Move Your Time Machine Backup to a New Drive

One thing that’s been a constant in personal computing has been that hard drives will continually get bigger and cheaper. So it’s inevitable that you’ll one day want to relocate your Time Machine backups to a newer, roomier drive. In this video tutorial, I’ll be going through the process for prepping and transferring these files.

Start off by plugging the hard drive into the computer. If hasn’t already been properly formatted, open up Disk Utility, which can be found through Spotlight, or in the Utlities folder in Applications. Click on the hard drive in the pane on the left hand side. In the menu on the right, click “Partition.”

From the Volume Scheme menu, select “1 Partition.” If you wanted to partition the drive in some way, you’d obviously want to make a different choice here, but I’m going to leave my drive unpartitioned.

In the “Volume Information” fields, give your new drive a name, and ensure that the Format is “Mac OS Extended (Journaled).”

Next click “Options” underneath the list of partitions. Change the selection to “GUID Partition Table” and click OK.

Once you’ve completed all of these steps, click Apply. A confirmation screen appears to make sure that you want to delete the hard drive’s contents. Now might be a good time to double check that you’ve got the right drive selected (especially if you’ve got multiple drives connected). Once you confirm, the process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Once it’s completed, close out of Disk Utility and right click on the drive in Finder. In the menu select Get Info.

Scroll down to “Sharing & Permissions,” which should appear at the bottom. You’ll need to make sure that “Ignore ownership on this volume” is unchecked.

Close out of the Get Info window and open up Time Machine in System Preferences. Click on the switch to turn Time Machine off.

Next is a straightforward transfer of the files from the old drive to the new one. Use Finder to go into the old drive and drag the “Backups.backupdb” folder over to the new drive.

If you’ve got a lot of backups, this might take a fairly long time. In my case, it took about 11 hours, so make sure you do this when you won’t be needing your computer.

Once everything’s copied over, go back to Time Machine in your System Preferences and click “Select Disk.”

Select your new drive, and turn the switch back to On.

Leave the drive connected to the computer, as Finder will need to go through and index the new drive. Again, depending on the size of the drive, this is a process that may tie up system resources for a few hours.

Once that’s done, you’re ready to go! You may run into a problem later on when you go to delete the Time Machine files on your old drive. Emptying the trash with Time Machine folders inside may cause an “unexpected error” message. If this is the case, force Empty the Trash by holding down the option key while selecting “Empty Trash.”

Time Machine 101, from Apple Support

Photos (used under Creative Commons) by:
Sarah Houghton-Jan (Librarian in Black) & Wilson Afonso.

Wilson Afonso’s photo is of a large 10MB (!) hard drive at the Computer History Museum.

In addition to the regular theme by Free Diamonds, additional music by Good Old Neon, used under Creative Commons from Free Music Archive.

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  1. Pero Urgericev
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    time machine is great for people with an extra external hard drive. Personally, I have tried several backup solutions and providers and found SpiderOak online backup to be the best.
    It’s available for free, offers the most space for free [6GB =] and the
    applications are available for all popular desktop OSes and mobile
    platforms. You can try it out for free by signing up at and using the code WORLDBACKUPDAY .

  2. ozaz
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the step-by-step instructions. I found them helpful.

    One question. Why does “ignore ownership on this volume” need to be unchecked before setting the drive as a time machine volume? I don’t know what it means, but if it is something that causes problems with time machine, wouldn’t time machine be intelligent enough to switch it off when the drive is set as the time machine drive?

    I notice that my old time machine drive does not even display a setting pertaining to ignoring ownership and it is not something I had heard about when I set that drive as the time machine drive.

  3. Posted October 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    From what I’ve been able to glean, checking that box will not preserve ownership and permissions settings for any files placed into that drive. What you’re saying about TM auto-checking makes sense, but I’m sure Apple have their reasons for not doing it.

  4. Posted January 27, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    The step-by-step instructions were great but I get an error during drag and drop. It says “Sorry, the operation could not be completed because an unexpected error occurred. (Error code -1426). I am also unable to use Disk Utility’s Restore function. Any other ideas to move this 7.5Gb folder would be appreciated.

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