Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too

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Now that every Apple laptop ships with a solid state drive, many of us are learning to live with smaller storage capacities once more. At the same time, external hard drives are cheaper and roomier than ever – which means there’s often plenty of room for backups and file storage on the same drive.

Everyone should backup their Mac with Time Machine The Ultimate Triple Backup Solution For Your Mac [Mac OSX] The Ultimate Triple Backup Solution For Your Mac [Mac OSX] As the developer here at MakeUseOf and as someone who earns their entire income from working online, it's fair to say my computer and data are quite important. They’re set up perfectly for productivity with... Read More , and ideally use offsite backup services just in case Disaster-Proof Your Data! 4 Offsite Backup Solutions Disaster-Proof Your Data! 4 Offsite Backup Solutions Laptops, desktops and tablets are ultimately trivial items that can be replaced and hold little value, but the same might not be true of the data they contain. Losing a project you’ve worked years on... Read More . If your Mac’s hard drive is small but your Time Machine hard drive is big, it might be worth using the drive for both backup and storage purposes.

How Time Machine Works

Typical external hard drive sizes have swelled to over a terabyte (1000 gigabytes), but many new MacBooks only come with 128 or 256 gigabytes of storage. Time Machine relies on historic backups, which means that older versions of files and items you remove are stored until a point in time when the space is required again for newer data. For this reason the more space you give Time Machine, the more space it will use.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too systemprefs

You might not care about having extensive backups of files you deleted years ago. You might download a lot of video or other large files before moving them to external locations, and that means much of the space occupied by your Time Machine disk could be put to better use. If you only ever need an up-to-date backup of your Mac, then you too could put that gigantic hard drive to better use.

It must be said that the more you use a mechanical item, the more likely it is to fail. Hard drives have mechanical, moving parts so they do occasionally die horrible, crunchy deaths. Using your Time Machine backup as an external drive may shorten the life of your drive, as you will wear out the various moving parts quicker by performing more read and write cycles.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too timemachine

Technically, there’s no need to partition your hard drive because Time Machine won’t delete anything on the target drive that it didn’t put there. That said, it’s far safer to partition your drive properly and keep everything clearly separate.

Note: If you’re already using a drive for Time Machine, you will lose your older backups if you make major changes to the drive. You can make another Time Machine backup once you have partitioned the drive, but your backup history will restart from this point forward. If you were careful and saved all your important files, this really shouldn’t matter.

Partitions & Sizes

It is recommended that you choose a Time Machine destination that’s roughly two-to-four times the size of the drive you are backing up. If you don’t foresee yourself needing access to years of backups then you can reduce this as you see fit, though you shouldn’t go too much smaller than double the size of your drive.

For my own 256GB MacBook Pro, I chose a 512GB partition on a 2TB drive, leaving 1.25TB left to play with for file storage purposes.

Partitioning Your Drive

1. Connect the external hard drive you wish to use to your Mac and launch Disk Utility, either using Spotlight or by navigating to Applications > Utilities.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too 1format

2. Select the drive you would like to use from the list on the left. Under the Erase tab choose “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” and click Erase (the name isn’t important) then confirm your changes.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too 2erase

3. Once complete, head to the Partition tab and under the Partition Layout drop-down menu choose “2 Partitions”. Drag the divider to set the size you want, or enter it directly into the Size field.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too 3split

4. For your Time Machine partition, make sure the “Mac OS Journaled (Extended)” file system is selected. “exFAT” or “Windows NT Filesystem” (if available) are both ideal for your storage partition, but you should read our guide to choosing a file system From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified Different hard drives and operating systems may use different file systems. Here's what that means and what you need to know. Read More  if you’re not sure.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too 4apply

5. Name both partitions appropriately so you know what they are, then click Apply followed by Partition in the confirmation dialogue. Once complete you’ll have two “drives” mounted instead of one.

Setting Up Time Machine (Again)

Once you’ve erased and partitioned your drive, you’ll have to point Time Machine at its new backup location:

1. Open System Preferences and choose Time Machine.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too 5timemachine

2. Click Select Backup Disk…, choose the partition you just created in the window that appears then click Use Disk.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too 6usedisk

3. Wait for your first backup to complete before disconnecting the drive. You can also now start using the drive for storage purposes, though be aware transfer speeds will be slower while Time Machine is backing up.

