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Ask Max: Time Machine on Network Drives

Asked on 12/05/2007:

I purchased a 17" PowerBook from PowerMax a couple of years back and have recently installed Leopard. For sometime I've been exploring Network-based hard drives to back up my Apple and Window machines from my network (looking at Buffalo Tech and Lacie). Time Machine seems to have thrown me a curve. My questions are:

Can Time Machine back up to a network drive or do you need a direct USB connection?
Second, I've read that Time Machine requires its own space and that it cannot be shared with another machine (i.e. my Windows XP box). Is this true? And, last question if you can use network drives, do you have any suggestions (there doesn't seem to be a clear winner from the reviews I've read)?


The types of drives suitable for Time Machine use have varied over the Leopard development process. Figuring out what may work in the future is tricky. If you have multiple internal drives, you can designate one of them as a Time Machine drive. Any FireWire or USB 2.0 drive can also work as a Time Machine drive. The one prerequisite for stable performance is that a Time Machine drive should be formatted as a Mac OS Extended volume, with a compatible partition table. The type of partition scheme you need to use changes based on the processor type. If it is an Intel-based Mac, then the drive should be a GUID partitioned drive. If you have an older PowerPC Mac, those drives should use the Apple Partition Map. The partition scheme is selected from the Options button in the Partition Tab of Disk Utility.

Because of the partitioning of those drives, it can be difficult to get them to work with other computer platforms (i.e. Windows). In most cases it's best to keep a Time Machine drive dedicated to backup work. You can, however, have many computers use the same Time Machine drive. You can also do that sharing over a network, wired or wireless. The first step is to designate one Mac to connect to the Time Machine drive. This can be FireWire, USB 2.0, or an internal drive.

Set up the drive as a Time Machine drive via the Time Machine section of the System Preferences. Then go to the Sharing System preference and enable File Sharing. In the File Sharing' details section, click on the "+" button under the Shared Folders section. Select your Time Machine drive and you will then see it on the list of shared items. From your other computers on the network you can connect to the shared Time Machine drive; the same as you would any other network drive. Make sure you save the user name and password in the keychain when you connect. Then you can use the System Preferences on that computer to designate the shared drive as a Time Machine drive.

This is a great solution for people with desktop and laptop Macs or a household of Macs. It may not be the solution that you need, because it will require at least two Macs running Leopard, but I hope it helps.

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