Why Use an Online Backup Service?
The top performers in our review are IDrive, the Gold Award winner; CrashPlan, the Silver Award winner; and SpiderOakONE, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 services.
If you're wondering whether you should back up your Mac, stop wondering and just do it. Decide right now to protect your data with a backup strategy that fits your needs. It doesn't matter whether you use a Mac online backup service or Mac backup software – backing up your computer should be a priority. Accidents happen. Hard drives wear out and stop working. Computers crash. Macs get stolen. Whatever the case, a data loss disaster is an ever-present threat in the digital age. If you don't back up your data, you'll either lose it forever or face the enormous cost of hiring a hard drive recovery service.
The fear of losing information is nothing new. Humanity has long wrestled with the impermanence of information. First, we protected information by committing it to memory. But people forget. So we protected against our faulty memories by passing the information on. But word of mouth is unreliable. So we wrote information down on stone, clay, metal, wood, animal skins, parchment and paper. But even these mediums eventually deteriorate, so we made copies. Eventually, we invented the printing press so that we could make copies of our copies until we had libraries. And then came computers with hard drives.
It's tempting to think that the invention of hard drives and computers provides us with a level of protection far superior to anything else prior, but that's not the case. In fact, while hard drives allow you to store libraries' worth of information in the palm of your hand, technology has made the threat of losing data even more real and urgent. Hard drives are one of the most susceptible mediums for data loss. A book can hold information for hundreds of years, if not thousands. A hard drive is lucky to last more than five years. A hard drive is like a battery – eventually it wears out and you need to replace it. If you don't plan for this eventuality, then you're in for a bad day.
Finding Your Backup Strategy
Within the data backup industry, the 3-2-1 backup strategy is the recommended starting place for tailoring your backup strategy to fit your needs. This philosophy works because it's simple and easy to remember: Always maintain at least three copies of any essential file stored on at least two different formats with one of those formats stored off-site. Three copies. Two formats. One format stored off-site. A Mac online backup service fulfills most of this strategy's requirements. It ensures that your files are stored on a second format (the servers) in an off-site location.
However, it's a good idea to maintain the third copy on a physical device that you maintain. While Mac backup services are generally reliable, there's always a chance that a service could go out of business or experience some disaster with its servers, though the best Mac backup services in our review have protocols in place to ensure your data is protected even if their data centers are under threat. This is why it's also important to maintain a separate backup of your computer locally.
Using the Time Machine
Every Mac comes with an app called Time Machine. This app allows you to manage physical backups of your hard drive to a different hard drive. You can use it to back up to an external hard drive, fulfilling one of the three required copies. You can also use it to back up to an external drive on your friend's computer, fulfilling one of the three copies and a copy on an off-site location. The best part of the Time Machine is that it doesn't cost anything. It's also already installed on your Mac. You just have to set it up. You can even use it to back up to the iCloud, though this requires you to make one of the folders on a physical drive that you then back up to an iCloud folder.
Choosing the Right Plan
Every online Mac backup service we reviewed offers multiple subscription plans. The plan you choose determines how much storage you get for the backed-up data and how many computers you can install the service's app to. In some cases, the cheaper plans lack some of the features included with more expensive plans. As such, it's important to consider the features included with the plan.
Sometimes there are only two options: a personal plan and a business plan. In several cases, there are half a dozen options with a wide variety of available features and storage in each plan. With most services, the personal plan backs up one computer and either allows for an unlimited or specified amount of storage. Family plans are typically identical to personal plans but allow you to back up three or more computers on your account. If you're a business looking to back up your Macs, you should read our review on business online backup services. For this Mac online backup review, we considered the plans best suited for a household of computers.
Online Storage vs. Online Backup
It's easy to mistake online storage services as being the same as online backup services. In fact, many of the services in our review use the terms interchangeably and without distinction. However, there is a difference. An online backup service acts as your backup, while an online storage service acts as your primary storage – like a virtual hard drive. Both services store your information online and can meet the 3-2-1 backup strategy, which means that an online storage service can be your online backup service.
