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Can You Use a Flash Drive With Time Machine?

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You should always make sure your data is backed up on your devices to an external drive so that you don’t lose anything in case of a malfunction. When it comes to backing up your Mac, you have a few different options. One of the best ways is to back up to a flash drive or other external storage device using Apple Time Machine.

You can use a flash drive with Time Machine to back up your Mac, as long as it’s large enough and high-quality. All you need to do is connect the drive to your Mac, choose it as the destination and then select backup preferences. You can enable automatic backups to occur daily, weekly, or monthly.

If you’re still not sure how Time Machine works, stick around! I will explain every step of the process in detail and give you some general information about Time Machine.

How To Back Up to a Flash Drive With Time Machine

Time machine allows you to back up data to an external storage device, like an external hard drive or a solid-state drive. However, you can also use a good quality and large enough flash drive. You can allow the backup to automatically occur hourly, daily, or weekly.

If you decide to do automatic backups, you should ensure to connect your Mac with an external storage device with a much bigger capacity. Read my other article on how much free space you need on your solid-state drive if you’re considering using it as an external drive for your Time Machine backup.

Manual One-Time Backup

However, if you want to backup your Mac to a flash drive using Time Machine only once, you just have to follow these simple steps:

  1. Connect the flash drive to your Mac, making sure it has a large enough capacity to be used for backup. If it doesn’t, Time Machine will let you know later.
  2. Find the Apple icon on the top left corner of your screen and click on it.
  3. Choose System Preferences from the menu.
  4. A window showing different options will open. Select Time Machine.
  5. Click on Select Backup Disk.
  6. A new window will show you all the options available. Select the flash drive and click on Use Disk.
  7. If a dialog window asks if you want to format the flash drive, choose Erase.
  8. Check the Show Time Machine in the menu bar box.
  9. In the menu bar, select the Time Machine icon.
  10. Finally, select Back Up Now.

If you want to repeat this process manually, you can connect the flash drive to your Mac and repeat the last two steps.

Automatic Backup

As mentioned above, if you have the space, you can set up the time machine to do the backup every hour. Once the external storage device is at full capacity, it will simply delete the oldest backup version. Here’s how to set up Time Machine to automatically back up your Mac to a flash drive:

  1. Connect the flash drive to your Mac.
  2. Go to the Apple menu and then click System Preferences.
  3. Find Time Machine and choose Select Backup Disk.
  4. Select Erase if prompted to format the drive. These two last steps can be skipped if you’ve set the backup disk before and it’s already selected.
  5. Check Back Up Automatically and then find Options.
  6. Choose the folders you want to automatically back up.
  7. Close the Options window, and the backup will begin.

Once you set automatic backup, Time Machine will backup the selected folders every hour as long as the flash drive stays connected to your Mac or until you disable this option.

Is a Flash Drive the Best Possible Choice for a Time Machine Backup?

An external hard drive or solid-state drive is considered a better choice for a Time Machine backup. These external devices have more capacity and are more durable, making them ideal for automatic backups.

Flash drives, on the other hand, have smaller capacities and shorter lifespans. They are usually used as portable devices, so it makes them more likely to be lost or misplaced. 

Technically, you can still use flash drives for Time Machine backups, but you need to pick one with a large enough capacity or select only a few files for backup. Moreover, make sure that it’s high quality.

How Time Machine Works

Time Machine is a built-in backup tool that helps you store data on an external storage device so that nothing is lost. If something on your Mac is deleted by mistake, you can always retrieve it from the storage device.

Time Machine will do backups hourly, daily, and weekly. You can choose the frequency of backups by going to Time Machine Settings and choosing Options. Find the Back Up Frequency menu and select the frequency you prefer.

You can also use Time Machine to restore data to a brand-new Mac. During setup, the setup assistant will ask if you want to restore the data from a Time Machine backup. Just select that option and follow the instructions. 

Other Ways to Backup Your Mac

Time Machine is an excellent way of backing up all your data to an external device so that you make sure that nothing gets lost if something happens to your Mac. However, there are other methods you can explore if you can’t use Time Machine:

  • Cloud storage: cloud storage makes it easy to back up your data without having an external storage device, but it makes your data more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
  • Manual backup: you can manually copy each folder or document that you deem important into a flash drive, but it takes a much longer time and it’s not an automatic process.
  • Clone your hard drive: by cloning, you create an identical copy of your hard drive on an external device, but it’s a one-time solution, and you can’t automatically repeat the process.


Time Machine is an excellent tool to back up data to an external drive. It makes it easy to choose what to back up, and it can be set to automatically update the backups daily, weekly, or monthly, as long as the external device is connected to your Mac.

To back up your Mac using Time Machine, you need to connect your flash drive to your Mac, select it as the backup destination, and then choose the backup preferences.

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