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Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby David Topple » Tue Sep 21, 2010 9:54 pm

I've just been reading a couple of old articles by Martin Walker on partitioning hard drives, as for reasons of computer performance I'm interested in the big variation in sustained transfer rates you get between the outside tracks of the drive and the inside. Nevertheless, if I create, say, three partitions on a drive it's not clear exactly how I define which partition is actually on the outside of the disk and will therefore have the fastest access time. Can anyone help? (By the way, in case it's of any relevance, I'm using Mac OSX Leopard.)
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby desmond » Tue Sep 21, 2010 11:11 pm

My first tip is not to partition on the Mac. It's an old outdated and mostly Windows practice (often, former Windows users bring these old habits across to the Mac), doesn't really offer many advantages, has some disadvantages, and the performance of modern drives on a modern bus is plenty good for many many tracks and streaming samples.

Remember, you can spread your load across multiple drives and get even better performance, and of course various buffer size tweaks also change the performance as well.

I really think, unless you plan to install a virtualised OS or have a very specific reason for doing so, partitioning drives, at least on OSX, is almost completely pointless.

For you question, it probably depends on the tool you are using to partition with, whether it gives you that option. If you really want to try, split it into three, and benchmark the performance. If you get markedly different performance then use the best performing partition.
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Tue Sep 21, 2010 11:50 pm

i'd entirely agree with Desmond on this...

a while ago, i used partitions, but mostly for "housekeeping"


there's no real benefit


and indeed, some down sides. \\]\
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby David Topple » Wed Sep 22, 2010 7:45 am

Thank you both for the tips. Yes, I'm someone who switched to Mac from Windows!

I take your points. Nevertheless, if you're running a project and all your audio data for that project is in a partition on the outer-most tracks of the drive, aren't you at least reducing wear and tear on the drive, and removing the need for it to be jumping around like a yo-yo in an effort to grab all the data it needs?
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby matt keen » Wed Sep 22, 2010 8:11 am

David Topple wrote:Thank you both for the tips. Yes, I'm someone who switched to Mac from Windows!

I take your points. Nevertheless, if you're running a project and all your audio data for that project is in a partition on the outer-most tracks of the drive, aren't you at least reducing wear and tear on the drive, and removing the need for it to be jumping around like a yo-yo in an effort to grab all the data it needs?


David - listen to what the boys are saying ;)
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Wed Sep 22, 2010 8:58 am

it's still jumping around, the files are still spread out, just over a smaller area... probably not all that much difference....



also, if that drive also contains the system drive partition, then you may indeed be making it worse, both for wear and tear, and performance.. as it'll also be caching virtual memory on the drive , on another partition... so having to jump around a lot between partitions,

if it is a dedicated drive, i suppose, you could "optimise" it's read-write performance that way though.... on some larger drives this could be useful. (less drive space to search through , means less seek time.... and the faster aside of the access time range ) but on the whole it's not really necessary on todays drives.
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby gryfyx » Wed Sep 22, 2010 12:01 pm

desmond wrote:
Remember, you can spread your load across multiple drives and get even better performance, and of course various buffer size tweaks also change the performance as well...

For you question, it probably depends on the tool you are using ...


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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby G-Doubleyou » Wed Sep 22, 2010 1:46 pm

How old is that article?

Current drives have larger caches and faster seek times, make it a nonissue.

Also if you let your Mac sleep, once a week it will run a script, that will do file cleanup, and indexing.

For OSX permissions and indexing are more important.

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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Sep 22, 2010 4:42 pm

Oh dear! :D

I still partition all my drives, not primarily for performance benefits, but (as Max mentions) for easier housekeeping. Formatting your drives as one huge partition is all very well when it's an 80GB model, with with 1TB+ now available I would personally consider it a nightmare ending up with that amount of data in one huge partition.

Moreover, I don’t want all my personal data scattered about with the operating system files, but in an entirely separate partition where it’s easier to backup.

David Topple wrote:Nevertheless, if I create, say, three partitions on a drive it's not clear exactly how I define which partition is actually on the outside of the disk and will therefore have the fastest access time. Can anyone help? (By the way, in case it's of any relevance, I'm using Mac OSX Leopard.)


On Windows (and I suspect with most partitioning utilities) the ‘outermost’ partitions generally get shown on the left hand side of their display. Here's a vintage example (hence the inclusion of Windows 98 as well as Windows XP :)) from my PC using PartitionMagic 8, with two drives, where on the upper drive the three Windows partitions are the 'fastest' ones.