Partition & Use Your Time Machine Hard Drive To Store Files Too 7backingup

Better Use Your Storage

Putting your available space to better use is a simple case of analysing your demands and expectations. If you don’t need access to five years’ worth of files, and you’re careful about keeping your most precious data safe, then you probably don’t need a huge Time Machine backup. That disk space could be better put to use as external storage for media or documents, and better yet your Time Machine backup will fire each time you connect the drive.

Have you partitioned an older drive for use with Time Machine? Fill us in on your backup solutions in the comments, below.

Explore more about: Data Backup, Disk Partition, File System, Hard Drive, Time Machine.

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  1. Juan Manuel
    January 27, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    Do you know what hard-drive brands are compatible with partitioning in mac? I have an iomega and works perfectly with a time machine partition and a second for storage. However, I just had to return a seagate because I could not partition it.

  2. Manuel
    January 27, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    Do you know what hard-drive brands are compatible with this? I have an iomega and works perfectly with partitioning but it did not work with a seagate. Thanks.

  3. William Totman
    November 22, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Time Machine, at least in High Sierra, does not require a dedicated partition to create and maintain backups.

    When you add the non-dedicated drive, it will ask if you wish to stop using any previous Time Machine disks or to use "Both". If you select "Both" Time Machine says it will alternate between the drives you have made available to Time Machine.

    As with a dedicated partition, Time Machine will create a "Backups.backupdb" in the root directory of the newly added drive - right next to any other directories or files already on the drive.

  4. luciano.x
    March 9, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    This is helpful. Thanks.
    I had a small issue. My 500GB HD was already partitioned (GUID Partition Table) but for some unknown reason Disk Utility could not erase (format).
    I just deleted all partitions in another utility (GParted on Linux) and back to Disk Utility created the partition scheme as I wanted:
    1 HFS+ (Time Machine)
    2 Free space (to use later as Linux filesystem)
    3 Free space (to use later as Windows filesystem)
    Everything worked great.

    PS: Disk Utility created as well one EFI System Partition (ESP) 200MB so there is 4 slices.

  5. Kat Patrick
    January 24, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    Hey ya, Tim. This is just the step-by-step process that I want to store stuff from my itty-bitty Mac HD while keeping the Time Machine back-up. Partitioning is definitely the answer. I have a 2 TD My Passport for Mac, but it's not working either on Erasing (step 2) or by going directly to Partition. It says it can't open the device, so I haven't been able to proceed any further.

    • Tim Brookes
      January 25, 2017 at 2:56 am

      Sounds like there could be a problem with the drive itself. Is it currently working as a regular Time Machine or other disk? Is it new?

      • Kat Patrick
        January 25, 2017 at 4:25 am

        It seems to be backing up as a Time Machine device just fine, even making a new back-up today. I've had it since September last year.

        • Tim Brookes
          February 21, 2017 at 3:01 am

          So have you managed to partition the drive at all? Is it just one partition that won't work?

  6. joan
    January 5, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    Not being tech savvy and being a senior citizen, I found this very easy to follow. I had originally not partitioned the EHD but after running Time Machine for a few days, I decided to erase the 4TB EHD and divide it into 2 partitions. So far it is working and presently loading up Time Machine again. Thanks for your very clear and easy to understand instructions.

  7. Luis Antunes
    December 10, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks Tim for a very clear explanation.

    I have been struggling with partitioning my TimeCapsule (2TB), since I was already using it for TimeMachine only.

    I seem to find several problems:

    -A- I now have a 250GB SSD, I want point TimeMachine to the TimeCapsule (to a partition, say TCPart1).
    -B- I have to keep my Photos Library in an external hard drive (say HD1TB). So I want to manually copy (an 8-hour operation) my 130GB PhotosLibrary from the HD1TB to a TimeCapsule partition (say TCPart2).
    -C- My son bought a new mac, and he would like to point his TimeMachine to the TimeCapsule. Do I need to create a TCPart3, or can he point to TCPart1?

    Several related subproblems:
    -- occasionally, the TC disappears from the DiskUtility list of visible disks. Is this normal?
    -- I have just re-formatted the TimeCapsule and started 2 new partitions. However, when I go to TimeMachine "SelectBackupDisk" I can see (and choose) only the TimeCapsule on the whole, whereas I would like to choose the appropriate partition, but it's just not there. This happens in my son's mac too.

    Sorry for all the trouble, this whole thing should really be much easier than it is. Thanks for your attention.

