For some people Time Machine will be more than adequate. Time Machine is part of OS X. There are two components:
1. A Time Machine preferences panel as part of System Preferences;
2. A Time Machine application located in the Applications folder. It is
used to manage backups and to restore backups. Time Machine
requires a backup drive that is at least twice the capacity of the
drive being backed up.
Alternatively, get an external drive at least equal in size to the internal hard drive and make (and maintain) a bootable clone/backup. You can make a bootable clone using the Restore option of Disk Utility. You can also make and maintain clones with good backup software. My personal recommendations are (order is not significant):
2. Data Backup
3. Deja Vu
5. Synk Pro
Visit The XLab FAQs and read the FAQ on backup and restore. Also read How to Back Up and Restore Your Files. For help with using Time Machine visit Pondini's Time Machine FAQ for help with all things Time Machine.
Although you can buy a complete external drive system, you can also put one together if you are so inclined. It's relatively easy and only requires a Phillips head screwdriver (typically.) You can purchase hard drives separately. This gives you an opportunity to shop for the best prices on a hard drive of your choice. Reliable brands include Seagate, Hitachi, Western Digital, Toshiba, and Fujitsu. You can find reviews and benchmarks on many drives at Storage Review.
Enclosures for FireWire and USB are readily available. You can find only FireWire enclosures, only USB enclosures, and enclosures that feature multiple ports. I would stress getting enclosures that use the Oxford chipsets especially for Firewire drives (911, 921, 922, for example.) You can find enclosures at places such as;
1. Cool Drives
All you need do is remove a case cover, mount the hard drive in the enclosure and connect the cables, then re-attach the case cover. Usually the only tool required is a small or medium Phillips screwdriver.
After you make your backup be sure you do this next:
Repair the Hard Drive and Permissions
Boot from your Snow Leopard Installer disc. After the installer loads select your language and click on the Continue button. When the menu bar appears select Disk Utility from the Utilities menu. After DU loads select your hard drive entry (mfgr.'s ID and drive size) from the the left side list. In the DU status area you will see an entry for the S.M.A.R.T. status of the hard drive. If it does not say "Verified" then the hard drive is failing or failed. (SMART status is not reported on external Firewire or USB drives.) If the drive is "Verified" then select your OS X volume from the list on the left (sub-entry below the drive entry,) click on the First Aid tab, then click on the Repair Disk button. If DU reports any errors that have been fixed, then re-run Repair Disk until no errors are reported. If no errors are reported click on the Repair Permissions button. Wait until the operation completes, then quit DU and return to the installer.
If DU reports errors it cannot fix, then you will need Disk Warrior and/or Tech Tool Pro to repair the drive. If you don't have either of them or if neither of them can fix the drive, then you will need to reformat the drive and reinstall OS X.
Next, verify your computer meets the minimum requirements to upgrade:
Upgrade Paths to Snow Leopard, Lion, and/or Mountain Lion
You can upgrade to Mountain Lion from Lion or directly from Snow Leopard. Mountain Lion can be downloaded from the Mac App Store for $19.99. To access the App Store you must have Snow Leopard 10.6.6 or later installed.
Upgrading to Snow Leopard
You can purchase Snow Leopard through the Apple Store: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard - Apple Store (U.S.). The price is $19.99 plus tax. You will be sent physical media by mail after placing your order.
After you install Snow Leopard you will have to download and install the Mac OS X 10.6.8 Update Combo v1.1 to update Snow Leopard to 10.6.8 and give you access to the App Store. Access to the App Store enables you to download Mountain Lion if your computer meets the requirements.
Snow Leopard General Requirements
1. Mac computer with an Intel processor
2. 1GB of memory
3. 5GB of available disk space
4. DVD drive for installation
5. Some features require a compatible Internet service provider;
fees may apply.
6. Some features require Apple’s iCloud services; fees and
Upgrading to Lion
If your computer does not meet the requirements to install Mountain Lion, it may still meet the requirements to install Lion.
You can purchase Lion by contacting Customer Service: Contacting Apple for support and service - this includes international calling numbers. The cost is $19.99 (as it was before) plus tax. It's a download. You will get an email containing a redemption code that you then use at the Mac App Store to download Lion. Save a copy of that installer to your Downloads folder because the installer deletes itself at the end of the installation.
Lion System Requirements
1. Mac computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7,
or Xeon processor
2. 2GB of memory
3. OS X v10.6.6 or later (v10.6.8 recommended)
4. 7GB of available space
5. Some features require an Apple ID; terms apply.
Upgrading to Mountain Lion
To upgrade to Mountain Lion you must have Snow Leopard 10.6.8 or Lion installed. Purchase and download Mountain Lion from the App Store. Sign in using your Apple ID. Mountain Lion is $19.99 plus tax. The file is quite large, over 4 GBs, so allow some time to download. It would be preferable to use Ethernet because it is nearly four times faster than wireless.
Macs that can be upgraded to OS X Mountain Lion
1. iMac (Mid 2007 or newer) - Model Identifier 7,1 or later
2. MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer) - Model Identifier 5,1 or later
3. MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer) - Model Identifier 3,1 or later
4. MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer) - Model Identifier 2,1 or later
5. Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer) - Model Identifier 3,1 or later
6. Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer) - Model Identifier 3,1 or later
7. Xserve (Early 2009) - Model Identifier 3,1 or later
To find the model identifier open System Profiler in the Utilities folder. It's displayed in the panel on the right.
Are my applications compatible?
For a complete How-To introduction from Apple see Upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion.
Use a program such as the Disk Utility, Carbon Copy Cloner, or SuperDuper to clone your existing system to an external drive.