How to Check the Time Remaining of a Time Machine Backup in Mac OS X

Sep 11, 2015 - 20 Comments

Check the Time Remaining of a Time Machine Backup in Mac OS X

If you have ever wanted to know exactly how much time Time Machine is going to take to complete a current backup of a Mac, you’ll likely have noticed the Time Machine menu bar item shows the progress, but not the time before the backup is completed. Instead, if you want to see the time remaining of a backup, you’ll need to dig a little further in OS X.

While a Time Machine backup is actively (whether on schedule or started manually) backing up the Mac, you can check the progress and time remaining until completion through the preference panel item by doing the following:

  1. Go to the  Apple menu and choose “System Preferences”
  2. Click on “Time Machine” and find the time remaining under the progress bar and “Backing up: ?? GB of ??? GB” text

Check the time remaining of a Time Machine backup in Mac OS X

The time shown, typically in minutes or hours, is usually accurate, though since device and drive reading / writing and throughput can depend on other activity going on, the time can change depending on what else is going on with the Mac and the target drive. Additionally, sometimes Time Machine can be inordinately stuck on “Preparing Backup”, requiring intervention from the user, though that is a fairly rare situation.

This is the same whether the Time Machine drive is a local external hard disk, a network drive, or an AirPort Time Capsule, and whether the backup is encrypted or not.

Keep in mind that Time Machine backups happen incrementally once the initial backup has been made, which is why they’re usually pretty quick, unless you have added a ton of files or made many changes to the computer in the interim.

By the way, if you haven’t configured Time Machine automatic backups yet on your Mac, you really should do so, it’s quite simple to set up as detailed here.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. PM says:

    My Seagate does not show the remaining back up time. Is there another way to know when it’s done?

  2. Rebecca Evans says:

    I’m waiting for the time machine to backup so I can upgrade my OS. Thanks to your instructions I see is will take 4 hours to back up. I’ve heard Time Machine will back up every hour .. how is this possible if it’s taking 4 hours for one back up?

    • Paul says:

      The first Time Machine backup is always the longest because it has to backup the entire Mac and all data. After that first backup is complete, the future backups are delta backups, meaning only the *changes* between the prior backup and the new backup are backed up, which makes those frequent backups quite fast generally speaking. Hope that makes sense!

  3. MHogg says:

    Getting back to the original essence of the article, like Mo! Langdon, I too have no “time remaining” showing, either in words or a bar. I have been using Time Machine successfully for years. Now it is hung up. I bought a larger backup disk, and did an initial backup. Fine. Now I’m trying to do a second. After two days it still said “indexing backup”. I stopped it, deleted the “File in Progress”, ran Disk Utility. All was well, rebooted and started over. It went through “preparing backup” and now I’m right back to “indexing backup”. Through none of this has it shown me how much time is remaining in the process.

  4. Steve Lush says:

    Time Machine is fine for people who would have no built-in backup option but for TM. Still, it has to be set up and a destination for the backups attached. Even that is beyond many computer users. To them I say, the boot drive is the worst place for backups. At the very least, get an external drive bigger than your boot drive, plug it in and back up as often as you can. Your drive can die at any time and if you don’t have a backup strategy, you lose everything.

    As for TM failures, dreaded errors like “Time Machine completed a verification of your backups. To improve reliability, Time Machine must create a new backup for you” often means you’re screwed. I use a NAS and verifying a corrupted Sparsebundle on a network drive can be a daunting task. Having been burned by that message twice in the past month, I now keep two alternating TM backups on my NAS, but I’m adding CCC as a 3rd redundant copy. However, all will be on one NAS, so if my house burns down or the NAS fails, I’ll have nothing. Time to start researching off-site, cloud type backup services. Everybody should have a full off-site backup to really be protected. My 32 down/6 up internet speed may be inadequate for off-site backups so I may have to get a 150/150 (or higher) fiber hook up. Ugh, so much to do.

    As a Mac user since 1987, I still love Apple, but they aren’t perfect. TM is one weak area for even a moderately sophisticated Mac user. Since my last backup I have done nothing but surf Apple sites. However, TM is now backing up 291.61 GB and I haven’t a clue why. Don’t know what changed and it doesn’t tell you what files it’s working on. Need to monitor it in Console or get another app to see that info. BTW, wish I could post an image, but contrary to what one poster said, TM usually does NOT always show time remaining. It does on the initial backup, but the estimate is just that and the estimate can vary wildly throughout the backup process. Perhaps TM behaves differently depending on the OS version. I’m in Mountain Lion at the moment and all is see is how much, not how long.

  5. ho hum says:

    TM is great, until it fails, and it will…I have yet to see one that didn’t eventually.

    SD and CC are lower resource, far more exact and simplistic that TM can ever dream to be.

