How To Make a Bootable Hard Drive Clone With SuperDuper!

We Mac users like to scoff at our PC-using peers, what with our lack of viruses, spyware and Internet Explorer. But when it comes down to it, our beloved Macs are simply computers, sharing nearly identical innards as the PC. Though we hate to admit it, our systems can become sluggish and frozen, our memory can become corrupt, and our hard drives can fail. SuperDuper! is an application from Shirt Pocket to help us through those tough times.

SuperDuper! is an extremely simple backup solution for your Macintosh. With a few simple clicks and a bit of patience, you will have yourself a fully bootable carbon copy of your hard drive. What this means is, when and if your hard drive should fail, you can boot from the backup file and run Mac OS X, your files, data, settings completely in tact, just as it were.

Today we’ll walk you through the whole process from start to finish!

Step 1: Format the Target Drive

You’ll want to use a dedicated external hard drive to create the backup. SuperDuper! suggests a FireWire drive, but a USB connection will work just fine (keep in mind, PowerPC-based Macs cannot boot from a USB drive). Before you get started with the backup, you’ll want to format the drive in a Mac-compatible format.

Open Disk Utility. Select the backup drive and click the “Partition” tab. Set the “Volume Scheme” to “1 Partition.” Click “Options” and select “GUID Partition Table” (for Intel-based Macs) or “Apple Partition Map” (for PowerPCs). Give the drive a name (such as “SuperDuper! Backup”) and set the format to “Mac OS Extended (Journaled).” Apply the changes and confirm the actions.

Step 2: Choose Your Drives

The SuperDuper! creators suggest you quit all running applications, including hidden background daemons. To do this, log out of your account and log back in while holding down the “Shift” key – this prevents any application from automatically launching.

Open SuperDuper! and select your Macintosh HD from the “Copy” drop-down menu. Select your backup target drive from the “to” drop-down menu. Select “Backup – all files” from the “using” drop-down menu – this will create a carbon copy of your entire hard drive.

You will be unable to select any drives that have not been properly formatted, so if you’re confused as to why your drive isn’t displaying in this step, check you followed the procedure exactly in step 1!

Choose what you want to backup and where you want to back it up to.

Choose what you want to backup and where you want to back it up to.

Step 3: Choose Your Options

Click “Options.” Do not enable “Repair permissions for Macintosh HD” (leave it un-checked). Select “Erase [Backup Drive Name], then copy files from Macintosh HD” from the “During Copy” drop-down menu – this option ensures the drive will be bootable (Note: this is the only option in the free, unregistered version).

You can optionally set what you would like to do when the process completes (shutdown, restart, eject the drive, etc.) from the “On Successful Completion” drop-down menu. Click “OK” to save the options.

Erasing the drive before copying your files allows SuperDuper! to set the proper boot settings.

Erasing the drive before copying your files allows SuperDuper! to set the proper boot settings.

Step 4: Copy Now

Click “Copy Now” to begin the process. That’s it, you’re done. Optionally, you can schedule the backup(s) for a future date by clicking the “Schedule…” button. You can set the weeks and days of the month to start the backup process, as well as the time of day.

It will take a significant amount of time to create the copy of your hard drive – the time will vary depending on the speed of the drives and size of your Macintosh HD. A progress bar will indicate the percentage completed.

When finished, you will be notified of the successful complete and you will have a fully bootable, exact replica of your Mac’s internal hard drive.

Set it and forget it with SuperDuper’s scheduling options.

Set it and forget it with SuperDuper’s scheduling options.

Booting from the Backup

When (if) the time comes to utilize your SuperDuper! backup, booting from the copy is fairly simple. With the drive connected, you can select it as the “Startup Disk” within System Preferences – when the computer reboots, it will automatically boot into the SuperDuper! backup.

If your hard drive has completely failed and you cannot access Mac OS X at all, you can hold down the “Option” key during boot up. This will present you with the available boot drives, simply select the SuperDuper! backup and hit “Enter.” The system will bypass the internal hard drive, booting directly off the external backup.

It’s worth doing this as soon as your backup is finished, just to check that it worked correctly. Don’t leave it until the worst happens and you desperately need the backup copy to test things out!

Why Use SuperDuper! ?

You’ve no doubt heard of Time Machine, a little utility built into the Mac OS X Leopard (and later) operating system that allows the user to create incremental back ups of their hard drive. With this built-in functionality, why would ever have a need for SuperDuper! ?

The primary functionality of each utility is a bit different. Time Machine allows a user to travel “back in time” to recover that accidentally deleted TPS report or family photo. It also allows for users to restore previous versions of files – don’t like the changes you made to that Photoshop document? No problem, revert it to an earlier copy.

SuperDuper! on the other hand, allows users to create fully bootable images of their drives. These images can boot on any machine, without hassle (and regardless of CPU) – meaning you can use your SuperDuper! backup to access your data while using a friend’s computer.

This is especially handy if Apple is in the process of replacing your failed hard drive and you are without your machine. SuperDuper! offers a bit more flexibility than the Apple utility, filling in the gaps that Apple’s often too-simplistic take on things can create

The truth is, the two work great in tandem – and even the developer bills SuperDuper! as “the perfect compliment to Time Machine.” Also, no harm can come from being a bit extra cautious, especially if your Mac is your lifeline!


  • http://hector-lee.com Hector Lee

    You can actually restore the Time Machine on another drive and get the same thing.

    • Musc

      Yes, indeed it works perfect too with Time Machine.
      I did restore my full MacOS & files on another extern Disk.

      and all works perfect again. Without the need to reinstall all my programs

      Time Machine is super cool :)

    • NY Expat

      how is this done?