The same layout still applies today (in fact I only partitioned a new pair of 650GB drives a couple of weeks ago using PartitionMagic):

Image

However, it's NOT the access time that improves, but the maximum sustained transfer rate (explained in more detail below).

idris y draig wrote: it's still jumping around, the files are still spread out, just over a smaller area... probably not all that much difference....

also, if that drive also contains the system drive partition, then you may indeed be making it worse, both for wear and tear, and performance.. as it'll also be caching virtual memory on the drive , on another partition... so having to jump around a lot between partitions.... but on the whole it's not really necessary on todays drives.


This could well be true on Macs, but in my PC experiments, Windows needs very little file access once your sequencer has finished loading, so having a separate partition for data on the same drive doesn’t impact performance as one might think, simply because your read/write heads don't have to keep darting about between your audio partition and WIndows one. For more details and a graph showing my test results, see the section entitled Windows Activity’ here:

www.soundonsound.com/sos/may05/articles/pcmusician.htm


G-Doubleyou wrote:How old is that article?

Current drives have larger caches and faster seek times, make it a nonissue.


I don’t see that larger caches or faster seek times change the laws of physics Cap’n ;)

The sustained transfer rate will always vary from the outside to the inside of any drive, simply because the read/write tracks are arranged in concentric circles. Since the outer tracks are longer, they contain more sectors, and thus at a fixed spin-speed more sectors of the outer tracks can be read in a single revolution. So the fastest area of any hard drive is always on the outside. With most (but not all) drives, the sustained transfer rate falls steadily from the outside to the inside, and may typically drop by half in the process (I have seen exceptions where the rate suddenly jumps up again slightly in the middle, or falls in multiple steps like a sawtooth waveform, but these seem comparatively rare). This is a typical result, measured using HDtach:

Image

Caches can make a huge difference to performance with regularly-read data because this can be accessed directly from the cache rather than from the drive itself. However, audio files are nearly always at least an order of magnitude greater than the cache size, so in some cases having a large cache size could actually slow audio streaming performance over a smaller one, because the cache contents don’t get used as much.

Now relate this graph to the PartitionMagic display above it to see how the different partitions provide different sustained transfer rates - you can even partition a drive and measure each partition's performance individually to check this if you like ;)

Now the big question is - will you actually see any performance improvement if you split your drive into multiple partitions, and here you do need to be careful. Yes, streaming sample or audio data from an ‘outer’ partition will give you a POTENTIALLY higher MAXIMUM sustained transfer rate, but unless you’re pushing the drive you may not notice any difference in practice :headbang:


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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby Tui » Wed Sep 22, 2010 5:28 pm

On a Mac, partitioning only makes sense if you want to create more than one bootable partition on the same disk. In this case, partitioning is inevitable. Other than that, partitioning is a waste of available disk space.

I used to partition two 500GB drives in my Mac Pro, because I thought it would help with organising different types of files. In the end, all it did was give me more folders to sift through, and I also had to constantly take into account the reduced available space on individual partitions. It was a complete waste of time and effort.

Even on the most demanding projects, I find I never reach drive speed limits. (I use dedicated drives for System, Audio, Samples and personal files such as photos). I'm much more likely to come up against RAM or CPU limitations.
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby desmond » Wed Sep 22, 2010 5:35 pm

Martin Walker wrote:Formatting your drives as one huge partition is all very well when it's an 80GB model, with with 1TB+ now available I would personally consider it a nightmare ending up with that amount of data in one huge partition.


I disagree. Unless you are leaving *all* your files in the drive root, or something bizarre :lol:

Martin Walker wrote:Moreover, I don’t want all my personal data scattered about with the operating system files


Of course.

Martin Walker wrote:but in an entirely separate partition where it’s easier to backup.


Well, that entirely depends on how/what you do for backing up.

Martin Walker wrote:This could well be true on Macs, but in my PC experiments, Windows needs very little file access once your sequencer has finished loading, so having a separate partition for data on the same drive doesn’t impact performance as one might think, simply because your read/write heads don't have to keep darting about between your audio partition and WIndows one.


It's basically the same with Macs. On either system, normal usage is fine, but when the system gets low on available memory and then starts swapping out, that's where you start to see big performance drops. Of course, without enough working ram, this is pretty much to be expected anyway.

Martin Walker wrote:The sustained transfer rate will always vary from the outside to the inside of any drive, simply because the read/write tracks are arranged in concentric circles.