    Save as is SOP whenever a draft or document is revised, relying on TM to accomplish this is IMo sheer laziness nothing more.

    Hold the option key and click File, presto there is “save as”.

    I agree whatever idiot thought deleting that from the standard file menu should be shot. Hopefully it will return in El Crapitan.

    IMO TM as a redundant backup is hardly bulletproof, given it’s failure rate and difficulty in navigation vs CCC and SD which are not different than any external drive to navigate and light years more logical.

    TM is simply a way for Apple to generate follower income. Use TM, get a TC, spend spend spend. For 1/4 the cost of a TC one can get the same or more space drive and a NAS router and have the same functionality AND when one of these components fails NOT lose the other, another disadvantage of TC.

    I love Apple computers and OSX, but some of the crap they generate to drive revenue sales really is nothing more than overpriced crap marketing driven products.

  6. The ability of TM to make incremental backups is absolutely essential for us and eliminates the need to repeatedly save drawing files with new names (representing dates or revisions). Reaching back for an older version is dead simple.

    Apple’s autosave nonsense that was introduced a few versions back add to the necessity.

    A one-time disk mirror is pretty much useless for general use; when the machine goes into the shop, or if I am replacing it, sure, exact backups are needed. But even for recovery, a combination of TM plus the recovery partition make the process a breeze.

    It’s another case of Apple having control of hardware and software to make the process seamless.

  7. torben ibsen says:

    Everybody who reads osxdaily has a competence leves way above most users. For those who do not know much about backup strategies the Time Machine backup can be a great help. Often, having a good and easy solution is better than not having a perfect solution.

  8. Cerebro says:

    Chiming in as another user who keeps two back-ups as my “bulletproof” back-up plan. I use Time Machine and let it do it’s hourly thing whenever my Macbook is tethered to my desk. I, also, have as second external drive where I maintain a bootable clone with Carbon Copy Cloner. I, usually, update this every few weeks (and ALWAYS before performing a system upgrade). If I had to do a complete system restore, I’d do it with the clone, hands down. Time Machine has worked great for, immediate, retrieval of old files every now and again. It hasn’t failed me, yet. Between both of them, I have no worries about losing data.

  9. Mo! Langdon says:

    My Time Machine preferences say nothing about time remaining in the backup; never have.

    And, FWIW, I have gotten my ’Books back up and running quite sucessfully, after a total drive failure, from Time Machine backups in the past few months. Time Machine rocks!

    • swin am says:

      You haven’t looked at the right time then, it’s there, but you have to have an *active backup* going on at the time to be able to see the time remaining status of the backup. If you go look before or after, it won’t say anything about the time it takes to complete the backup.

      I agree, Time Machine is really good for what it is!

      • Mo! Langdon says:

        I *am* looking at the correct time (I may be a dumb formerly-blonde girl, but I’m not stupid), and it is, once again, not showing…

  10. Robert D. says:

    I use both Carbon Copy Cloner & Time Machine. I do a daily backup with CCC and hourly backups with Time Machine. Time Machine has the advantage of being invisible and I have had no issues when recovering files or doing a complete system recovery. It is nice to have the redundancy of two different methods. I will say that the performance of Time Machine over WiFi is pretty poor, very slow. I would recommend having a backup drive connected directly to the Mac if possible.

  11. ho hum says:

    Time Machine is and most likely always will be a joke. Cloning with SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner is the way to go. I know many people who used TM only after months or years to have it fail and lose their backups.

    • andy says:

      CarbonCopyCloner and SuperDuper are both good for exact backups, Time Machine is good for easy backups for the novice

      • ho hum says:

        Until it fails, then the novice is screwed. or the TM drive gets full which often causes failure of the TM backup. TM idiotically saves every change to every file as a new file, which is why TM drives fill up and are always larger than the drive they back up, often by A LOT!!!!!

        CCC and SD make exact, bootable clones, that appear as another drive, not requiring the use of an application to navigate them. You need to find a file you lost, just go into the clone drive and to the location it was in, and there it is.

        You can’t boot from your HDD, connect the clone drive, hold down option as you start up, select it and presto, just like your system HDD.

        Get a new computer and want to set it up like your old one, just clone your clone drive to it. Presto, exactly like it was in little time.

        the advantages are crystal clear, cloning using CCC or SD is totally superior to TM in every way.

    • DCJ001 says:

      I use both Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner because they both have great and important features.

    • Luke says:

      Sounds like the problem there is keeping exactly one backup, not Time Machine.

    • Toby says:

      SD and CCC are great for hard drive crashes or total loss, like from theft or water damage. TM is great for finding an accidentally deleted file two weeks ago. Savvy users combine the power of both platforms for a robust backup strategy. Rotate out a CCC backup to an off-site location, and you are ahead of 99.9% of computer users as far as backup. So, to sum up, use both TM and CCC.

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