The Best Online Backup Service

You can’t spill coffee on the cloud

If you don’t want to risk losing your computer’s data, back it up. Then back it up again. Then back it up again after that. Simple enough, but it’s a chore — and much like the equally simple chore of flossing, most people don’t do it until after they’ve learned the hard way just how important it is. Nearly 30 percent of people have never backed up their data and, according to the same poll by Harris Interactive, only 10 percent safeguard their files weekly. The best online backup services make the whole process effortless, automatic, and secure. Our top pick, IDrive, is so unobtrusive, you might forget you’re even using it.

Our Picks for the 5 Best Online Backup Services

Unlike an actual cloud, cloud computing isn’t subject to unpredictable forces of nature. In fact, it’s one of the most secure ways of storing and accessing the files you use every day — and even the ones you don’t. These files sit on cloud servers and are fully accessible for you to restore to your home computer should your local versions go missing.

Pre-cloud technology, the go-to backup solution was an external hard drive, often positioned mere inches from your computer. But that hard drive isn’t much use in a fire, robbery, or even a coffee spill. Most IT experts recommend saving your data in at least three different places, one of which is off-site and accessible via the cloud. Tech blogger Scott Hanselman refers to this as the Backup Rule of Three, stressing that simply backing up your data to a local hard drive or SD card is #notabackup (yes, he even created a hashtag for this).

To find the best online backup services — a critical part of that Rule of Three — we spent more than 40 hours researching and comparing the storage capacity, transfer speed, and overall user experience of 36 services, ranging from big hitters to no namers.

Our Picks for the Best Online Backup Services

Best Overall

IDrive Simplicity and impressive upload speed helped IDrive stand out as our overall favorite.

IDrive was the only service we tested that never sent us hunting for an FAQ section. Sure, the desktop application looks like software from 1999. Yes, there are buttons that don’t do anything when you click them. But IDrive makes it easy to upload and was second fastest in our speed test. Even the web app was fast enough that we could smoothly preview a video to make sure it was the exact file we wanted to restore.

Scheduling backups is painless, too. There’s a daily backup cadence as well as a continuous data-protection option that backs up your files as soon as they’ve been saved, minimizing the chance of losing anything you created or changed since your last backup.

One of the best parts of IDrive’s desktop application is how much information it presents. We had to use a stopwatch to time most of the other services in our upload test, but with IDrive you can click to reveal an upload-progress bar, and it gave a full report detailing how long each upload took.

IDrive’s interface is clean, simple, and easy to navigate, if a bit ’90s.

Finding and restoring files is easy enough, as long as you know where you saved them on your computer in the first place. IDrive recreates your original hierarchy of folders online; once downloaded, everything is funneled into a top-level IDrive Downloads folder where that hierarchy of folders repeats. The whole experience feels neither super user friendly, nor super dreadful — it just gets the job done.

Unlike many of the services we tested, IDrive allows you to include an unlimited number of devices with a single subscription. A private encryption key ensures maximum security, and an encrypted local backup option lets you access files even when you don’t have an internet connection (you will need an external drive, though). Those oft-neglected users of the Linux and Windows Phone operating systems are also in luck, as IDrive is the only one of our final contenders that’s compatible with both.

IDrive’s trump card is a bonus service called IDrive Express. The company will physically ship you a hard drive, which you can use to quickly backup up to 3TB of data — this is a really nice benefit if you want to avoid long, bandwidth-sucking uploads. All you have to do then is return the drive, and IDrive will back up the data to its servers as soon as the company gets it. It works in reverse, too: A full restore is way faster downloading from a physical hard drive if you need your data in a hurry.

Several other services, including SOS Online Backup, also offer a physical restore option, but it almost always comes with a high cost. IDrive personal users can do it once a year for free.

For all its transparency, performance, and perks, IDrive is worth the $60 annual subscription. The fact that your first year is only $45 (or less, if there’s a sale!) is just a beautiful bonus.

