Mac OS X Time Machine: How to restore a non-system Hard Drive

Rick Otto

I recently had the need to do my first restore from a Time Machine backup onto a replacement hard drive on a Mac OS X machine. The situation I have is the machine I have is a Mac Pro and I have 3 internal hard drives in it, the main system drive, a second data drive, and a third hard drive which is used for the Time Machine backup. The second drive, the data drive, is treated as a server drive and actually named Server Drive. It is shared on the network with other drives such as Macbook Pro laptops. I have been using Time Machine for quite some time but fortunately never had the need to use it for a restore. I had set it up to back up both drives, my main system drive and the second data drive. When the hard drive failed I did an RMA exchange with the manufacturer and once I received the replacement I installed it in the Mac Pro and formatted it. This is where the problems began. I started using Google to find solutions but was unable to find solutions. I then visited some Macintosh related forums to try to find a solution. It even took awhile to find a solution but I finally did. I then realized why this was the case. When I posted my question I forgot to mention I had a Mac Pro. Also, many people using Mac computers only have one hard drive. The reason is many Macintosh computers are laptops or iMac’s and even Mac Mini’s. None of these can even hold two hard drives. Of course you can still add additional hard drives through Firewire or USB. Still many users don’t have the need to do this and often if an external hard drive is added it’s for Time Machine. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Apple computers are very easy to use and often there is just simply no need for additional hard drives. I quickly found that the need that I had is not a common need for Macintosh users so it took awhile to find a solution but once I did I was amazed at how quick and easy the restore was and I also quickly realized the need for someone to write a tutorial on how to do this. When Time Machine is used to restore the main system drive the best way to do a restore is by booting from the OS X Install DVD. After you insert the Mac OS X install disk you double-click the Install Mac OS X icon. In the installer you choose Utilities: Restore System from Backup. In the Restore Your System dialog, you click Continue. Then you select your Time Machine backup volume and select the Time Machine backup you want to restore. You can then follow the onscreen instructions to restore. This is important since if you have the need to restore your system drive from Time Machine your hard drive likely failed and you are unable to boot your computer so the Install DVD would be your only option. If you’re restoring a secondary hard drive you likely are able to boot your computer. Before doing the Time Machine restore you will need to physically install the new hard drive in your computer and also format it. The below information assumes you have already done that. Below I will list the steps to do the Time Machine restore:

  1. From the OS X screen click on the Time Machine icon near the top right of your screen. It has a circular arrow that points counterclockwise with a clock in the middle.
  2. When you get the menu select the option to Enter Time Machine
  3. Once you are inside Time Machine you have to scroll back to the Finder window where you see the drive listed under Devices on the left side. In my case by the time I returned my defective drive and received a replacement it was approximately 3 weeks. It is important that you go to the most recent instance of the drive instead of going back too far in the past. The reason for this is you want to get your most recent up to date backup. You can scroll back using the arrows on the right, specifically the upper arrow that points back.
  4. At this time under Devices click on your computer name which was Mac Pro in my case.
  5. You likely will see at least two drives listed in the window. In my case it was Macintosh HD which is my main system drive and Server Drive which is the drive I needed to restore
  6. At this time right click on the drive you need to restore and select the option that says “Restore (Drive Name) to”.
  7. Your computer will then exit Time Machine and bring up a window that says to choose Folder. This is where you should click on where you want to restore the Time Machine backup to. At this time you should select the newly formatted replacement hard drive. Once you select it you should then able to select Choose.
  8. At this time your restore should continue. The time will vary depending on the size of your hard drive and your computer’s processing speed. In my case for a 280GB backup it took approximately 50 minutes. You will see a box showing the progress as the restore continues and this will continue until the restore completes.
  9. I was surprised to see how fast and easy it was to do this restore. It definitely made me a strong believer in Time Machine. I believe it should only be part of a backup plan. Another good option is to purchase an external hard drive and then use cloning software such as SuperDuper. This way you can have a complete clone of the hard drive that can be used to either do a complete restore in the case of a hard drive failure or to even boot from temporarily until you get your defective drive replaced. The hard drive can then be kept in a location such as an off-site location, possibly a friend or relative, or in a fireproof safe. The advantage of Time Machine is it backs up frequently where the above option I mentioned often won’t be done as frequently. The disadvantage of Time Machine is that if there is a fire or a theft there is a chance that your Time Machine drive will be damaged or stolen along with your computer. For this reason I believe that a good backup solution is to have two backups, one with Time Machine and another using cloning software such as SuperDuper to backup your computer to an external Hard Drive that is stored in a safe location.

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