Unfortunately, the reverse isn't true: A true online backup service can't be your online storage service. Since an online backup service's priority is to be the second copy of your data, the files don't remain on the servers indefinitely. If you delete a file from your computer, the file disappears from your account as well, though there is generally a grace period of 30 days. On the other hand, online storage services store files forever. Your files are only deleted from the account if you log into your account through a web browser and manually delete the files. In this way, the service acts more as a virtual hard drive for your data than a backup service.
Mac Online Backup vs. PC Online Backup
If you own a Mac, you're likely already backing up to your iCloud account. If not, the iCloud is an excellent option. With the iCloud, you can back up 1TB of data on unlimited computers for $9.99 a month. And the data mirrors to all of your Mac devices, which makes it easy to access at any time. However, the iCloud lacks many of the features that you'd find with the best Mac online backup services.
Each service in our review backs up Macs. In fact, in most cases, the online data backup service works no differently on a Mac than on a PC. However, there is one exception – Carbonite. Its only subscription plan that's currently compatible with a Mac is the basic plan. Many of the features that make Carbonite one of the best online backup services for a PC are missing for a Mac. With Carbonite, you don't get file versioning, bandwidth throttle controls, schedule controls, external hard-drive backup, courier recovery, device syncing or a personal encryption key. In addition, the Carbonite app proved to be very buggy in our tests, often refusing to back up or restore selected files.
Mac Online Backup Services: What We Tested, What We Found
Backing up and restoring files on your Mac is not a quick process. Depending on how much data you're backing up, the first full backup could take anywhere from several days to several months. Since this time can be filled with anxiousness, it's important to choose a service that protects your data quickly. Likewise, restoring all of your files takes time for the same reason. As such, we tested the backup speed and restore speed. During our speed tests, we also recorded the CPU usage to gauge how much of a resource hog the app is on your Mac.
Since everyone with a computer should back up his or her devices, we also evaluated the ease of use for each stage of the backup process. The best online backup service should be easy enough for all levels of experience.
Several variables affect backup speed. Your upload speed depends on your modem and your internet provider. Some internet providers limit the bandwidth you have each month, which means you may only be allowed to upload a specific limit. Other providers slow down the bandwidth once you exceed a defined limit. On the service's end, traffic and its own network quality affect the upload speed. The time of day and number of users on both your network and the service's network also affect it, as do the compression and encryption settings.
To test the backup speed, we backed up the same data set on the same network with each service, measuring the data it successfully backed up in an hour. To account for variables in network traffic on the service's side, we performed the tests multiple times at various times of the day, including the weekend, to create an average speed. We performed each backup set with the settings for encryption, compression and bandwidth usage optimized for the best performance. In addition, we recorded the average CPU usage throughout the process so we could calculate how much resources each service used when it was actively backing up the files.
As mentioned, it's important to recognize that your backup speeds may differ from our results due to your internet limitations and computer specifications. When applying the average speed to a standard 1TB hard drive, assuming that the rate would maintain the average, the service with the fastest backup in our tests, IDrive, could complete the backup in less than three days. For comparison, the service with the slowest backup in our tests, Carbonite, could complete a 1TB backup in about 20 days.
In this scenario, your hard drive stopped working or your Mac was stolen. Either way, you have to restore all your files, which means the service has to decompress and download the files. The same variables exist with restore speed as with backup speed: You're limited by your network provider's bandwidth, network traffic on both ends and computer specifications. To test this, we restored the backed-up data sets with each service. We performed each test multiple times on the same computer and the same network. We also tested this at various times of the day, including late at night and on weekends.
As with the backup speed tests, you may experience faster or slower results. The goal of a test such as this is to provide a comparative platform: Each service was tested in the same environment with the same download bandwidth on our network. Considering the average speeds as applied to 1TB of data, assuming that the speeds would remain constant, the service with the fastest restore, IDrive, could potentially complete the restore in less than three days. The slowest, Backblaze, could take over 25 days to restore the same data.
Ease of Use
Everyone with a computer should have a backup strategy. It doesn't matter if you're in your 90s with your first computer or you're a preteen computer-programming prodigy. As such, the best online backup services are designed around an intuitive interface that anyone can use. To test this, we scrutinized each stage of the backup and restore process: account setup and installation, full backup, automatic backup, full restore, and partial restore. We counted the steps and noted how well features were labeled and defined.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained usage of the services on our lineup either on loan from the companies or through retail purchase. The services had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting an Online Mac Backup Service?
