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Carbonite is a reliable cloud backup solution that offers unlimited-data backup for a single computer. Its uploads can be slow, but it makes life easy with automatic backups and some great ease-of-use features. It has plans for home users and small businesses that provide good value for the money.
Simple, Easy-to-Use Cloud Backup for Your Computer
Carbonite is a cloud backup solution that focuses on getting the basics right. It has simple, easy-to-use features like automatic backups, straightforward restores, and one of the most user-friendly interfaces going.
And if you like unlimited cloud backup, Carbonite checks that box, which is something many competitors don’t.
It works with both Mac and Windows operating systems, though Carbonite for Windows has more features and better usability than you get with a Mac. And the service does have some drawbacks that you really should know about.
So I test drove it for you, with an eye on its features, performance, and more. It turns out that Carbonite does a lot of things well, so read on to see if it’s the right cloud backup for you.
Short on Features but Nails the Basics
Data Server Locations
Virginia, Arizona, and Utah, US
Backup and Restore Options
Continuous backups by default; optional scheduled backups for Windows only; backup from external drive on Plus and Prime plans; backup status reports via desktop application; offline restore option
Limits and Restrictions
File size limits for automatic backups; file type restrictions; no fair use limits; no bandwidth throttling
Applications and Operating Systems
Windows 7, 8, 10; macOS X 10.10 and later; no mobile apps
Transfer encryption key (via 128-bit AES); optional private encryption key for Windows
Via desktop and web
As I’ve already mentioned, Carbonite has a really good handle on the basics. It also offers some handy extras, like courier recovery service, the ability to back up your external drives, and automatic video backup.
It is missing a few features you would get with other cloud backup services, though. You can’t sync multiple computers or share files. And there’s no mirror image backup, so you can’t get a point-in-time recovery of your hard drive.
Carbonite offers small-business plans for up to 25 computers, but for this review, I’ll focus on the basics for home users, since that’s what Carbonite does too.
What You Can (and Can’t) Back Up
Carbonite lets you back up your documents, photos, videos, music, settings, and email from a single computer. It will even back up files that are locally synced on your computer from Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive.
But you can’t back up programs, applications, operating system files, and temporary files, meaning you won’t be able to back up your entire computer.
Carbonite limits individual file sizes to 4GB for automatic backups, but you can manually upload bigger files. Fortunately, the Back Up tab on the desktop app shows you clearly which files have been backed up.
If you delete a file from your computer, it will remain backed up with Carbonite for 30 days and will then be permanently deleted from your account. This is different from some competitors, like IDrive and CrashPlan, that keep your file until you choose to delete it.
Carbonite automatically initiates a full backup of all supported files in the folders you select during install. While this is great and all, it can take some time.
Once that initial backup is complete, things get a whole lot faster because Carbonite will only back up changes you’ve made to files since its last full backup. By default, Carbonite will run continuously in the background and back up these changes within 24 hours of you making them.
If you’re on a PC, you can schedule backups to run daily instead of continuously, if you want.
Straightforward Restore Options
Carbonite’s restore options are pretty straightforward, but I ran into some issues when I tried to do a restore. (See the Performance section for more.)
Whether you need to restore a single file or all your files, the Carbonite restore manager will guide you through the process. If you have a PC, you can even search for specific files on your account and restore previous versions of your files. Carbonite stores up to 12 versions of all your files.
Carbonite will ship you a copy of your backup anywhere in the US with its courier recovery service. But it’s expensive unless you subscribe to the highest-level plan. And you won’t be able to use this service if you use a private encryption key.
While most of its competitors offer 256-bit AES encryption as standard, Carbonite only uses 128-bit AES encryption. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still secure – but not the most secure it can be! Carbonite does add extra protection with Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.2, 128-bit Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology, and Triple DES encryption.
You also have the option to set up two-step verification and a private encryption key, which is great. And Carbonite requires you to pick three security questions for identity protection when you set up your online account, which I also like.
On Carbonite’s higher-tier plans, you’ll get access to Webroot virus protection for your computer, which is a nice perk that competitors don’t offer.
Carbonite’s state-of-the-art data centers in Virginia, Arizona, and Utah are guarded 24/7 and are decked out with a number of security features, including redundant array of independent disk (RAID 6) technology. This means your data is spread over several disk drives so that if one fails, it will be immediately swapped for another and you won’t lose anything.
Each Carbonite data center drive also has “smart data” early-warning systems to detect drive errors so Carbonite can replace them before they fail.
A Note about Macs
If you run Carbonite on a Mac, you’re unfortunately going to miss out on a few features, including:
The ability to search for a file during the restore process
Access to previous versions of your files
The option to create a private encryption key (Macs have to use Carbonite’s 128-bit AES-encrypted default key)
And one more thing: On a Mac, you have to manually grant Carbonite full disk access for your backups to work.
Ease of use
Friendly Look and Easy Operation
You won’t find many user interfaces that are more appealing and easy to use than Carbonite’s. And if all you want to do is set your automatic backup and forget it, Carbonite makes it simple.
