Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Mac App That Gives You A Better Way To Backup Critical Files Online

ArqAre you satisfied with your Mac backup plan? I’m not. There’s one thing missing in my typical backup plan.

If you clone your Mac’s disk drive, and you use Time Machine, then you’ve covered the basics, but one critical component is missing. Time Machine covers you well when you lose a few files or some email. A cloned Mac gives you a disk drive that you can use to boot up on another Mac should yours go all wonky on its bad self.

And, of course, you should be testing your backups from time to time to, you know, make sure the backups work.

What’s the critical missing component in most Mac user backup plans? The catastrophic failure, a terrible disaster. What’s that? Theft. Fire. Tornado. Hurricane. Flood. Lightning strike. Any problem that could destroy or damage your Mac and your backups.

The only way around a catastrophic failure is to make copies of important files and move them from your home or office. That solution brings up another issue. How? Trust me, taking a bunch of CDs or DVDs or a small hard disk drive to the bank to stuff into a safe deposit box is not a convenient backup method.

I’ve been checking out the online backup services to see if they would be a good fit for an off site backup plan. Prices are decent and most online services have a Mac app that backs up files to a remote server automatically and in the background.

The problem is simple. It takes freakin’ forever to backup a few hundred gigabytes of files from your Mac to an online service. And, the more files you have, the more you pay each month.

This week I’m testing Arq. It’s a Mac app that uploads your critical files to Amazon’s inexpensive and highly reliable (about 99.99999999% uptime) Simple Storage Service, also known as Amazon S3.

What the combo of Arq and Amazon S3 do is give you a true Mac backup. Many of the online services don’t support the Mac’s file meta date faithfully, so restored files may not be perfect copies of the original. Arq eliminates that problem.


You’ll need to setup an Amazon S3 account first, but using the Arq interface is straightforward. Select the files you want to backup within Arq. You get granular control over which files to backup, and which to exclude.

As with other online services, Arq takes plenty of time to upload files to Amazon’s remote storage. The more files, the longer it takes. Once all the files have been uploaded, Arq works in the background and simply updates files that have changed. That way, Arq doesn’t interfere with you working on your Mac while it uploads files.

Like Time Machine, Arq does hourly backups for the past day, then daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for files older than a month. There’s no limit to the number or size of backup files when using Arq, but that presents a problem. Amazon charges you for storage. The more you use, the more you pay.

Arq has a built-in limit for S3. Set the limit and Arq notifies you when you’re close to exceeding your monthly budget. When it comes to accuracy of backed up files, Arq passed all the test of the so-called Backup Bouncer test suite which topped Backblaze, Mozy, Carbonite, Dropbox, CrashPlan.

That makes the Arq and Amazon combo a superior off site backup solution. In my tests, I’m not bothering to backup apps or Mac OS X– only critical files in Documents, Pictures, Music, and Movies. I figure I can always re-install OS X, and then re-install Mac apps if there’s a catastrophic disaster in my home.


  1. Sherman Wilcox says

    I’ve been using Arq for more than a year. It’s terrific. Totally transparent, and it’s never failed to recover a file when I needed it.

  2. ben brannan says

    If you’re serious about backing up critical files online, try Arq. It is truly set it and forget it. If you have many gigs of files the first backup will take awhile, but after that it’s all smooth sailing. Arq copies only changed files, so subsequent backups are fast. Well worth the money, and I’ve never ever lost a file or had downtime on Amazon’s S3 service.