True enough. but given that even one drive on a decent interface can stream hundreds of stereo tracks, and you always have the choice of spreading the load across multiple drives (which is recommended at least for separate audio track and streaming sample playback) - is it even worth the bother? Sure, if you are running *massive* track counts and *massive* amount of streaming samples, and finding that your current multi-disk SATA setup isn't quite coping, then perhaps it might be worth trying to squeeze some extra performance, but how much practical difference it will make I'm not sure. Yeah, back in the old days with IDE and USB drives and Windows XP it was sometimes necessary to "tune" and optimise systems to get a working level of performance, but those days are gone now surely? Or perhaps it's still like that over on the PC side? (after all, most people still seem to be running XP).

Martin Walker wrote:Now relate this graph to the PartitionMagic display above it to see how the different partitions provide different sustained transfer rates - you can even partition a drive and measure each partition's performance individually to check this if you like ;)


As I said above, if the OP is sufficiently concerned about this, I suggested he indeed do this test for himself.

Martin Walker wrote:Now the big question is - will you actually see any performance improvement if you split your drive into multiple partitions, and here you do need to be careful. Yes, streaming sample or audio data from an ‘outer’ partition will give you a POTENTIALLY higher MAXIMUM sustained transfer rate, but unless you’re pushing the drive you may not notice any difference in practice :headbang:


This is what I mean. You go to all the hassle of moving data around, setting up weird partitioning schemes, *complicating* backup procedures, artificially limiting the amount of space you can store in one location ("Oh noes, although this drive is 1TB, my recording partition is 200 megabytes and it's full! What do I do? - ah yes, start using my "slow" partitions, and have my projects split across multiple partitions." etc etc)

For very little, imo, practical performance benefits. It's still the same drive head jumping around.

To the OP - what's your typical track and/or streaming voice counts? What interfaces are you using (SATA, USB, FW, eSATA etc?) What buffer sizes and sample rates do you work at?

These things are *far far* more important in practical terms then *anything* to do with partitioning, imo.

Really, setting up a decent folder structure on a drive is far easier to setup and manage, more flexible, less prone to errors and still lets you backup easily, without artificial size limits (up to the drive size, of course).

From a long amount of computing experience, my advice, take it for what it is, is that on today, with modern drives being what they are, on OSX, partitioning is almost completely pointless. If you have an *absolute need* to eek out the absolute maximum performance and this is mission critical, then by all means explore and benchmark the gains of doing this.

My gut feeling is it's something from the old PC days you've read and think you *should* do, which doesn't really apply these days on modern systems.

One of these days Martin's going to come on over to the Mac side, and going to realise exactly how much of his life he's spent researching and tweaking PC's that he could have got back... :headbang: :bouncy:
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby desmond » Wed Sep 22, 2010 5:38 pm

Tui wrote:On a Mac, partitioning only makes sense if you want to create more than one bootable partition on the same disk. In this case, partitioning is inevitable.


Indeed. This is why I say "almost completely pointless".

Although, some virtualisation tools now can run from a virtual disk image file, and don't require a separate partition. I'm working on ways of losing my crappy 20gig WinXP partition on my MBP because fixed partition limits (which you may need more or less of) are massively annoying...

Edit: I'll also make the point that for a long time, partitioning drives under WinXP was almost always *necessary* because the crusty old OS and random bios combinations couldn't support current drive sizes. I remember buying 320gig drives and having to partition it into *three* separate partitions just to be able to *use* the drive - Windows XP couldn't see partitions larger than 160gigs or something.

Thankfully, we live in more enlightened times when we keep adding 1tb/2tb drives to our systems and plug on, without worrying - we just get more space.

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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby Andi » Wed Sep 22, 2010 6:52 pm

Windows user here - I've had a corrupted system and been able to re-install from a partition image backup with no problems because my data is all safe in another partition. That said, system recovery is obviously highly irrelevent to the Mac folks and I am extremely old fashioned in that I have seperate rooms in my house for different purposes too (which was very useful when I wanted to re-tile the downstairs loo floor 'cos I didn't have to refloor the entire house) :beamup:

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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby desmond » Wed Sep 22, 2010 7:07 pm

Andi wrote:I've had a corrupted system and been able to re-install from a partition image backup with no problems because my data is all safe in another partition.


Sure. I have my laptop system drive backed up in the same way. That is about backing up, not about partitioning. For example, on the Mac using popular backup tools, you can backup any drive, partition or folder easily to another drive, partition, folder or disk drive image of varying formats.

This lets you easily handle any eventuality, totally irrespective of whether you are using partitioning or not - in other words, there is no requirement to use partitions to get complete and easy backing up.