Here’s a closer look at some of Carbonite’s helpful ease-of-use features.
The Carbonite interface is basically set up like your computer. I like a list view with expandable folders, but you can change your view to icons or columns, if you prefer.
The self-explanatory tabs on the left take you where you need to go to start your backups and restores. They give you access to your account info and online help tools, and My Files and My Drives make it simple to browse the content backed up to your account.
It’s also easy to tell what’s backed up and what isn’t thanks to the easy-to-follow guide right there at the top of the interface. A green circle means your file is backed up.
The buttons on the right make it simple to manually choose which files or folders you want to back up. You can also restore files from here with the Download button.
Anytime, Anywhere Access
Carbonite has a cool feature called Anytime Anywhere that lets you perform small restores from any web-connected device. So while you can’t technically share files between computers or devices, and while there’s no mobile app, you can still access your files from any device as long as you can access your Carbonite account.
I gave it a try from the web browser on my cell phone, and it was pretty easy.
Anytime Anywhere lets you download up to 200 folders (up to 5,000 files) in one session, but they can’t be more than 10GB total.
Unfortunately, you can’t use this feature if you use a private encryption key.
Working with Backed Up Files
Another ease-of-use feature I really like is that if you’re on your computer, you can click on any file in your account and it will open directly from the backup interface. You can even edit documents from here.
Well, technically the backup is synced to your computer in real-time, so it’s actually opening the root file on your computer, and that’s what you’re editing. Either way, this is a nice feature to have if you need to make a quick change to a file while you’re on the Carbonite interface.
The only times this functionality won’t work are if you’ve deleted a file from your computer but it hasn’t yet been deleted from Carbonite, which takes 30 days, or you’ve moved a file on your computer but Carbonite hasn’t yet recognized the move. You’ll be able to tell that the file won’t open when it has a yellow warning triangle next to it instead of a green circle.
Setting Up an Account
Setting up your Carbonite account is quick and easy. The install takes just a few minutes, and if you choose Automatic Settings during install, Carbonite will go right into its first automatic backup as soon as the program is up and running. If you choose Advanced Settings, you’ll be able to manually select which folders will get backed up.
If you decide later to change your backup settings, it’s a bit of a clunky process, but it can be done.
After I installed the desktop app, I signed into Carbonite online to finish my account setup.
Carbonite’s website is very basic and is mostly meant for managing your account. It also lets you view and restore files, but you can’t back up files using the website; this can only be done with the desktop app.
Slow but Steady
Carbonite backups aren’t the fastest of the online backup services I’ve tested, but they get the job done.
Since I selected Automatic Settings for my backup, Carbonite started a backup as soon it was installed. This began at 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. It took nearly 4 hours to back up 3GB, and after 5.5 hours, my 5.21GB backup was complete.
My normal internet speeds are 8Mbps for uploads and 29Mbps for downloads, which isn’t fast. And I’m an ocean away from the nearest data center in Virginia, so that may explain why my backup was slow. For the record, I ran a similar test on a 3GB folder with IDrive and it only took 53 minutes. With CrashPlan it took under 40 minutes.
I wanted to see if day of the week and time of day impacted backup speeds with Carbonite, so the next morning I tried to delete my files and start the backup process again. Sadly, you can’t quickly delete files from your account. In fact, it takes 72 hours and the only way to do it is to manually select your files or folders, click Don’t back up, and wait. Not convenient.
So I waited. I ran my second backup test at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. This time, it took 4 hours and 20 minutes to back up the full 5.21GB. So, a bit quicker than during the week, but I still wouldn’t qualify it as “quick.”
One thing I do like about the Carbonite backup process is that it gives you a user-friendly, real-time status update during your backup.
But once the backup is complete, the status bar disappears and that’s it – Carbonite doesn’t notify you that the backup is actually done. It would be nice if it did.
After my first backup, I tried to restore some files to my computer to see how long that would take. There are two ways to restore with Carbonite: 1) Restore all your files using the Restore Files tab on the left, or 2) Restore individual files or folders using the Download button you’ll find when you click on each individual tab under My Files or My Drives.
But when my restore started, an additional backup started too, adding to my already existing files. I didn’t understand what was going on since all my files were already backed up.
I paused the backup, but that stopped my restore. I canceled my restore and the backup also stopped. When I started the restore again, the backup started again. Annoying.
I called Carbonite phone support to ask what was going on. (Check out the Support section to see what they said.) After speaking to support, I deleted my backup, uploaded it again, and tried to restore again. This time it worked, and my 3GB folder was downloaded back to my computer in 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Your Identity Is Safe with Carbonite
Carbonite collects personal information like your name, address, email, phone number, username, and password. Once you subscribe to a plan, it also needs your credit or debit card number. But Carbonite will never sell your personal information.
Carbonite will never access the data you back up from your computer for marketing purposes.
Carbonite’s data centers are in the US, so it’s governed by the US Federal Trade Commission and is under the jurisdiction of the Patriot Act and Five Eyes.
