Macbook Air’s SSD died – here’s my new backup strategy

My mid-2011 Macbook Air‘s SSD died last week. I’d spent a lot of time setting this up just how I wanted: dual boot OSX and Win 7 (then Win 8) – 50Gb for each OS, and a 150 Gb shared exFat “Data” partition which is writable by both OS. The Data partition contained all my music, photos, and source code.


My backup strategy was:

  1. OSX backed itself up automatically to my Time Capsule using Time Machine.
  2. Windows I never backed up because I don’t mind re-installing a new Win machine in the event of failure since it’s a good chance to start from scratch and get rid of old crap – old versions of Visual Studio etc.
  3. The Data partition – the most important one – I backed up manually both to my Time Capsule’s shared network disk and an external USB drive, using Syncback Free. I’d usually do this once or twice a month.

I’d had an inkling that the SSD was about to die for about a week before – every morning on boot the Mac would display a flashing question mark icon. Usually it would boot OK on the second or third attempt. Until it didn’t (on my birthday, no less)…

Cue the usual ranting and gnashing of teeth. Every day I’m not working is a day I’m not getting paid (contractor, ya see). All of the Mac service centres in London promised a 3-5 working day turn around, because they would have to order in a replacement SSD. Which means I’d have to make an appointment with the dreaded Genius Bar since they probably would have the part in stock.

The staff at the Genius Bar are always great, but I HATE the process you have to go through to see them – booking an appointment online. To cut a long story short, I was able to get a walk-in appointment later that day, and because I had AppleCare (which I bought specifically because SSDs are unreliable), the £600 replacement part cost me £0. But it still cost me a day’s productivity (and pay!).

In terms of lost data, not a lot. I lost a Linux VM which I could rebuild in about a day. Source code is on git / svn servers so none. Personal data – some photos of a trip to Portugal but I was able to get lower res copies of most of them from Facebook.

Since then I’ve changed my backup strategy slightly, so as to avoid downtime, by embracing the Mac way of doing things:

  1. No more dual boot – I’m gonna run Windows 8 in VirtualBox when the need arises
  2. Everything is on the one Macintosh HD partition. However, old habits die hard – I still have the content of my old “Data” partition located at /Data on that hard drive, organised how I like it to be and not how OSX wants me to have it organised.
  3. Time Machine + Time Capsule now backs up everything automatically when I get home.
  4. Super Duper backs up and creates a bootable version of my Macintosh HD on an external USB drive. This means that if my SSD dies again, I can boot straight off the USB hard drive and carry on working. At the moment I’m doing this every night, which takes about 20 mins (using the Smart Copy – I purchased a license). But if I think about it, once a week or so should be adequate since my personal files should be getting backed up by Time Machine, and I usually commit / shelve source code every night.

I still feel a bit uneasy about running Windows in a VM, but lately I’ve only been using OSX at work. I’ll see how it goes when I start coding in .NET again in a few weeks.


9 thoughts on “Macbook Air’s SSD died – here’s my new backup strategy

  1. I actually found this slightly interesting.

    I’m guessing you know you can boot from time machine backups (at least USB drive ones, dunno about time caps).

    What is your offsite backup? What if your house burns down? Swapping a USB drive offsite once a week is a good simple option. Amazon Glacier seems like a reasonably affordable scalable solution. (I do neither, the plan is to leave a drive at work but I don’t seem to do that)


    • Didn’t know that you could boot from time machine backups. My USB drive which I backup to using SuperDuper lives at work so that’s my offsite backup.

  2. What size is your hdd?
    I’m going to get a mac Air, but can’t decide if the 256ssd will be enough for os X(ios dev + web dev) + W8(VS2012)

    • I had a 256Gb SSD – and it wasn’t big enough for me, but that was because I have ALL of my documents, music (~50Gb) and photos (~20Gb) on there too.

      If you don’t have music and photos and personal crap on it, and only use it for work then 256Gb would be big enough.

      I’ve just bought a new 2013 Macbook Air and this time I went for the 512Gb SSD.

  3. We just bought our first mac, an air with the 128gb chip-disk. Linux and Windows XP, otherwise. We’re running Quicken 2013 (a financial management app) in VirtualBox under the next to latest Mac OS. Everything works, but I’ve been worried about how to back this thing up. it looks like what you have done is the way to go.

    Can i assume from what you say that using Super Duper, you can “clone” the Chip-drive to a firewire or usb external drive and then boot from it and reinstall whatever is on the clone later if need be?

    • That’s correct. You can clone the SSD with Super Duper to a USB hard drive, and then boot off the USB disk and run everything from it. You can try this out any time – you don’t need to wait for your SSD to fail to try it out – just hold down the Option key when you boot your Mac and it’ll bring up a menu and let you choose to boot from the USB disk.

      Super Duper is free to try too – it should only take around 15 mins to back up your entire 128 Gb SSD. I paid for a license in order to unlock its Smart Update feature.

  4. Not knocking the backup strategy at all. Backups are a must. Multiple backups are even better. My only comment is that in my experience SSDs have been way more reliable than platter based disks.

    • No way Matt. Loads of my colleagues have had problems with SSDs over the last couple of years, more so when they were a hot new technology. Me personally, I’ve never had a HDD die in 20 years of computing but my very first SSD died.

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