Your data might be "safe" in another partition (presumably on the same drive) but if the drive fails, you're stuck unless you have backups on a different drive anyway. Backups should be on a different drive, and again, whether you choose to use partitions or not is completely irrelevant.

Andi wrote:That said, system recovery is obviously highly irrelevent to the Mac folks


Eh? That seems a rather facetious comment - of course backing up and recovery is important, but it's got nothing inherently to do with partitioning. :roll:

Andi wrote:and I am extremely old fashioned in that I have seperate rooms in my house for different purposes too (which was very useful when I wanted to re-tile the downstairs loo floor 'cos I didn't have to refloor the entire house) :beamup:


And yet, all the rooms in your house are in the same property, divided by walls. If you decide that your walls are going to be fixed partitions, you have problems if you need room A to be slightly bigger and room B slightly smaller to best suit your needs.

However, if you choose a different dividing mechanic, say, "folders", then you can easily move the walls of your house around accordingly, letting rooms shrink and expand according to your useage. You get the same effect of splitting your house into separate rooms, with extra flexibility and no disadvantages over using partitions.
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Sep 22, 2010 7:54 pm

desmond wrote:
Andi wrote:I've had a corrupted system and been able to re-install from a partition image backup with no problems because my data is all safe in another partition.


Sure. I have my laptop system drive backed up in the same way. That is about backing up, not about partitioning. For example, on the Mac using popular backup tools, you can backup any drive, partition or folder easily to another drive, partition, folder or disk drive image of varying formats.

This lets you easily handle any eventuality, totally irrespective of whether you are using partitioning or not - in other words, there is no requirement to use partitions to get complete and easy backing up.

Your data might be "safe" in another partition (presumably on the same drive) but if the drive fails, you're stuck unless you have backups on a different drive anyway. Backups should be on a different drive, and again, whether you choose to use partitions or not is completely irrelevant.


This is all good clean fun isn’t it? :beamup:

I agree with much of what has been said, which is why I said at the start my long post that “I still partition all my drives, not primarily for performance benefits, but (as Max mentions) for easier housekeeping.”

Yes, you can backup a vast partition, but one of the reasons I split mine into partitions is that my Windows partition image files are currently around 5GB compressed, which makes housekeeping a lot easier, and I can restores such images files if need be in under five minutes.

Andi wrote:and I am extremely old fashioned in that I have seperate rooms in my house for different purposes too (which was very useful when I wanted to re-tile the downstairs loo floor 'cos I didn't have to refloor the entire house) :beamup:


desmond wrote:And yet, all the rooms in your house are in the same property, divided by walls. If you decide that your walls are going to be fixed partitions, you have problems if you need room A to be slightly bigger and room B slightly smaller to best suit your needs.

However, if you choose a different dividing mechanic, say, "folders", then you can easily move the walls of your house around accordingly, letting rooms shrink and expand according to your useage. You get the same effect of splitting your house into separate rooms, with extra flexibility and no disadvantages over using partitions.


This for me is the beauty of all the modern partition managers - you can change the size of your partitions if you need to, making them more like movable walls, yet your data is still easy to backup in single chunks.

As we all seem to agree, partitioning is rarely about gaining real world performance benefits nowadays, as drives are so capable.


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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby Andi » Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:00 pm

desmond wrote:

Your data might be "safe" in another partition (presumably on the same drive) but if the drive fails, you're stuck unless you have backups on a different drive anyway. Backups should be on a different drive, and again, whether you choose to use partitions or not is completely irrelevant.

Nope, it isn't. I take an image of my smaller sytem partition, and synchronise my data to off-box storage based on file level changes - the use of a system partition is absolutely core to this.



Andi wrote:That said, system recovery is obviously highly irrelevent to the Mac folks

desmond wrote:Eh? That seems a rather facetious comment


Don't think so; I've been reading Apple brochures and I'm pretty sure this is true.


Andi wrote:and I am extremely old fashioned in that I have seperate rooms in my house for different purposes too (which was very useful when I wanted to re-tile the downstairs loo floor 'cos I didn't have to refloor the entire house) :beamup:

desmond wrote:And yet, all the rooms in your house are in the same property, divided by walls. If you decide that your walls are going to be fixed partitions, you have problems if you need room A to be slightly bigger and room B slightly smaller to best suit your needs.

However, if you choose a different dividing mechanic, say, "folders", then you can easily move the walls of your house around accordingly, letting rooms shrink and expand according to your useage. You get the same effect of splitting your house into separate rooms, with extra flexibility and no disadvantages over using partitions.

If I used folders all my shelves would fall down.

