Time Machine Difficulties

I’m about ready to give up on Time Machine, or maybe just use an external disk once a day. I already plug in two external SSDs once a day and make a CCC backup on one (its snapshot function is pretty much like TM) and a SuperDuper! backup on the other). My internet is via Xplore cellular (Canadian), and a basic wi-fi modem comes with it. This can be set up as an SSID, but it has been easier to simply plug in my old TimeCapsule (in Bridge mode) to it and use that, plus that has let me continue to use its disk for TM backups. The intel macs in this house can backup to it with no problem, but M1 and M2 Macs are unreliable. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. I’m not referring to the frequently seen backup corrupted issue (which requires some interesting work in the Terminal to delete the old backup to make space for a new one - I use $ rm -Rfv <My bundle>.sparsebundle getting the sparsebundle address and name by mounting the TimeCapsule’s disk in the Finder and dragging the unwanted sparsebundle into the Treminal window after -Rfv. Yes, I’m an amateur!)
So when I got a notification of no backups for ten days yesterday I restarted the TimeCapsule, restarted my MBA M2, and tried many times to get the backups restarted. Deleting the disk from TM prefs, re-adding it, inheriting the old sparsebundle etc. It spent hours trying to connect to the disk but could not. My server, an Intel MBP that curates my disk array has no problems and works as expected. In frustration this morning I dug out a Buffalo 3TB NAS that I bought years ago and never used, unwrapped it, plugged it in to the Xplore modem and set it up. Note that being old it expects TM to work over AFP (it doesn’t anymore) and only works if Shared Folder Support is set to Windows and Apple, and Folder Mode (SMB Only) is set to Windows Backup on the share you select for TM backups. The Recycling Bin must also be disabled, and Extensions>TimeMachine must be set to enabled. It still took about ten minutes to connect to the shared folder on the NAS, but once it did, it started its first backup. It tells me it will take four hours, which is better than I used to see for first backups, sometimes taking >24 hours unless the Mac was connected by ethernet to the TC.
I know the TC is ancient history now (I go back to the grey flying saucer with a modem in it, then white flying saucers, flat TCs and then tower TCs), and no longer supported. But it still works and the Intel Macs still can use it OK. There may be very few people left trying to use a TC for TM backups of an Apple Silicon Mac, but do other people have similar problems?

I’ve used a TC for TM (over my home WiFi) since it first came out (with newer Macs and OSs). While never 100% reliable it was still occasionally useful. We now have 2 M2 MBAirs/Ventura which both back up to it (once daily), and it seems OK. Since I’m a belt-and-suspenders guy I also make a TM to a wired HDD once a day, and have clones on 2 external disks, an HDD and an SSD (that one’s bootable).

I have moved mostly to backing up once a week, or twice if I am doing a lot of work on my Mac. The fact that TM only backs up the internal drive is a pain. I was also getting a lot of beach balls when I had it on all the time to an attached drive. So now I let it back up and then unmount it and then remount it manually once or twice a week. I also have a second TM drive that has to be connected, as well as CCC that backs up connected drives when I reattach. My Studio does not have enough drive space and so I have an attached SSD but TM does not back that up. I am hesitant to combine them into one logical drive (I think that is possible).

I do think it is time for Apple to offer online backup for TM. I do use Backblaze which covers all my drives.

When did this “feature” begin? I’ve always been able to back up multiple volumes (internal or external) with TM. Just open up its settings and pull up the options page.

By default, it doesn’t backup external drives, assuming that they are not intended to be used all the time. But you can simply remove it from the exclude list and TM will start backing it up.

Within the TM disk itself, you should see multiple volumes underneath each time/date snapshot - one for each volume it is backing up.

That may be a sign of a failing drive. How long have you been using it? It may be worth replacing it with a new one.

My Mac (a 2018 mini running Big Sur) has a single 4TB external HDD that I built (Toshiba N300 drive in a Vantec NexStar HX USB3 enclosure.) It’s been in service since November 2020 and has been working great.

I will strongly recommend that any high-capacity/high-performance HDD be in an enclosure with a cooling fan (as mine is). I found reliability and performance to get really flaky in its original (passive cooling) enclosure, probably due to overheating.

If you’re seeing reliable behavior when first powered on and flaky behavior over time, you might be seeing the same thing.

You’re ahead of me. My MBA M1 has failed to complete a backup (on Time Capsule or an attached USB drive) since 2021. The size of the backup job grows, apparently monotonically, but the job never completes. I suspect there is some file that TM tries to back up late in the process and the permissions are garbled, but I have no evidence to support that suspicion.

Like @Shamino, I have been backing up an external drive (from an Intel Mac, not the problematic M1 mentioned above) for longer than the M1 backups have been failing.

