When Time Machine was released with Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) back in October 2007, it was one of the highlights of the new release. Apple was the first company to offer a fully-functioning, built in backup utility into their operating system and in true Mac-style, they pumped it full of eye candy. Well, only Apple could take a simple system utility and transform it into a work of art.
Although Time Machine is good for recovering files if anything does happen to your Mac, it is a bit basic in its functionality. You do not have the option to schedule backups depending on when you want them – when your external hard disk drive is plugged in (or the device you are backing up to), Time Machine will simply sync any changed files and folders hourly.
For the average user, this won’t cause too much of a problem, but for someone who uses their Mac for high-end software or gaming, the backup can slow down the performance of your Mac. Time Machine also isn’t a true backup option per se, as it does not create disk images (unlike other programs), where you can restore your Mac in the case of a drastic failure.
This is where ChronoSync comes in. At $40, it is quite a pricey alternative to Time Machine (which is bundled in with Mac OS X 10.5 and above) and some might question paying this amount for a piece of software which is pretty much identical to something they get for free anyway. I decided though to download the 30-day trial version of ChronoSync to give it a test run and to see whether it is really a viable (or better) alternative to Time Machine.
ChronoSync is a complete data management solution for Mac OS X 10.4 onwards that allows you to backup both individual files and folders, and of course your entire hard disk drive.
The application interface is a little more complicated than Time Machine, and certainly isn’t as refined, however it is pretty easy to get used to. Unlike Time Machine, which backs up your entire hard disk drive, with ChronoSync you can choose which folders you would like to backup.
You can also select the destination of the backup, unlike with Time Machine where you have to select a certain disk drive and format it, thereby losing all the data you have on that drive already. This means that you can backup onto an external hard drive alongside all your other files – something that would certainly be useful to some people.
ChronoSync has a wealth of different features not found in Time Machine, however the usefulness of these features for the standard Mac user may be brought into question.
One of the features is called relative state monitoring. This fancy term means that any deleted/moved/renamed files are handled and synchronized accordingly. Time Machine simply checks for any changes since the last backup and it does, of course, keep all your daily backups until you run out of disk space or after a month has elapsed. For people wanting to conserve disk space on their backup volume, this feature is certainly an advantage, as it only keeps the latest version of each file (unlike Time Machine, which maintains several versions as a file changes).
You can also tailor the backup schedule to your liking so as not to disturb you when working with your Mac. Time Machine is discrete, however I have noticed that it does compromise slightly on performance whilst backing up (especially when using programs which require a lot of resources, such as Parallels Desktop).
If you are away from your Mac, ChronoSync can send you an automatic e-mail with a progress report of the backup.
ChronoSync does offer the option of bootable backups, allowing an easy recovery in case of a serious system failure. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare disk drive to hand to test this feature out, so I’ll just have to take their word for it (creating a bootable backup requires completely formatting an external hard disk drive).
A tutorial of how to do this is provided here. If required, your Mac can be booted up and restored from the backup (like System Restore in Windows).
Another useful little feature (which is something you have to pay an extra $10 for) is a program called ChronoAgent. If you’re lucky enough to have two Macs, then ChronoAgent can sync them both much faster as well as provide root access to the destination Mac.
Syncing is carried out directly, as supposed to over the local network, meaning quicker backups as well as full access to the destination Mac.
Although ChronoSync is a very useful program with some features not found in Time Machine, most standard Mac users may not see the point of shelling out $40 for an alternative to a program that comes bundled with Mac OS X for free.
The bootable backup feature is without doubt something worth considering, in the unlikely event that your Mac does completely flip out. It is possible to restore your computer using Time Machine, however you will need the original Mac OS X system disks in order to wipe your Mac clean before restoring from the backup – ChronoSync makes this process more hassle-free.
Is ChronoSync 40 times better than Time Machine, seeing as it is 40 times the price? Unfortunately not. It does deserve the commendable 8 rating here, however it is a complicated program to use and most of the features would not be of much use to standard Mac users.
If you do want to be selective about which folders you back up (mostly to conserve disk space on your target volume) and have the liberty of restoring your Mac from a bootable backup then ChronoSync is certainly a good backup alternative.