Mac online backup services come with myriad features, many of which are superfluous for most users. However, there are some features that we gave more weight to: file versioning, backup seeding, courier recovery, security, and help and support.
You create a new version of a document every time you edit it. If you edit the document 100 times, you've created 100 versions of the document. The same principle applies to any file you change more than once. The best online backup services have a feature that allows you to maintain backups of your versions. This allows you to restore the file to any point in its history. File versioning is like a time machine that allows you to go back to when you first made the file. This allows you to reverse unwanted changes and see the full progress of the file.
Some Mac online backup services place limits on file versioning. Sometimes these limits are defined by the number of versions you can maintain, sometimes by how far back the versioning can go. For example, MozyHome allows you to have unlimited versions of a file, but the versions only go back 30 days, while IDrive only maintains the 10 most recent versions of a file. However, the online backup services with the best scores in this area, like CrashPlan, maintain an unlimited number of versions for an indefinite period, allowing you to restore the file to any point in its history.
Backup Seeding & Courier Recovery
A full backup of a 1TB hard drive can take weeks or months. Likewise, restoring 1TB of data takes a very long time. If you can't wait that long, consider a service with backup seeding and courier recovery. Both features generally require an additional fee, though they come standard with IDrive. Backup seeding is when the service sends you a physical hard drive. You back up to the drive and mail it back to the service, which seeds the drive directly into its servers. This way, a full backup takes a few days instead of months.
Courier recovery is the same concept, only the service sends you a hard drive with your files already backed up to it, allowing you to restore the files directly from the drive, which takes hours instead of weeks. Courier recovery is only recommended when you need to restore all of the backed-up files.
Anytime you upload data that you own to an online service, you should pay special attention to the security protocols. This begins with the encryption of your files. Every service in our review encrypts your files, but the level of the encryption differs. Some only encrypt at a base of 128-bit, while others feature the 446-bit Blowfish encryption. Regardless of the encryption level, the most important security feature is whether you own the encryption key or not. If you don't own the encryption key, then employees of the service can access your data. Some services maintain the right to the encryption key for the purpose of serving warrants.
The downside to owning your encryption key is the responsibility: If you forget what the key is, the service can't help you. This means you have to be vigilant in keeping records of the encryption keys you make. The upside is that you are the only one who can view the files, which means you maintain full ownership of your data.
Another important security factor is whether the service owns and maintains the servers. We favored online file backup services that own and maintain their own servers, as opposed to leasing server space from a third-party server like Amazon S3, because this means that they control all aspects of the security on the premises of their server farms.
Help & Support
Most backup services are easy to use, but having solid help and support options is always a plus. Some companies offer FAQs, tutorials, forums and a knowledgebase that offer a wealth of information that you can search for answers before contacting customer support. In case you do need to contact customer support, most services offer telephone, email and live-chat options.
Mac Online Backup Services: Our Verdict & Recommendations
IDrive earned our Gold Award for best Mac online backup service, because it combines exceptional value for 1TB of backup storage with exceptionally high backup and restore speeds. It's also one of the easiest apps to use. CrashPlan earned our Silver Award since it has one of the best values for the family plan, allowing unlimited storage for up to 10 computers. While its backup speed was just average in our tests, the restore speed was very fast, and the overall ease of use was the best in our review. SpiderOakOne earned our Bronze Award with very high backup and restore speeds and excellent ease of use.
Dropbox is the most popular Mac online backup service in our review. While it didn't crack the top three, it provides excellent value, and its overall versatility is unparalleled. Dropbox can integrate with over 100,000 apps. In addition, both the backup and restore speeds are excellent. Unfortunately, Dropbox lacks some key security features. You don't own your encryption key, and the files aren't encrypted before they're uploaded to the servers. In addition, Dropbox only owns the servers that it uses for the business plans. The personal and pro plans are leased servers.
Online backup services offer an easy, effective and affordable way to ensure your data is safe, because you can't always be sure your hardware will be. We reviewed the best services that have long lists of impressive features for backing up, storing, and accessing your data so you can rest assured that your photos, documents, music, and other digital data are securely stored online. To learn more about online data backup for Macs, read our articles.