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

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Online backup is an essential hedge against physical data disaster. Whether it’s an act of malice or an act of nature (earthquakes, floods, hard-drive devouring locusts), you never know what could hit your PC or phone, and when. Most of us stand to lose a significant store of digital possessions if our primary device disappears or is rendered inoperable.

Uploading your data to an online backup service covers a lot of the bases. Some people call these “cloud” services, but in reality, your data is stored on servers at the other end of the connection—that is, someone else’s hard drives. But that’s part of the plan! The backup Rule of Three says you should maintain three copies of your data: the original, a copy, and a copy of the copy. One copy should be in a safe place away from the original and secondary.

We always recommend keeping a local backup for quick restores (see our backup software roundup for desktop solutions), but online backup can actually serve as both the second and third copies—assuming the vendor keeps its servers backed up, or adequately redundant.

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, as you’ll see below. It’s a win-win for consumers, who not only can’t go wrong with any of these excellant products, but can also be exceptionally choosey. Our primary concern here is backup, but we will note other roles that a service can fulfill, such as sharing, multi-device support, or emergency-restore options. 

Best overall online backup: iDrive

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, including Windows Phone—a rarity these days. 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: $69.50 a year for 5TB, and $99.50 a year for 10TB. Business plans allow for up to 50 users, starting at $99.50 for five users, and going up from there, with the 50-user tier costing $999.50. For all the details, read our full review of iDrive.

Best budget online backup service: Backblaze

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: $6 a month, $60 a year, or $110 for two years for unlimited storage. Per PC. That’s it. It’s the same for business PCs. Read our full review of Backblaze for more details.

Most streamlined online backup: Carbonite

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. 

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