  8. Christine McKay
    November 5, 2016 at 10:02 am

    I'm not knowledgeable about computers. Often I look for help and it is not helpful. I was able to follow your instruction even though a circle was used to define the partition. Thank you!

  9. Phil Clark
    August 24, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    If I partition a 5 TB drive into two 2tb and one 1tb partition, and use a two TB partition for TimeMachine and the other partitions for documents and Scratch Disk for Photoshop, will Time Machine back up the Documents partition even though it is on the same physical drive as the Time Machine Backup.

    • Dave
      October 17, 2016 at 1:14 am

      Hi, I was just wondering if you got an answer to your question about whether time machine will back up files/media in a partition on the same physical external drive as it is on?

  10. Michelle
    August 18, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    Hi I did this but now when connecting to mac only the time machine appears. How can I access the partition?

    • Tim Brookes
      August 23, 2016 at 3:00 am

      It should just appear. If you open the Disk Utility app and click on your hard drive, do you see two partitions?

      If so, can you select the storage partition? Try clicking on "First Aid" to see if your Mac can fix any issues. Some drives (I have one) tend to do this occasionally, while others work just fine. I find that sometimes unmounting the drive and reconnecting it works, you could also try restarting your Mac.

      Hope that helps, let us know!

  11. Sarah
    May 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Hello -

    I was just wondering if, later on after you've done this and partitioned your drive, if it's safe to change the size of the partitions?



    • Tim Brookes
      May 23, 2016 at 4:47 am

      Hi Sarah,

      That depends on the file systems you have chosen. Time Machine uses a HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) file system, which can be resized on the fly fairly safely based on what I've read. If you're also using an NTFS partition to store data (a Microsoft file system), then I would probably recommend backing everything up before you try resizing. NTFS can be resized, but I've heard many stories of lost data and corrupt partitions when doing so.

      If you are using FAT32 or FAT16 then I would have to say no, based on what I remember from my Windows 98 days.

      If you have two HFS+ partitions then it seems like a fairly safe procedure. As always, I'd recommend having a few backups though, especially if the data is really important (irreplaceable photos, work etc).

      • Sarah
        May 23, 2016 at 7:58 pm

        Thank you Tim!

  12. Emma
    December 21, 2015 at 4:19 am

    Will files now automatically go to the free space on my external hard drive when there is no more space on my computer? Because I have stopped receiving iMessages on my computer because of lack of space and would like to start getting them again.

  13. Josh
    November 30, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Hi Tim, just a quick question,

    How did you manage to format the "Sagat" (Street Fighter?) partition to NTFS in disk utility? I'm on El Capitan now, and i'm not sure that format is an available option.


    Josh R

  14. Michael Andrews
    June 3, 2015 at 8:21 am

    Tim, When I try to select a backup disc, Time machine will only show the smaller of the two partitions as an option for the backup location. I wish to use the larger of the two partitions for the time machine backup, and the smaller for file storage and transfers. Is this possible? And if so, How? Thanks, -Mike

  15. Vanessa Yvonne
    May 26, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    Hello! I've been using my TC as an external hard drive since 2009 but since I've recently updated my Macbook, I can't figure out how to do it! I didn't set up a partition, I would just open the TC file and drag and drop my files there. Now that location doesn't seem to exist. Any ideas of how I can find the file? Thanks!

  16. Jennifer Lyon
    May 19, 2015 at 4:51 am

    I need to back up my MacBook Air so that I can run Parallels, Windows, then download the Xactimate 28 software system-- which only downloads to Windows. I'm thinking I will purchase 1TB external hard drive that doesn't need to be formatted and works with Time Machine. The result is I am hoping is that If I purchase the right one that I can plug in and pretty much run Windows and Xactimate and back up to Time Machine. Am I on the right store or do you think think I'd be better off just going in to an Apple Store??

    Thank you, I really haven't a clue...!

  17. Monica
    March 27, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    I just purchased an external hard drive for my MAC desktop. I want to store all my photographs (currently 889.29 GB) on this external drive. I also would like to store my backups (I've never done one) on this external drive. Is this possible?

    • Tim Brookes
      March 30, 2015 at 1:19 am

      Yes... just follow the instructions in the article above.

      First partition the drive, then copy your data to the storage partition and point Time Machine to the other partition.


  18. AL. S
    March 18, 2015 at 5:45 am

    Hi, Tim, thanks for answering my questions. I got it! I see why my second question is confusing. No problems for now. Thanks again.