      • Colin F

        Insert your Mac OS X Install DVD or boot into the recovery partition.

        During the installation setup you’ll be prompted to create a brand new installation, or restore from a Time Machine backup.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sswinkels Sebastiaan Swinkels

    If you have a Time Capsule this would be nothing but redundant. Although the last time i had to reinstall my mac it took me 18 hours just to get 300GB worth of backups back. Damn you slow 100mbps ethernet :X

    But essentially it does the exact same thing.

    • http://www.sevenlayersdesign.com Andy Hutchins

      True, but redundancy is crucial to any true backup system. There is a great article on the Daring Fireball about John Gruber’s experience with backup restoration. SuperDuper saved him a lot of headache.

      http://daringfireball.net/2010/03/ode_to_diskwarrior_superduper_dropbox

      • http://www.twitter.com/sswinkels Sebastiaan Swinkels

        Redundancy is not having only a single backup disk. If you want to play that game you’d have to have at least 2 harddisks to backup to. That goes for any system, even SuperDuper.

        Sure SuperDuper can create a bootable drive but without a mac it’s pretty useless. And if you still have a mac but it’s original harddrive went belly up, you can just stick a new harddrive in (which you will have to do eventually anyway) and reinstall OSX. Then you restore your user account from your Time Capsule and you’re done.

        Plus if you have multiple Mac’s it’s much easier to use a Time Capsule than needing at least one external drive for every mac.

      • Tony Rothwell

        Both points are pretty good here. Whilst a Time Capsule definitely is great for restoring your data, consider the following situation:

        You wake up on a deadline day, most of your work on that project done. You do to boot up your Mac, and bam! The hard drive fails. If the rest of your hardware still works, you could then just boot up your SuperDuper backup, copy whatever files and folders you need for your work, and get everything done still on time!
        That way, your work (and digital life) isn’t put on hold while you have to go and get a new hard drive. Sure its no help if you send your Mac to Apple for a new disk, but if the disk is the only thing gone wrong, this gives you the ability to put that off a little if you have anything important imminent.
        I actually never even thought to go looking for apps that could create me a bootable Mac OSX, and created one myself, running OSX, iWork, iLife and my suite of programming apps. I also use Time Machine for all my files, but if my hard drive fails, while I get around to getting myself a new one, I won’t fall behind on my work at work or college, because I have a base system that I can fall back on and access my files with.

        Think of it as redundancy on the software layer, to compliment the hardware redundancy you already have from your disks! :)

  • Edwin

    Looks like a great App! I’m gonna try it out right now!

  • http://www.biblebase.com Ron Bailey

    does is HAVE to be a dedicated hard drive?

    • Bruno

      Same question here. Can I use a “all around” 1TB external drive to make the bootable copy AND use it to store files? I do this with Time Machine and haven’t got any problems.

      • Joe

        I have a 1tb Lacie ext drive that contains multiple partitions. I dedicated a 200gb volume to a volume called “backup”; the other two volumes contain movies and data. After I installed Superduper, I pointed it to the backup volume and scheduled a weekly backup that has been running successful for months.

        After reading this post, I realized that I’ve never tried to boot from my backup. I tried it yesterday and it worked perfectly!

        So yes, you can install Superduper on and boot from a non dedicated volume. :)

  • Mr Oui Oui

    It’s sound like a great app, but I wounder what features it has that the “free” CCC (Carbon Copy Cloner) doesn’t have. They sound very indentical.
    I really recommend CCC by the way!

  • http://thomasthesecond.com Tom

    I love SuperDuper. I make a daily back up of my computer using SuperDuper and Time Machine. Both backups are on dedicated hard drives.

    While you can partition a hard drive and use part to store files and the other part as a backup, it’s not a very good idea. Suppose the partition that’s storing files gets corrupted somehow… then your backup could be in jeopardy.

    If you care about your data, invest in some decent, dedicated hard drives for backups and file storage.

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  • NY Expat

    What would be the easiest/best way to dupe then upgrade my 13″ core 2 duo macbook (late 2006) hard drive?
    How high in hard drive MB/RPM can/should I go? (I just upgraded my sdram myself to 2gb (1+1 vs. the 512 + 512 …was hoping to go to 4 but found out 3 was tops for this model?)
    I haven’t used Time Machine yet (just updated to snow leopard)
    I need to purchase an external hd for backup since the one I got from work (a 1TB hitachi lifestudio) has files on it already that I don’t want to lose. (was thinking I could just use that, but found that if I do, all stuff on it would be erased)
    I saw hard drive cases with cables out there as well (http://www.ifixit.com/Apple-Parts/FireWire-400-SATA-Hard-Drive-Enclosure/IF107-055).
    Any way to do it the cheapest and with less “hard” purchases for me would be preferable. Thanks!
    (am not crazy tech savvy but online instructions i’ve seen seem to be pretty simple)

  • SCSheola

    I think for backups after the initial one, you’d want to use the option of “Smart” backup, which does an incremental one, rather than erasing the entire disk and copying all over again (which would take forever). To get this feature, you need to buy SuperDuper.

    Also I used a LaCie FW800 disk to make the SuperDuper clone, and it won’t boot. Some people have had problems booting from FW800. I have to check it out further.

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  • Thomas Holme

    just a note, it’s possible to do a USB boot on a PowerPC based Mac.

    boot into open firmware – control, command , O , F

    usb port left side on powerbook : boot usb1/disk@1:,\tbxi

    usb port right side on powerbook: boot usb0/disk@1:,\tbxi

  • Khawaja

    Can one use this bootable copy on other non-mac computers…?

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