Best online backup: We test the best services—Carbonite, iDrive, Backblaze, Livedrive

Online backup is an essential hedge against physical data disaster. Whether it’s an act of malice or an act of nature, you never know when trouble will threaten all the files and folders you have stored on your PC.

While we always recommend keeping a local backup for quick restores (see our roundup of the best Windows backup software for desktop solutions), uploading your data to an online backup service can be a reliable way to cover your bases. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best cloud backup services.

The good news for consumers is that all of the major online backup services we reviewed this year are exceptional products. But while all of the contenders received the same high verdict, each product has its own unique selling point. Our primary concern here is backup, but we do note other roles that a service can fulfill, such as sharing, multi-device support, and emergency-restore options. 

Below our picks, check out how we tested the services and information on how to choose the best backup service for you.

1. iDrive Online Cloud Backup – Best overall

iDrive Online Cloud Backup - Best overall

Pros

  • Online and local backup in the same job
  • Supports multiple PCs and devices on the same account

Cons

  • One of the pricier services, beyond the free version, though justifiably so

Just as when we originally reviewed all the major online backup services, iDrive remains the most comprehensive online backup service. And though it’s not the cheapest, it’s still affordable and comes with backup clients for nearly every PC and device. The company also provides additional storage for syncing all your devices and PCs, allows sharing of files with anyone, and has the ability to back up to a local drive. 

iDrive has two Personal plans that cover one user with unlimited computers and devices: a 5TB plan for $59.62 the first year (or $119.25 for two years), and $79.50 each year after; and a 10TB plan for $74.62 the first year (or $149.25 for two years) and $99.50 each year after. A Team plan can cover 5, 10, 25, 30, or 35 users, with an equivalent number of devices and terabytes of storage; prices range from $74.62 to $524.62 for the first year.

Read our full iDrive Online Cloud Backup review

2. Backblaze – Best budget option

Backblaze - Best budget option

Pros

  • Very affordable for unlimited backup
  • Unlimited storage for one PC
  • Just about foolproof

Cons

  • No sync service or other niceties

If you’re not sure what you want to back up, or where it is, or just don’t want the pressure of trying to figure it all out—Backblaze is the online backup service for you. It offers unlimited storage, and backs up everything except items you explicitly exclude. Given all that, it’s ridiculously inexpensive compared to the competition: $7 a month, $70 a year, or $130 for two years for unlimited storage. Per PC. That’s it. It’s the same for business PCs.

Read our full Backblaze review

3. Carbonite Safe – Most streamlined

Carbonite Safe - Most streamlined

Pros

  • Automatically selects most important files
  • Integrates with Windows Explorer for selection and backup status
  • Unlimited data

Cons

  • No file sharing features

Carbonite Safe is, in its own way, as simple as Backblaze. The only real difference is that Carbonite doesn’t back up everything by default. It selects what it thinks you need to back up, then leaves the rest up to you. It’s pretty successful selecting data if you use the standard locations (My Documents, etc.), so most users won’t need to provide additional input. 

The price of elegance is a little steeper: Basic online-only backup is $72 for one computer for one year, $136.78 for two years, and $194.37 for three. If you want the ability to duplicate the backup to a local hard drive and back up videos, then you’re talking $111.99, $212.78, and $302.37, respectively. If you want the ability to retrieve your data via a hard drive couriered to you (much faster than downloading when there’s a lot of data), the rate rise to $149.99, $284.98, and $404.97, respectively.

Read our full Carbonite Safe review

4. Livedrive – Most polished

Livedrive - Most polished

Pros

  • Flawless setup and client interface
  • Good performance
  • Syncing briefcase

Cons

  • More expensive than most

If you don’t mind paying a premium for your online backup, Livedrive will reward your investment with its elegant setup, minimalist interface, and superb operation. There is something to be said for how reassuring it can be to use a product that is artfully designed and executed. That is especially true for an online backup service. When it comes to mission-critical operations, a bug-free experience makes for peace of mind. If you value impeccability, Livedrive is an excellent choice for online backup. The standard Backup plan for one PC and unlimited storage is $89.90 for the first year and $107.88 per year after that; a Pro Suite that covers 5 machines is $240 for first year and $300 for subsequent years.

Read our full Livedrive online backup review

How we tested

As noted above, the performance of online backup services will vary wildly according to their location and the network equipment between you and the data depository. We installed the software and backed up the same 2GB data set to check for any major issues or glitches in the client software. These are noted in the reviews.

How to pick an online storage and backup service

How much capacity do I need?

Obviously, you’ll need as much storage as you have data, plus a little, or possibly a lot, more if you want to track changes and save previous versions of files. Some services keep multiple versions of files, some don’t. In many cases there’s a time limit.

How much should I pay?

Nearly all online services charge for a maximum allowable amount of data, and generally uploads are free. Aside from the free tiers available from a service like Dropbox, pricing is fairly consistent across services, though you definitely get more capacity for your money from some vendors, notably Backblaze.

What features should I look for?

As we mentioned previously, in addition to backup, you may want to share your files with others, work with them from mobile devices, or even edit them with office applications such as those available with Dropbox, Google, and OneDrive. If you do intend to work online, we recommend that you maintain a local copy as backup, and a hedge against internet downtime. 

How about OS and device support?

Most services provide client backup software for the major operating systems (Linux, OS X, and Windows) and both Android and iOS. Make sure the service you sign up for supports your entire panoply of computers and devices.

What kind of data privacy should I expect?

If you’re concerned about the privacy of your data, make sure you use a service that allows the use of a personal encryption key that you define. Do NOT lose it, as it is absolutely required to restore your data. Sadly, using your own key often limits the types of services (e.g., no mobile backup) available.

If private encryption keys aren’t available, read the privacy policy, especially with the free services—there are significant differences.

How about reliability?

Generally speaking, data centers are backed up to the hilt, and some of the larger ones even back up to different geographical locations. Availability (hopefully 24/7) can also be important. Check for news of outages and the vendor’s own service blogs. In truth, all the services we’re aware of are near-100% reliable.

What speed and data transfer rates should I look for?

Speed in many cases is far more dependent upon your broadband connection than that of the online service, though the geographical location of the storage and the equipment in between can make a significant difference. Check the location of the data servers if speed is important to you. Or, just give the trial a whirl and see if you can live with it.

Cloud backup FAQ

How often should you schedule backups?

Ideally, you should back up your data as often as possible. This is especially true if you are working on an important project or have data that you absolutely cannot afford to lose. It’s a good idea to automate the backup process and have the cloud service back up your data every hour or so.

What’s the difference between cloud backup services and services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive?

Services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive are considered to be cloud storage services. This means that a user must place their files or data onto the service’s cloud manually. These storage services usually offer a free version with limited storage or a paid version with increased capacity. They can also come with basic services such as automatic cloud backup and the synching of file versions.

A cloud backup service provides continuous versioning and backup of all the file history on your device. They will continuously and automatically back up every specified file on a device. Cloud backup service providers also offer additional data security measures such as end-to-end encryption.

Is it safe to store my data online?

Yes! All cloud backup services offer encryption of your data both during the transfer to and from your computer as well as while your data is stored on the provider’s servers.

While this encryption stops others from being able to view your data, it doesn’t necessarily stop them from stealing it. But rest assured that the level of security against theft with these services most likely rivals that of your own device. So generally speaking, while not infallible, cloud backup services are one of the most secure options for storing your data.

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