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5 online backup services keep your data safe

February 6, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Carbonite

Carbonite's fifth-generation backup software was released last November, yet it lacks some of the key features that its competitors provide.

Carbonite offers several different services. The basic Carbonite Home service ($59/year) offers unlimited backup for both Windows and Mac systems. The HomePlus service ($99/year) adds external hard drive backup along with the ability to create mirror images, while the HomePremier service ($149/year) adds a courier-recovery service where a copy of your backup will be shipped to you.

HomePlus and HomePremier are for Windows users only. A separate service, Carbonite Business, offers storage at higher rates for business users.

Carbonite also has apps for accessing archived files on iOS, Android and BlackBerry smartphones.

Carbonite's InfoCenter interface has a clear and easy-to-understand view of your backup status. A nice visual touch is that, like the Mozy software, Carbonite places a dot next to every file that will be affected: Yellow means it's ready to be backed up, while green shows that it's already been backed up. It lacks a log of its operations, though.

By default, Carbonite backs up only your desktop, music, document, photo, settings, email and video files. You can add other specific files, but Carbonite's software balks at including system, Windows and program files.

Carbonite can back up files continuously or on a schedule. The operation remains in the background; a progress bar slowly fills up, giving an estimate of how much time remains.

Once the backup is finished, any archived file can be recovered on the host computer or with a smartphone. Files remain accessible from Carbonite's online server for 30 days after they've been deleted from your computer's hard drive.

Carbonite colocates its server equipment at several data centers throughout the U.S. According to its site, the service uses RAID techniques on its server disks to make sure that a burned-out hard drive in their farm won't take your backups with it. The system uses 128-bit encryption for both online transfers and data storage; it's the least sophisticated security system of the five services I looked at.

Test results

When I performed an initial backup, Carbonite copied 655 files (135MB) and moved them to the company's cloud storage in 27 minutes and 31 seconds.

At a Glance

Carbonite
Carbonite
Price: $59/year (Home); $99/year (HomePlus); $149/year (HomePremier)
Works with: Windows, Mac OS X (Home); Windows only (HomePlus, HomePremier); iOS, Android, BlackBerry
Pros: Can use external hard drive; can have hard drive of backups (Home Premier); able to choose order of file restoration; colored dots show files to be backed up and those done
Cons: Can't back up entire system online; Home Plus and Premier services for Windows PCs only

It was able to incrementally back up 25MB of material in 1 minute and 9 seconds, just slightly slower than CrashPlan.

Searching for a lost file took 1.3 seconds and the file was recovered in 1 minute and 6.8 seconds, putting it in the middle of the pack. I also created a backup on a 250GB external drive, which took 3 hours and 16 minutes (the drive needs to be reformatted first).

Carbonite allows you to choose the order in which files are recovered so that you can keep working or playing while other files are downloaded. There is a 15-day free trial period.

Bottom line

I like the unlimited storage that Carbonite provides, and the basic service is inexpensive at $59 a year. However, the fact that you can't do a complete online backup (although you can mirror your files to an external drive) is disappointing.

HiDrive

A new cloud-based backup service called HiDrive, from German hosting company Strato, was introduced to the U.S. market after this article was written, and so it wasn't able to be tested. It could be worth checking out, if only because it offers 5GB of free storage space to users who want to try it out, 3GB more than Mozy gives.

However, once you pass the 5GB mark, its paid services can be a bit pricey. They include HiDrive 100, which provides 100GB of storage along with the ability to upload files via email and costs approximately $13/month (about $156/year). HiDrive 500 comes with 500GB of storage and the ability to share your data with others for about $39/month (about $468/year).

HiDrive works with Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices.



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