I’ve never used Time Machine. Back in the day we used Retrospect for bigger backups. Prior to OS X I used Copy Agent to back up projects to externals throughout the day as I worked. I’ve since settled on a combination of Carbon Copy Cloner and ChronoSync. I use ChronoSync to back up whatever I’m working on and CCC mainly for drive backups. You can do a lot with ChronoSync. You set up tasks, and you can also create containers that execute a number of tasks. I haven’t yet used it to its full capabilities, in terms of scheduling, etc.

Thanks, I will look into the drive or cable replacement (though I thought I started everything new when I got my MacStudio last year). But if this is a unique problem to me, it is worth looking into. But I do know that the system slowing was a common problem that had disappeared since I changed over. I also was running Drive Genius the past year and DriveDx now and they didn’t flag any concerns. Is there another way to check for a failing drive? If I can just set it up and forget, that would be great.

I am using a Western Digital MyBook 8 TB drive for my TM. I used to use a TC but moved to a mesh Wi-Fi and that was difficult to maintain and the only remote system is my wife’s portable that is only used for browsing and email, so hard wiring one to my main computer made sense. It is connected with a USB3 cable (new) and Drive Dx says that it is OK.

Would there be a benefit to reformatting it and starting over? I will try to add the external drive (why I did not know that, I have no idea). I regularly run Drive Utility on it once a month or so.

Is there a faster drive I can use to do this? Is a 2 drive RAID better or worse? I can get a 12 TB drive to replace it, but is that just 2 drives in one?

PS Drive Dx did say that the overall performance was Average.

The first backup completed in six hours, and several incremental backups have happened since. So far, so good. But given the TimeCapsule works fine with the Intel Macs in the house, I have to assume it is an issue with the M2 Mac rather than with the TC. So I expect that after a while this backup disk will also become one that TM cannot connect to. I guess at that point I will nuke the backup on the TC and see if it will work when starting afresh.
I have never used a TM backup to set up a new Mac, and I can’t see why I would when it is so much quicker to use a clone on an external disk as the source for the Migration Assistant. It is useful for odd items like a deleted file or e-mail.
Now that Apple has got out of the base station business, I rather wonder if TM itself has a limited future. If it works so poorly with Apple Silicon it probably hasn’t been properly updated to work with new Macs, and yet Apple keep it around, and keep it as an option for migrating to a new Mac, but perhaps they cynically want to keep any option that would encourage someone to buy a new machine!

As I noted above, I’ve had no major complaints about TM or my TC (I never expected 100% reliability, and once or twice I’ve had to erase the TC and start from scratch), even since using M2 MBAirs. On the rare occasions I’ve had to recover something I’ve usually been successful. My lack of problems may be because I try to keep my Macs as trouble-free as possible, which means I frequently use the newest versions of CleanMyMac, OnyX, and TechTool Pro.

This might be a contributing factor. I’ve found that consumer external HDDs tend to be low-performing devices. The internal mechanism is typically 5400 RPM or slower (vs. 7200 RPM for performance drives). They may also use SMR recording, which sacrifices a lot of performance for capacity. And some have nasty habits of putting themselves to sleep without being commanded to do so by the host OS - meaning you need to wait for it to wake whenever you access it.

This is one of the reasons I always build my own external drives from an internal drive and a USB enclosure. This way I know the performance of what I’m getting (always a 7200 RPM drive rated for 24x7 operation and CMR recording). When you buy a packaged external drive, you don’t know what’s in the case and the specs may change without notice.

Not really. If there is corruption in the file system, that would fix them. But if you’re already checking your volume for errors and not finding any, then no it won’t help.

Use of the APFS file system on HDD media is known to be the cause of performance problems, but it’s not possible to create a Time Machine volume with HFS+ anymore.

You can definitely buy/build a faster drive. It might help, but only up to a point.

If your external drive doesn’t have a cooling fan, then overheating might be a problem. If you replace it, look for a drive that has a fan. Or build one using an enclosure that has a fan. This is especially important for drives that will see a lot of use (e.g. Time Machine volumes).

RAID is a whole 'nother discussion. Striping (RAID-0 and a feature of other RAID levels) can greatly improve performance if your RAID controller is well designed. But if you don’t also use some form of redundancy (RAID-1, 5 or 6) with the striping, you’re going to lose reliability, because a failure in either drive will cause the whole array to fail.

If you want to consider RAID, I would start a new discussion, because it’s a pretty big topic to consider.

You can get single-drive HDDs up to 18TB these days. You can also buy external drives that have built-in RAID controllers, offering high capacity by striping data across two or more drives. You need to carefully read the specs about what you’re getting.

And I’ll repeat - cooling is important for any high-performance/high-capacity drive that is going to be in use 24x7. A lot of consumer devices just aren’t suitable, even if the marketing literature claims otherwise.

The nice thing is that MA lets you pick which TM snapshot you want to migrate from. It may not always be the most recent one.