Fastest Upload Speeds

SOS Online Backup Perhaps the least beautiful of our final contenders, but it makes up for a minimalist interface with the fastest upload speeds.

We often found ourselves frustrated with SOS’s barebones interface, but if you’re gunning for sheer speed (or love a little minimalism) you couldn’t do better than this powerful service. SOS simply blew away our other contenders, uploading 1GB of data in under nine minutes (the next closest service, our top pick IDrive, clocked in at 11:29). It should also be noted that the website is decidedly easier to navigate than the desktop application, and the FAQ section quickly cleared up most of our questions.

SOS Online Backup crushed the speed test but its bare, no-frills interface didn’t wow us.

SOS also scored highly in terms of security. The service offers a private key option along with AES 256 encryption, but what really impressed us was a feature you don’t see everywhere: unlimited versioning. No matter how many times you edit or change a document, SOS saves every version and allows you to access it easily — it even lets you decide where a file should be downloaded to. Sure, the price tag ($8 per month) is steeper than most other options, but it also comes with unlimited storage.

Best Security and Privacy

SpiderOakONE If you’re an experienced user — or even a mild political dissident — you’ll appreciate its airtight security.

SpiderOakONE offers 1TB of storage for $12 per month ($129 per year), which isn’t the most cost-effective online backup solution. It also finished dead last uploading 1GB of data in our test, requires a software download before you can access the web app, and its red “BUY MORE SPACE” button is larger than the gray upload button that’s used more often. But we’ll say this for SpiderOak: It takes security seriously. The company’s front page even features a testimonial from Edward Snowden.

SpiderOakONE’s attractive interface emphasizes customization (and its buy button).

SpiderOak’s pitch starts with its Zero Knowledge privacy policy, which ensures that any file you save on its servers remains completely private and visible only to you. It makes a big deal about how impossible it would be for the company to ever access your data.

SpiderOakONE’s three-level security plan is as thorough as it gets.

Aside from privacy, SpiderOak offers some of the most complex customization options of any of our contenders. Though it’s not exactly intuitive, the desktop application looks nice and lets you tailor pretty much everything to your needs. Want to customize your backup schedule? No problem. Need to back up only one type or size of file? SpiderOakONE lets you sort through all of your data and select only the ones you want.

If you value security above everything else, it might be worth the extra money for a SpiderOakONE subscription.

Best Desktop Application

Acronis We fell in love with its desktop application, which prizes simplicity and intuitiveness above pretty much everything else.

Acronis True Image Cloud puts an emphasis on ease of use and simplicity, as evidenced by its clean and attractive desktop application. Don’t get us wrong — Acronis still delivers the goods. The company’s email support especially impressed us, as did the website’s Live Chat option; we used both just to see how they worked, but it wasn’t really necessary given how easy the desktop application is to navigate.

At $100 per year for just one computer (you can pay up to $200 to cover five computers), it’s hard to recommend Acronis as a good value, especially since half of users have at least two computers. The service performed in the middle of the pack in our speed test, and its features don’t allow for a ton of customization. With that said, if you value aesthetics and easy navigation, consider Acronis.

Acronis isn’t a great value, but it combines an attractive look with intuitive controls.

Best Free Online Backup Supplement

CrashPlan Unlimited storage, a high level of security, and an easy way to share files with friends.

If you head to the online forums, you’re likely to see lots of love for CrashPlan. And it makes sense: This is an attractive backup service that offers perks such as unlimited storage, a high level of security, and a straightforward, if unremarkable interface. We weren’t totally sold on CrashPlan in our speed test, and it took us a little extra time to find our way around the desktop application; it looks simple on the surface, but many of the menus are dedicated to sales, even if you’ve already signed up. But you could do a lot worse than this service, especially if you know other people who are using it (CrashPlan allows for easy file sharing between friends). It also has a cool calendar feature for retrieving backed up files.

CrashPlan’s desktop app is pretty enough, but not super easy to navigate.