  19. AL. S
    March 15, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Hi, thank you very much for the great solution to use an external hard drive. However, after reading it, I become more puzzled because: (1) I just bought Touro S for moving the ever expanding iPhoto Library and iTune stuff plus other files to save my disk space in Macbook Air. I did the erasing part to get it ready for Mac. But I don't know which filesystem I should choose in partitioning. Any system is Okay? (note: I want to dedicate Touro S to file storage; I am using WD My Passport for Time Machine); (2) Another question related is how I should do with the Time Machine setting to make it continue backing up iPhoto Library and iTune..etc after I move them to Touro S? Does it matter with which filesystem I choose in partitioning Touro S? Thank you.

    • Tim Brookes
      March 16, 2015 at 3:16 am


      1) Which filesystem you use depends on which other operating systems you intend to use your (storage) drive with. Mac OS Journaled is great for use with Macs, but exFAT is better for cross-compatibility with Windows and Linux.

      2) I'm not entirely sure I understand your second question. Your Time Machine backup will only backup to your Time Machine drive. If you partition a larger drive, the only partition you need to worry about is the one you want to store stuff on (see my answer above). The second partition (the one you intend to use to backup with Time Machine) will be configured by your Mac.

      Feel free to get back to me with more info, I will try and help out in any way I can.

  20. Anonymous
    March 3, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Hi, great article. If you've already used the external drive to hold files, is it too late to partition it? Would I have to move the files somewhere first, the partition it, then move the files back?

    • Tim Brookes
      March 3, 2015 at 11:18 pm

      It really depends on the filesystem used (NTFS, FAT32, exFAT etc). Some filesystems don't complain too much when you resize them, others completely lose the plot and data can be lost in an instant. Regardless – there is only one safe way to do this, and it's exactly what you described – move the data elsewhere, partition the drive as you would like, then move it back.

  21. Kirk
    February 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Thanks Tim for the clarification. The last bit was the part that was tripping me up, because I'd figured on there being more of a white list approach, rather than a black list one for drives to back up. The latter seems easier to set up, but I guess Apple being Apple, it's more foolproof for users if out of the box Time Machine backs up any drive it sees.

    Thanks again — now just have to watch what USB sticks I leave in the machine or plug every one I have in to add it to the black list :)

  22. Kirk
    February 26, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Any idea how to keep Time Machine from backing up every drive that's ever connected to the Mac? I have some pocket external drives that I use for travel and if I connect one to one of my Macs and Time Machine kicks in, TM starts adding that external to it's backup for that Mac — which I don't want.


    • Tim Brookes
      February 27, 2015 at 2:39 am

      Hi Kirk,

      Sure, you can do this under System Preferences > Time Machine > Options... – in this menu simply add the drives that you do not want backed up, and they will be excluded from future backups.

      Naturally, you'll need to connect the drives in order for them to show up so that you can add them to the list.

      Hope this helps!

  23. chad towner
    February 22, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    Once I have partitioned my hard drive for time machine, how to I access the other partition that is not designated for time machine? I want to download and store items on the other 1.8 TB that I have left and also want to make sure I never store anything on my time machine partition. thanks in advance

    • Kirk
      February 26, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      Chad, any partitions on a drive will mount as a separate "drive" on your desktop (if you have your Finder preferences set to show connected drives on desktop) and in your Finder windows' left column under the subhead "Devices" (again here, make sure that your Finder preferences are set to display external drives by going to Finder, then under the Finder menu select Preferences, then under the Sidebar tab check the box next to External Devices that's under the Devices subhead.

  24. Anil Akbulut
    February 20, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Hi guys thank you for this article

    I have one external driver which is 1tb. After partition I do have 400gb for time machine and 600gb for Storage.

    But I had a problem. When the Time Machine backups, it gets 60gb from my macbook air and all of my Storage partition!

    I don't want to backup my storage partition that's why i have two different partitions.

    Any solutions?

  25. MaB
    February 8, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Tim:

    Great info but I am more of an aspirational "techie" (i do recruiting). I have a Macbook pro that the folks at the genius bar have delicately told me is "Vintage". It is old. There's a keypad thats fallen off and all my volumes (except my largest external drvie (2TB) are full.

    I need a new laptop but cant buy one just yet.

    There are a few storage problems. One is clearing out my laptop harddrive for better performance.

