinks. It had to copy 4,905 items totaling 7.95 GB which was 556 directories, 1,915 files and 2,434 symlinks.

Restoration is simple. To restore individual files just attach the external drive and drag the files back. If the backup was made to an image files simply mount the image file and drag the files back. To recover from complete disaster you can either boot from the cloned drive (if a full clone was done) or boot from the OS X DVD and run the Disk Utility to restore from the external drive or image file. The SuperDuper! manual has complete (and short) instructions. The important thing to remember is SuperDuper! doesn’t have any native restore functions. It clones/saves the files in a way that can be accessed through OS X or, in the case of a complete failure, through a standard OS X restore process. You do not need SuperDuper! to do the restore.

SuperDuper! also includes ability to create copy scripts so you can customize what gets or doesn’t get copied. You can either modify the four standard scripts or start from scratch.

Summary

Pros

  • Excellent Value- I bought the software back in September of 2005 when it was version 1.x. When I fired it up this week it was upgraded to version 2.1 at no additional cost. I couldn’t find an upgrade policy on their website, but I’ve never been charged for an upgrade since I purchased it.
  • Don’t need SuperDuper! to do a restore. No hunting for or configuring a program to get your files back.
  • Scheduling option works when the Mac just wakes up, unlike Apple Backup (sorry, had to mention it again, it’s a pet peeve of mine).
  • Easy to understand interface that clearly says what it will do based on your selections.
  • Backs up all attributes. I did not have any problems with missing meta data when restoring files. This probably in part due Finder being used to restore the files, but the quality of SuperDuper’s copy engine shouldn’t be minimized. Finder couldn’t copy what’s not there.
  • If you clone the entire disk then recovery is as quick as booting from the backup disk if your main drive fails completely.

Cons

  • Basic disk cloning/file copy only. Lacks more advanced backup features such as keeping historical versions. You could use the scheduler to set up a rotation to different backup location but this would use a lot of disk space.

SuperDuper! is a low cost method of getting quick, reliable safety backups. It doesn’t include advanced features like encryption (useful for safely storing backups outside your house) or the ability to manage multiple or historical backups. What it does do is reliably and easily clone disks and copy data as good as or better than anything that I’ver seen. If you don’t need those advanced features then SuperDuper! is all you’ll need. If you want those advanced features you’ll probably get SuperDuper! as a disk cloner and then license the full version to use it as a quick, reliable safety backup.

Try/Buy

Superduper! is currently available for $27.95 from Shirt Pocket Software. There’s a trial version available. The trial version can be used forever. The features missing from the trial version are scheduling, smart updating, sandboxing and scripting. If you’re going to be using SuperDuper for backup’s you’ll want the licensed version.