Where CrashPlan truly shines is in its value as an online backup supplement. The service offers free automated daily backups with no strings attached, so long as you can provide your own local storage device (an external hard drive or any computer connected to the internet will work). And it’s really easy to use:

You supply the hard drive, and CrashPlan’s free software will pretty much take it from there.

Other Online Backup Services to Consider

BackBlaze

If you don’t care about customization and want a simple service you can set and forget, give Backblaze a try. It’s the cheapest service out of everything we tested and seems to be designed for total beginners: It automatically chooses what to back up and defaults to a slow upload speed. (It said it’d take a painstaking 23 days to upload an initial 60GBs, but you can dig in the preferences to unthrottle your upload.) The biggest downside to Backblaze is restoring files, which involves a journey to the Backblaze website, then to your email, and finally to a bulk zip of files. There’s an option to get your data shipped to you on a hard drive, but that’s also cumbersome: Pay $189 up front, then email customer service to let them know you’ve shipped it back for a full refund.

Carbonite

If you own a small business and like the idea of using the same service for all your needs, Carbonite offers attractive values for both personal and business solutions. The company also achieved a perfect score on our customer service evaluation, so you know you’ll be in good hands.

Did You Know?

Security is mostly up to you.

Cloud services aren’t impervious to breaches, but according to Townsend, they have so many defenses that most hackers aim their sights at an easier target: the users themselves. “It is easier for hackers to break into our PC or laptop or smartphone, steal our cloud credentials, and just download our files than it is to attack the better-defended cloud companies head on,” he explained.

This isn’t meant to scare you, but it should be a wake-up call. Once you get your private encryption key, it’s up to you to keep it safe. Don’t use the same password that you use for your email account, and don’t store it in a place that could potentially be breached, like inside your phone or under your favorite park bench. The best place for your password is in your head — so long as you don’t forget it. If you are worried about forgetting, check out our password managers review to find one that works for you. (If you have more than three passwords memorized, you should probably be using a password manager.)

Continuous backups are the best way to keep your data safe and up-to-date.

All services back up data on a fixed schedule; only a few do it continuously. One of the reasons we love IDrive is because it offers a continuous data-protection option, which backs up files as you create and edit them (SOS Online Backup offers a similar feature). As soon as you save your updates, you’ll be able to access the new files. This is an especially convenient feature, as most other services recommend making a habit (and therefore a hassle) of checking in your scheduled backups to ensure they are actually happening.

If your backup seems especially slow, make sure your internet provider isn’t imposing a bandwidth cap.

Low bandwidth can be the result of several different factors, including a slow internet connection and issues with your local network. Some online backup services, like Backblaze, contribute to this by limiting or “throttling” bandwidth. If you notice your uploads and downloads going slower than they should, check to make sure your internet provider isn’t imposing a bandwidth cap. If it is, adjust how much bandwidth your backup service is sucking up from the desktop application. Your backup will go a bit slower, but you’ll still have some bandwidth left for cruising the web.

The Bottom Line

To truly avoid a data disaster, it’s best to have three backups: two physical hard drives in separate locations and one in the cloud. We recommend IDrive for its seamless and secure continuous backup that makes keeping a copy of your data in the cloud as easy as autosave.

Take Action

Best Overall

IDrive No other service we tested was easier to use right out of the gates.

Buy an external hard drive. Remember the rule of three: Backing up your data in just one place is never enough. No matter which online backup service you choose, you should also be backing up the same data to a local hard drive.

Take a few hours to organize your files. Just like a bedroom, a computer needs regular tidying. Before backing up your data, take some time to go through it all, delete redundant folders, and reorganize files in a way that works for you. You’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to hunt for that Excel spreadsheet of lucky lottery numbers.

Look into a password manager. You’ll be the only person who has access to your personal key, and a password manager will help ensure you never forget it. Our favorite is Dashlane and it has a no-risk freemium version.