Cobian Backup 11 (Gravity) review: Free, option-rich and effective file backup

It's nice to see a simple program that just works without putting on airs.

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Rob Schultz/IDG

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At a Glance

Cobian Backup, with its old-guard look and interface, may not be much to look at.  But like many things OG, it works as well as, and quite likely better than, the shiny new toys. If you're looking for something reliable and more configurable that Windows' own File History, it's definitely worth the download.

Note: This review is part of our ongoing roundups of the best free backup software/services and the best Windows backup software. Go to those stories for information on competing products and buying advice. 

Specs and features

I started off talking about Cobian's interface, and it is indeed a decade or two out of style with large, somewhat basic icons on the main window and tiny ones on the menus. But that's appearance, and Cobian is a sweetheart in use: neat, efficient, with all the functions and options (of which there are many) logically categorized and laid out.

Cobian does plain file backup, not imaging, so it's not suitable for system recovery. But it does a bang-up job with the files, offering both compression and encryption should you so desire them. Most users are better off leaving the files uncompressed and unencrypted, so they won't need the program to restore them if need be.

cobian backup11 IDG

Cobian backup provides many options, the nicest of which by my lights is the ability to run the same task with multiple destinations.

As to those options, the short list of those beyond the ordinary scheduling, permissions, etc., includes: multiple loadable/savable groups of backup jobs; parking (write protecting) backups; unicode file names; plus a deleter for when Windows Explorer, with its 255-character limit, won't; command line use; and the ability to run as a service or an application, as well as remote access.

If you just thought IT, that's what I thought as well. This program is about as geeky as anything with a graphic interface that you'll find. 

The one feature that I absolutely love is the ability to run the same backup task to several destinations. I've been begging the larger vendors to implement this for over a decade. Let me say it again: Most users have one data set they want to back up to several places, or at least they should want redundant backups. The connection should be clear.

One thing I did not like is that both an Interface and an Application are involved. If you didn't install the program as a service, you must run the application, then launch the interface, or get an "engine not found" error.

Also, I had to restrain myself every time the run task dialog popped up with its option to shut down the computer after the tasks are completed. That's probably very handy for IT use, but it's exactly where the usual "Don't show this dialog next time" option is generally found. Even after multiple backups, I was still lunging at it with the mouse.

If those are the only things I have to complain about, then everything's pretty okay.

Performance

I tried several backups and all went off without a hitch, barring one error about not being able to access the volume shadow service (which locks in a point in time). They averaged more or less two hours per 65GB at normal priority, and about 130GB per hour at high priority. Impact in either case was negligible, so I'd leave things on high if you have anything that resembles a modern computer. If the backup is on something, say, 15 to 20 years old, perhaps step it back a notch.

A great freebie

It's nice to see a program that bears its creator's name (Luis Cobian), though the  program is now owned and maintained by one James Sweeney. It's nice to see a simple program that just works without putting on airs. If you've the need, it's highly recommended.

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At a Glance
  • Extremely well tailored to the task of file backup, Cobian Backup provides just about every applicable option--including the ability to run remotely. It's not much to look at, but it's easy to use, and very nicely--one job can be used to back up to multiple locations.

    Pros

    • Simple but with many options
    • Runs as a service or an application
    • Supports remote use

    Cons

    • File backup only
    • Dated looking interface (but easy to use)
  
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