Carbonite Safe Review – IGNMay 22, 2020
Carbonite – Design, Features, and Pricing
Carbonite is designed to be friendly to tech-savvy and unsavvy users alike, with a beginner-friendly wizard at the beginning that you can bypass for more advanced options if need be. Once you’re done with the wizard, though, Carbonite’s main goal is to get out of your way. Its window is relatively sparse, with your backup status front and center, and a few extra options hidden behind a button. But you’ll likely spend very little time in the Carbonite app itself, since Carbonite is designed to integrate directly with Windows instead of a standalone interface.
Carbonite’s feature set also varies depending on the subscription you purchase. The “Basic” subscription starts at $72 per year, with unlimited cloud storage for one computer. The $112 Plus tier adds the ability to back up your external drives and automatically back up video files (more on that in a moment), and the $150 Prime plan includes a discounted courier recovery service, where Carbonite ships a hard drive to you (if your restore is larger than your internet speed could easily accommodate).
Those prices, however, are only for the first year – Carbonite is incredibly sneaky about the fact that its prices for Basic and Plus go up to $84 and $120 per year, respectively. There are discounts for purchasing multiple years up front, and you may also get a coupon in your email during your free trial period (at least, I did). Honestly, these hidden prices are still somewhat reasonable, but I’m not a fan of the deceptive business practice of hiding the real cost of the service. Other services, like IDrive, increase their price after the first year, but at least they’re clear and honest about it.
Carbonite – Backup and Recovery
Carbonite’s initial wizard offers you a number of choices about what to back up and how to manage your account’s security. If you aren’t sure what you want, Carbonite will use its recommended settings, automatically scanning your drive for personal files (like Word documents, email archives, music, and so on). You can, alternatively, select files and folders manually in a more old-school style, if you don’t trust the program to back up everything you want to keep.
But once you’ve gone through Carbonite’s wizard, there doesn’t seem to be a way to do it again. You can turn on Carbonite’s automatic scanning for recommended files in its settings, but if you want to change your manual backup set, you’ll do so from Windows Explorer. Just right-click a file or folder and choose Carbonite > Back Up to include it in your backup set. It’ll show a small orange or green dot next to the icon, similar to programs like Dropbox, indicating its backup status. This is different than most backup programs – some may offer right-click options similar to Carbonite, but almost all have a menu within the app that allows you to customize your backup.
Here’s where things get a little wonky, though. Carbonite has a lot of caveats when it comes to the files it’ll back up. The basic Carbonite Safe plan won’t back up video files automatically; you need to pay extra for a higher-tier plan. It also won’t back up any files over 4GB, nor operating system files like DLLs, or any EXE file. In fact, it’s designed to ignore everything outside of your C:Users folder. I can understand why they did this – many programs won’t necessarily run properly if you merely back up and restore their folders – but for users that know what they’re doing, this is an annoying limitation.
Any of these excluded file types can be backed up by manually right-clicking on them and selecting the backup option. But you literally have to do it for each individual excluded file – you can’t merely select a folder and back it up; Carbonite will still ignore any excluded file types from within that folder unless you manually select each and every one. Typical users probably won’t care about this, but for advanced users looking to back up, say, certain game files, this may very well be a deal breaker.
Carbonite does not support deduplication, either, so if you move a large file and re-select it for backup, it’ll back up the entire file from scratch, wasting bandwidth. The service will store deleted or moved files for 30 days on its server, after which point you won’t be able to recover them – another point in favor of competitors like IDrive and Acronis True Image, which can keep deleted files indefinitely.
Finally, Carbonite offers two-factor authentication as well as the ability to use a private key for your backups, which adds up to a fairly robust security model. If you want to manage your own encryption key, though, you have to select this during the initial setup – you can’t change it after you’ve gone through that wizard. Choosing this option encrypts your files before sending them to Carbonite, which means that even Carbonite cannot see your data. It does, however, make it doubly important to remember your password, since the company can’t recover it for you. Using a private key also prevents you from using the web to restore files, as it should – but you can still restore them from the desktop app by browsing the “Carbonite Backup Drive” icon in Windows Explorer and right-clicking a file.
Carbonite – Recovery Options
Carbonite allows you to restore your files in one of two ways: you can download them from the cloud (either from the Carbonite website or through the aforementioned “Backup Drive” icon on your PC), or by using the courier service to have a drive shipped to you.
The courier service costs $100 if you have a Basic or Plus plan, but only $10 if you have a Prime plan (though Prime users will have to pay a bit extra for expedited shipping, if they want it). Carbonite will ship you a drive with all your files on it, then you’ll ship it back after restoring. However, private key users will need to hand their key over to Carbonite to use the courier service, negating the entire purpose of its added security.
Carbonite – Testing
To test Carbonite’s performance, I used a 2GB folder filled with varying files – photos, videos, music, and a few other random things – to see how fast it uploaded and downloaded. Disregarding the fact that Carbonite wouldn’t upload my entire folder without me selecting everything manually – since it was filled with video files and a few portable applications – Carbonite uploaded my backup at around 50Mbps, which is decent (and probably enough to max out a lot of people’s upload connections anyway). The program used 15-20% of my 2.7GHz i7-7500U CPU while doing so, with the main window open and encryption turned on. (I test these programs with private encryption keys, because I recommend everyone use them for security.) It only seemed to use 50MB of RAM, too, which was less than half that of most other programs.
Unfortunately, Carbonite’s restore process was unbearably slow. Restoring files through the desktop program crawled at only 3Mbps, which meant it was going to take hours to restore a small test batch of files – and if you have a large restore, forget about it. Restoring from the web is faster – about 32Mbps – but that’s still much slower than competing services, and restoring from the web isn’t possible if you’re using a private encryption key. (It also limits you to 10GB of files at a time – yet another annoying, arbitrary restriction.)
Carbonite has multiple subscription tiers, depending on the features you want. The cheapest “Basic” plan is $72 per year, going up to $84 after the first year. A Plus subscription eschews the automatic video upload and external drive restrictions for $112 per year, going up to $120. Prime costs $150 per year, and includes a heavily discounted courier service – making it useful if you plan on restoring via shipped drives often. If you want to try Carbonite first, you can sign up for a 15-day trial, which might net you an email coupon during the trial period.