time machine backup

The Golden Rule of using a computer is to backup your files and folders always. Do it several times a day, every day. Multiple locations, online and offline. Be paranoid and obsessive about it. Because once those files are gone, they will be GONE forever. No do-overs.

When it comes to a MacOS computer, the standard backup app is Time Machine. It has its fans and its detractors, but unless you want to go to all the effort of customizing your own non-Time Machine backup solution, then Time Machine will be your easiest option.

But one of the most common complaints is that some Time Machine backups, especially the initial one, can get unbearably slow, to the point of becoming as slow as a tortoise. But there ARE ways to kick the butt of Time Machine and tell it to go faster.

But first….

It Might Not Be ABLE To Go Faster

file sizes

If your backup is going slow, then you need to analyze exactly why it is going slow. If you are backing up documents and images, then it won’t take long. On the other hand, if you are backing up multiple large movie files or TIFF images, then you are going to be in it for the long haul.

Disable All Non-Essential Folders & Files

The first and easiest way to try and speed up your Time Machine backup is to see if everything being backed up is strictly necessary.

For example, if you have cloud storage folders on your MacOS, such as Dropbox, you don’t need to back that up. You may also decide that movie files you have watched do not need backed up either, especially if the movie in question was a bad one.

You can also filter your files and folders to see which ones are the largest. You can then decide which ones, if any, should be excluded from Time Machine.

Just go into Finder and then into All My Files. In List mode, you can click on the Size header at the top, and the biggest files and folders will be seen at the top.

To disable a file or folder, click on the Options button on the bottom right of Time Machine. A box will then appear called “Exclude These Items From Backup”.

timemachine_exclude

Click the “+” button and choose the file or folder you want excluded. Then click “save“. Did that help speed things up?

Quit Finder

Mac OS X Hints mentioned an interesting possibility for Time Machine backups going slow. It may be that some files are being stuck with Finder, and by closing Finder, it will release those files and speed things up as a result.

You can Force-Quit Finder by using the Activity Monitor in the Utilities folder. Or to make things easier, you can add a “Quit Finder” option to Finder itself. I talked about it in this article, where you have to enter a command into Terminal.

Stop & Start The Backup In Progress

it crowd

The classic solution to every computer problem – and one immortalized by the IT Crowd – is to turn it off and back on again. And it seems Time Machine is no exception.

If the backup is going slow, cancel the download, wait a few minutes, then start it up again. Now see if it is any more speedy.

Use The Terminal To Disable Throttling

throttle

If you’re still having no luck, the next thing to tick off your list is to stop your Mac speed from being throttled.

Open up the Terminal window and type the following :

sudo sysctl debug.lowpri_throttle_enabled=0

The downside of this method is that your CPU will go right up to 100% and all other tasks will become virtually impossible. But if you are not doing any other tasks on your Mac at the time, there is a very good chance disabling speed throttling will sort your problem right out.

Once your backup is finished, turn the speed throttling back on with the following Terminal command.

sudo sysctl debug.lowpri_throttle_enabled=1

Reboot Into Safe Mode

This is a bit of a weird one, but extensive searching online has confirmed that this has worked since day one of Apple Macs.

First, boot the Mac into Safe Mode, and once you have done this, reboot again into normal mode. When this is done, restart Time Machine and see if anything has improved.

This method seemingly has a high success rate, but nobody seems to understand why.

If All Else Fails, Stop Using Time Machine

chronosync

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Time Machine has its fair share of detractors. If that’s the case, you can explore alternatives.

Two big ones are Backblaze and ChronoSync. The only downsides to this option is that they are not free. Backblaze is $50 a year and ChronoSync is $49.99. Which doesn’t sound appealing when Time Machine is free.

Conclusion

backup

“Backup! Backup! Backup!” Otherwise what are you going to do when your extensive David Hasselhoff image collection gets nuked? You always need an insurance policy in your back pocket.

Do you have any further ideas for speeding up Time Machine? Let us know your ideas in the comments.

SHARE
Mark O'Neill
Freelance journalist and editor living in Würzburg, Germany. Former Managing Editor of makeuseof.com (2007-2013), and contributing writer for other sites such as PC World and Small Business Trends. Specializing in online security and privacy issues.