Guys, partitions are so easy to create and change that the effort is virtually negligable vs the benefits of easier housekeeping, and because I also have a seperate page file partion I don't have to keep hammering my drives to defrag them.
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby desmond » Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:13 pm

Andi wrote:Nope, it isn't. I take an image of my smaller sytem partition, and synchronise my data to off-box storage based on file level changes - the use of a system partition is absolutely core to this.

Good, just making sure as your statement was a bit ambiguous.

No, partitions are not crucial to this, it's just how you've chosen to implement your backup strategy. Of course, everyone's needs are different. I've already said that partitioning (at least on OSX) is not necessary unless you have good reasons - you seem to know enough of how to implement your backup system and have chosen to implement it in a way that works for you - great.

No wish to turn this into a religious argument. Is has to be said that in the Mac world, partitioning is the exception rather than the rule - there's just very few practical reasons for it, and I would imagine less Mac users want to get that dirty with their filesystems, and more PC/Linux users are happy working at that level and managing things accordingly.


Andi wrote:
Andi wrote:That said, system recovery is obviously highly irrelevent to the Mac folks

desmond wrote:Eh? That seems a rather facetious comment


Don't think so; I've been reading Apple brochures and I'm pretty sure this is true.

Yes, there aren't any professional Mac users who care about the reliability and critical running of their systems to even bother... :roll:

Andi wrote:If I used folders all my shelves would fall down.

You missed the point of the analogy somewhat.

First example: Walls (analogy) = partitions (computer)
Second example: Walls (analogy) = folders (computer)

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough.

Andi wrote:Guys, partitions are so easy to create and change that the effort is virtually negligable vs the benefits of easier housekeeping, and because I also have a seperate page file partition I don't have to keep hammering my drives to defrag them.

We've moved on somewhat from the original question, so I won't dwell on this, but I'll just say that I don't agree with this statement, and especially so on the Mac platform, and I standby my original statement that on the Mac platform, partitions, apart from the one or two cases they are *necessary*, are largely pointless and an additional layer of complexity that is redundant and serves no practical purpose.

Windows users tend to use partitions way more than Maccies, and this is nothing to do with the inability to organise and effective backup solution.
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby Andi » Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:52 pm

desmond wrote:

You missed the point of the analogy somewhat.

First example: Walls (analogy) = partitions (computer)
Second example: Walls (analogy) = folders (computer)

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough.



Ah sorry, thought we were talking about stud partition walls and something like Monawa Sliding Partition Walls. I was a bit confused for a moment there but I'm alright now.

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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Sep 23, 2010 9:03 am

It looks like Andi and I are in total agreement on our chosen approach 8-)

However, just to reinforce something that Andi mentioned earlier, I also use partitions to minimise defragmentation, and to ensure that on those partitions that I do modify regularly and therefore do get more fragmented, I can defrag them far more quickly than doing so on the full drive.

Another tip for partition users - whilst it’s vital to create backups onto another medium (external hard drive, DVD, CD etc.) in case your computer goes belly up, for routine backups I create partitions at the slowest ‘inside’ of each of my two hard drives, and use each one to store backup files from the other drive e.g. my routine Windows image files get stored at the slow end of my audio drive, while my audio backups get stored at the slow end of my Windows drive.

Even if one of your drives goes belly-up this approach means you have the backups ready and waiting on the other drive to restore at high speed once you’ve replaced the faulty drive, but of course you’ve also got safety backups elsewhere if the very worst happens and your entire computer blows up :beamup:

This also means that you’ve found a useful purpose for the slowest part of each drive, since these image files are only required once in a blue moon - save the faster areas for your routine day-to-day files for best performance :)


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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Thu Sep 23, 2010 9:10 am

time machine back ups stored on external FW drive. (pref a mirrored RAID if you want to be double picky-paranoid )

file by file, or entire machine recovery, with hourly imaging in the background. can cover all, or just specific areas, of the mac, and is all built in as part of the OS install.


and it works....
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Re: Martin Walker's articles on partitioning

Postby Andi » Thu Sep 23, 2010 10:49 pm

idris y draig wrote:time machine back ups stored on external FW drive. (pref a mirrored RAID if you want to be double picky-paranoid )

file by file, or entire machine recovery, with hourly imaging in the background. can cover all, or just specific areas, of the mac, and is all built in as part of the OS install.


and it works....


After cursing the damaged backup utility in Win 7 I abandoned data backups all-together and settled for synchronising at file level using the MS Sync Toy utility - I'm very unlikely to go back to backing-up other than OS image files.

I have wondered about Time Machine; I know it was a bit rough back in the Leopard days - what's the overhead like?



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