    I have two external drives and in reading your article i'm wondering if i can partition my data so certain data (maybe files & audio) can go one one external drive and video (i have a lot of video including itunes films and my own DVD's loaded with handbrake) onto the other so i dont have to go buy a 5TB drive and reload it with my existing data.

    Any ideas are much appreciated.

  26. Dan
    February 1, 2015 at 12:28 am

    Tim, I have a 2TB drive that I use for Time Machine. I had an old 2007 vintage iMac which I just upgraded to a new iMac 2015 model. With the old iMac, Time Machine backed it up on the 2TB drive, the backup file called D. With the new iMac, Time Machine is backing up on the 2TB drive under file called D2. My question is, how can I tell Time Machine when I want to restore a file to grab the file from file D or file D2? Is it possible?

  27. Khun
    January 24, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Hi Tim,
    I just bought 2TB Seagate External HD. I would like to know your advice for partition of my external HD into 2 partitions; 1TB for Time Machine for my Mac with 512GB SSD using Mac OS extended (journaled) format and 1T B for Windows PC/ Mac storage using ExFAT format. Is it advisable?
    Thank you in advance!


  28. Paul
    January 22, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Hey Tim,
    Thanks for the nice article. I'm just trying to be clear on something. I had 750gb hard drive on my mac that was just stolen last week. Fortunately, I have a full time machine back up. However, I'm looking at new macs that have smaller hard drives. If I were to get one and plug in my time machine....would I be able to just pull off what I want or would it just not work? Also, do you know if all my applications would be recovered too (did a full back up, nothing unchecked)? Finally, will trying to use a computer with a more recent OS cause any troubles? Cheers!

  29. Stan
    January 7, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    I have a 2T capsule. I don't want to backup everything in my computer just certain things. I have a bunch of videos that take up 51.42GB. I also have a very large file of learning books that take up a lot of space on my MacPro. I would like to be able to remove those files from my computers HD so I can open up space on my computer. Is their a way for me to put just these 2 large files alone into the time capsule so I can access it when i need it?

    • Tim Brookes
      January 8, 2015 at 12:49 am

      You would need to repartition the Time Machine hard drive, as Time Machine uses the entire partition for its backup. If you create two partitions (as the article states) then you can dedicate one to Time Machine, and the other to storage.

      You could then move your video files and books onto the storage partition.

      Do remember that your iPhoto and iTunes libraries can also take up a lot of space, and generally need to be left on your computer (though you can change this, e.g.: //

      Does that help?


  30. Ian Conrad
    January 7, 2015 at 2:41 am

    Nice and clear post, just what I was looking for. Ended up partitioning a 1TB drive to 750GB for time machine and 250GB as exFAT for storage and other random things. I figured that's sufficient since most of what I want backed up doesn't change (majority of the space taken is from a huge amount of photos) so probably won't get re-backed up after the first run (or will it?).

    • Tim Brookes
      January 8, 2015 at 12:41 am

      You're correct Ian, after that initial chunky backup (which can take a few hours) Time Machine will only ever perform comparative backups. It looks for changes on the drive (updated/new files) and adds them to the pile. Your old versions of files will eventually start to be overwritten (starting with the oldest first) when your Time Machine fills up – everything is handled for you in this respect.

      Glad you found the article helpful.


  31. Kathy13
    January 5, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    I also found this very helpful and timely since my 13" MacBook Pro with a 256GB hard drive was almost full. I needed to upgrade to Yosemite and wanted to use some of the 1TB of space on my Time Machine Backup drive. One additional question I do have though is about all the old iterations of backups (mine go back two years currently). Can I reset an option to limit how many are stored? And, how do I delete the old ones I no longer want. I tried to move them to my Trash, but I'm not sure that really worked. Thanks!

    • Tim Brookes
      January 6, 2015 at 12:52 am

      Hi Kathy,

      Time Machine dedicates the entire drive to simply backing up data, hence why you need to partition the drive if you would like to use it for something else (in this instance, storing data). The software uses a comparative method of backup – once you've initially backed up your 256GB drive, the computer looks for changes and only backs up new data.

      Because of the way this works, Time Machine generally has a lot of space available. Most people backup laptop drives to 1TB+ externals, when their own drives are only 1/4 of the capacity. Historical backup data is simply a nice way of using that space you have already dedicated to backing up.