All small-business plans comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA).
Carbonite is also certified to adhere to the EU-US and US-Swiss Privacy Shields.
While Carbonite’s privacy intentions are great, it offers a lower level of encryption than some of its competition, so it’s not the most secure service out there.
Helpful Support and Resources
The Help tab on Carbonite’s desktop application will link you to some helpful support tools like video tutorials, a knowledge base, and FAQs, but it won’t give you any support contact info.
On Carbonite’s website, it takes a treasure map and several clicks to find your way to contact info, but you’ll eventually get there.
Carbonite has three customer support options: Phone, chat, and email. Phone and chat support are available Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. Unfortunately, they’re not available on the weekend. Email support aims to get back to you within one business day.
I called phone support to ask about my restore starting an additional backup. I got through immediately and spoke with a very nice and fairly helpful customer care agent. The agent suggested the backup restarting when I tried to restore files could be because the original backup wasn’t yet complete.
I emailed support with questions about encryption keys, multi-device syncing, and file sharing. Carbonite says its agents will try to respond to emails within one business day, but it took 2.5. At least I got the answers I was after.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to connect to Carbonite chat. I called support to ask about this and was assured it works, so it may have been an issue on my end.
Carbonite offers three plans for home users: Carbonite Safe Basic, Plus, and Prime. With all home plans you’ll get unlimited-data cloud backup, but you can only back up one computer per subscription.
With Basic, unlimited-data cloud backup is all you get. With Plus, you also get external hard drive backup, automatic video backup, and Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus protection. Prime will give you all that plus less-expensive access to Carbonite’s courier recovery service.
You can add additional computers, but since each requires its own subscription, you won’t get any multi-computer discounts. And you can’t share files between computers.
Even though Carbonite shows its pricing in “per month” cost, you have to pay for an annual subscription. That said, it lets you choose from one-, two-, or three-year subscriptions, and you’ll save a little money if you subscribe for longer.
You don’t have to provide a credit card to start a free trial, so it’s a good way to see if the service is right for you. Just be warned that music and video backups aren’t supported during a free trial.
Carbonite also has plans for small businesses with up to 25 computers, either with or without servers. These plans start with fairly low data-backup limits (250GB or 500GB), and you have to pay quite a bit more to back up additional data. Higher-priced small-business server plans provide a higher level of security, including 256-bit encryption and private key options.
Carbonite offers a 10% discount on business plans for nonprofits and educational institutions.
Itaccepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover credit or debit cards. It does not accept any other form of payment.
Unlimited backup is Carbonite’s calling card. It also has one of the most user-friendly desktop interfaces you’ll find and some nice ease-of-use features, such as Anytime Anywhere access and a level of functionality with your files you won’t get with many competitors.
It does have a few shortcomings though. Its initial backups are a little slow, Mac users get fewer features than PC users, and it can only back up one computer per subscription – so there are no file syncing or sharing options. You also can’t back up your entire system drive.
Can I back up my files for free?Most cloud backup services offer a free trial, but very few offer long-term free backup. Those that do offer free backup only allow for a very small amount of data. Free trials are a great way to see if a service provides the features, functionality, and performance you want in a cloud backup. Can I get unlimited online backup storage?Yes, some cloud backup services offer unlimited online backup. However, before you pick a service with unlimited backup, make sure you actually need unlimited, and make sure the service gives you the features you want and that you can back up all the files you need to back up. Many services that offer unlimited online backup have file-type restrictions and can’t back up programs, system files, applications, etc., so you won’t be able to back up your entire computer. How much cloud storage do I need?This totally depends on what you need to back up. If you’re an average user and just want to back up important files from one computer, like documents, photos, music, and videos, 250GB is probably enough. To back up your entire drive and system image, you may need at least double that. If you’re a gamer or create large project files, you may want 5TB or more.Does Carbonite work on Mac?Yes, Carbonite works on Mac, but it offers fewer features and has limited usability compared to PCs. You’ll get all the basics with Carbonite for Mac: You can back up your files automatically and access them from anywhere, and you’ll get the same user-friendly interface and in-file functionality as you would on a PC. But you can’t set a private encryption key, schedule backups, search for specific files, or retain versions on a Mac. Other backup services like iDrive and Backblaze offer more features if you’re a Mac user. Is Carbonite good for beginners?Carbonite is a great option for beginners. It keeps everything simple and straightforward. Installation is quick and painless, and the desktop application is easy to use. Initial backups take a long time, but after that, automatic backups happen in the background and you won’t even notice. Carbonite is designed to back up an unlimited number of the most important files on your computer, so you can back up as many documents, photos, and videos as you want.
Josh is a longtime writer and editor with experience in everything from content writing and copywriting to screenwriting. He has an MBA and loves analyzing and overthinking everything. His passions include creative writing, film and TV, sports, spreadsheets, and most of all, spending time with friends and family by the lake. Josh grew up in Maine, lived in California for many years, and now calls jolly-old England home.