You can lose your valuable data in plenty of ways, including hard-drive failure, theft (laptops are particularly vulnerable), and catastrophe (fire, extreme weather, earthquake). Although the cloud can’t rebuild your home or office after a disaster, it can provide a safe haven for your files.
Having a mirror image of your entire Windows environment (the operating system, all of your programs, and your data files) is great if something goes terribly wrong, and Carbonite will build such an image for you if you subscribe to its HomePlus ($99 per year) or HomePremier ($149 per year) plan and provide an external drive. Once you have that image, we recommend storing the drive offsite (with a friend or in a safe deposit box). Carbonite also offers an optional courier service with its HomePremier plan, enabling you to store your backups on an external drive at Carbonite’s location (shipping charges apply). If you’d rather stick to a more basic backup arrangement, Carbonite has a $59-per-year Home plan too.
The service’s tight integration with Windows is our favorite feature. For example, you can right-click any file on your machine and instruct Carbonite to back it up straightaway. We also like having the ability to instruct Carbonite to take a nap during specific hours, to prevent it from hogging the Internet connection at peak times. And all three Carbonite plans include unlimited storage.
Of the three online backup services we examined for this article, CrashPlan is the only one that provides a genuinely useful free account (most users will find Mozy’s 2GB of free backup space to be inadequate). There’s a catch to CrashPlan’s free offering, though: You must find family members or friends who are willing to host your backups on their computers (CrashPlan allows you to back up to multiple destinations, including a local NAS device).
CrashPlan supports more operating systems than most other service providers do, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Solaris. Paid service plans, which let you back up to CrashPlan’s servers, cost $25 per year for up to 10GB of backup storage and $50 per year for unlimited backups.
CrashPlan’s main appeal lies in the degree of control it allows users to exert over their backups. With this service, you can manage everything from how often CrashPlan checks for new file versions (from once a minute to once a day) to how frequently the service purges deleted files. Power users will enjoy tweaking the software’s performance settings, controlling how many CPU cycles CrashPlan consumes while the PC is idle versus how much it uses while you’re working on other tasks, and even managing its outbound-bandwidth consumption.
With this service, you can store up to 2GB of data on a free plan—that’s enough space for 300 photos, by Mozy’s estimation. Mozy also offers 50GB of storage for $6 per month (for one PC) and 125GB for $10 per month (for three PCs). Only computers running Windows or Mac OS X need apply; Mozy doesn’t support Linux machines.
Mozy’s desktop application is dead-simple to navigate. The service can back up your data by file type (videos, photos, and so on), or you can drill down and select specific files and folders. You get no option, unfortunately, for backing up programs or the operating system. Another major drawback is that you must perform all backups online; you can’t copy your files to an external drive and then ship your backup to Mozy. The service’s biggest sin, however, is that it permanently removes deleted files after 30 days.
CrashPlan edges out the other two backup services thanks to its extensive customization options and OS compatibility. And once again, our favorite desktop service also offers the best iPad option.