      Deleting old backups doesn't make much sense, because Time Machine polices itself when it comes to usage. Once your external Time Machine backup is full, it begins overwriting data – by eating into these iterative, historical backups.

      So basically, provided your Time Machine drive (or partition) is bigger than your MacBook hard drive, you can just let it sort itself out. Ignore any "Time Machine is getting full errors" too!


  32. Carl Borgstrom
    January 3, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Hi Tim,
    I have a 2 TB Seagate GoFlex external drive and partitioned it into 3 - 666 GB sections. We have an iMac (OS X 10.6), a MacBook Pro (OS X 10.8) and a MacBook (OS X 10.6).
    The iMac and MacBook Pro back up just fine, but the MacBook gets stuck, or hangs, at about 14 GB (it's only trying to back up 21 GB). I have left this overnight and it always gets hung up, so I have to Stop the Backup.
    When I look at the MacBook partition in Disk Utility, it says there is 573 GB available (meaning there is about 93 GB of data backed up?). When I Enter Time Machine, there is nothing, and in Time Machine Preferences there is no record of any backups. Any thoughts? Should I erase the entire disk and re-partition?
    BTW, I have enjoyed your insightful and clear solutions to Time Machine.

    • Tim Brookes
      January 6, 2015 at 12:43 am

      Hi Carl,

      That's an interesting one. You could try a few things, but yes – if you don't really value the historical backup data (i.e. old versions of files you have probably deleted by now) then you might get most joy from simply erasing the partition and backing up again.

      Failing that you might want to turn to more drastic measures like resetting PRAM or your SMC – //

      You might want to keep in mind that it could be a problem with the Mac... if there's corrupted data due to a drive error you've yet to notice for example!

      Good luck, let us know if you solve this one.

  33. Teresa
    December 31, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    i have a 2tb time capsule and have already started using it for time machine. can i still do the above and my guess the back ups would just start over? there is nothing else on it currently but the time machine back ups.

    • Tim Brookes
      January 2, 2015 at 2:11 am

      Hi Teresa,

      You're correct – the backups would simply start over again. You will lose your historical backup data (your Time Machine probably has old copies and versions of files long gone from your machine) but if all your important stuff is on your computer (or another hard drive) then you won't really "lose" anything.

      Provided you partition then set up Time Machine again, your machine will be backed up and you'll have some extra storage to play with.

      Good luck! Tim

  34. Parham
    December 29, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Hi ,
    So I wish I had seen this article 4 days ago. This is why:
    I had my old laptop's back up (500GB) on my external hard drive (1TB) and bought a new laptop with 256GB storage. Since the hard drive is smaller than my old one, thought it'd be enough if I just manually copy and paste stuff that I really need. So quickly connected my hard drive to the laptop and said yes for backing up the new computer (with different name)! I thought that it would create another folder but apparently wasn't that smart. My questions are:
    1. Are my all data actually overwritten with the new one?
    2. Is there any way for me to restore the old one?


    • Tim Brookes
      January 2, 2015 at 2:33 am

      Hi Parham,

      Unfortunately your data has probably been overwritten. There are a few things you can try, not least recovery of the entire partition. There is a great free tool available to help you do this, called TestDisk (it has a cousin called PhotoRec that's perfect for recovering pictures from memory cards too).

      The key is to not write more data to the drive. The more data you write, the less likely it is you'll see the old data again. When things are deleted, they never really go anywhere – they're just marked as "writeable". You're bound to be able to recover at least some of the data.

      How to use it:

      Good luck, please let us know how it goes :)


  35. Michael Hamilton
    December 29, 2014 at 4:56 am

    Tim: best/simplest explanation I've come across in two weeks of research. Thanks!

    I'm about to set up a 4TB external plugged to my Airport Extreme router. The router serves two MacBooks wirelessly and a PC hardwired. Can I back up all three computers to the external drive. For example, one Time Machine partition @1TB will backup both macs - separately of course - will it not? Another 1TB partition to back up the PC (any good PC back up software you can recommend?). 2TB partition left for storage. Thoughts?

    • Tim Brookes
      January 2, 2015 at 2:29 am

      Hi Michael,

      Sounds promising, but I believe that Time Machine requires one partition per Mac. That shouldn't be a problem as you could just split that 1TB in the middle and create two 500GB partitions – or dip into your available storage pool if you wanted to dedicate more space to backups.

      I'm not too hot on Windows software these days so I took a look at the Best Software Page as I know Tina (our Windows Editor) has recently revamped it – //

      Looks like "FreeFileSync" is our number one choice at the moment, but there are a few alternatives there. The software works with Mac and Linux too turns out.

      Good luck with the setup!

  36. FBS
    December 27, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Hi, very helpful. Is it possible to use time machine to back up to both partitions - so that it would back up my iMac on one partition, and my external drive that holds media files to the second partition?

  37. SB20
    December 24, 2014 at 1:17 am

    Thanks for this article Tim. I just upgraded to a bigger TM backup drive. Now I can use the extra space as backup for my other media drive.

  38. Matheus
    December 8, 2014 at 3:00 am

    So, I bought a hard drive 1tb to use for back ups. The problem is that the time machine uses both the HD and the macbook space. I was wondering if there is one way to just use the HD space, and keep my macbook free of backups.

    • Tim Brookes
      January 2, 2015 at 2:14 am

      Hi Matheus,

      Apologies for the delay in getting back to you – I wonder if you solved your problem?

      That's very strange that your Mac is backing itself up... to itself. That doesn't really make much sense! Can you launch Time Machine and take a look at the designated drives? If you have chosen "Macintosh HD" or another internal partition then deselect that. Ensure your external HDD is selected, and only your external.

      Let us know if you sorted it out :)


  39. Anonymous
    December 4, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Very helpful thanx

  40. Lee303
    November 29, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Nice one Tim, this article fits perfectly as I just 'upgraded' from 500 drive to a 256 solid. I only need one backup at a time so this works well. I'm only really concerned with keeping high grade music someplace, after agonising over 320 AAC being OK in my mbp (convert from AIFF). Now I have plenty space on my SSD & all music is compatible with my players (my AIFF files stored externally). Cheers!

  41. Amanda
    November 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    So totally useful of an article! I had questions regarding how to optimally use my recently purchased external hard drive... and this article answered everyone one of them! And the instructions are so user friendly!

    Although, I would specify the differences of what format should be used for the storage component (specified for Time Machine backup, but not for storage) since I had to find the details on another site.

    • Amy
      January 7, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      me too, a bit lost here!! what format should I use for the storage component? help would be greatly appreciated

    • Gaya
      February 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

      GUID is safe and compatible with Mac. You could try exFAT but it's not guaranteed that it will work with Mac.

  42. Chris
    November 5, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks for the note. I havent touched the hard drive since your Step 2 from this post. Do I need to repartition the external HD from step 2 on this post before I go ahead with the Test Disk Process?

    • Tim Brookes
      November 11, 2014 at 3:31 am

      Hi Chris,

      Assuming that data recovery is your number one concern, do as little as possible to the drive. This will prevent further data being written to it (over the top of your old data). At present it's highly likely the data is sitting there, but the drive has marked those sectors as "to be written".

      You'll need space of at least the size of the partition you wish to recover to do this also – you can't recover a drive to the same drive.

      Good luck! Keep us posted :)


  43. Chris
    November 1, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Tim, Is there a way to recover the NTFS portion of my external drive? I didn't start with a clean drive (600GB out of 1.5 TB used originally in ntfs). I finished step 2 and then realized that it completely changed the drive to os extended.

  44. Rob
    October 26, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks for this, Tim. Just what I was after

    August 26, 2014 at 12:04 am

    I don't get why step 2 is necessary. Isn't possible to partition the disk without erasing it???

    • rea
      August 30, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      well, yes.

    • Tim B
      September 1, 2014 at 12:25 am

      Sometimes it is, but it often goes wrong. Not all volumes behave properly when partitioned – many Windows partitions (FAT32 particularly) have been destroyed this way.

      Another reason I left this step in was to make it clear to anyone following along that they'll be losing any existing data stored on the drive. Plus, it's always nice to start fresh with these sorts of things!

    • David
      April 18, 2015 at 4:19 am

      Perhaps this was covered in earlier comments (I have not read through all of them), but it seems to me the problem with this solution is, if the external drive fails, then you would lose both all your saved file data on the drive, plus the backup Time Machine data. Pretty much defeats the purpose of doing backups at all. This is assuming we are talking about a single bay enclosure with 1 drive only. However, if we were talking about an enclosure with 2 (or more) bays, and as many drives, would there be a way to partition these so that 1 could be for file storage, and the other for Time Machine backups? What would be the step by step process for this?