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Review: Carbonite Online Backup for Mac

December 18, 2012 – by Per Christensson

Carbonite Logo Many of you know that I am am a big fan of backing up your data. In fact, I believe it is the most important thing you can do for your computer. If you're like most people, you have personal documents, photos, videos, and other data on your PC that would be devastating to lose. I often say that my life is stored on my computer, which is hardly hyperbole.

I have five different backups of my computer in three different locations. While that provides pretty decent data redundancy, all my backups are located within a few miles of each other. If some crazy storm ripped through my area or if my town was hit with some kind of EMP (electromagnetic pulse), I would lose all my backups at once. While both situations are unlikely (especially the EMP), it still is not a risk I am willing to take. Therefore, a few weeks ago, I decided to try an online backup service. After browsing through several options, Carbonite was my top choice.

Carbonite made sense for me since it provides unlimited data backup for a low price ($59/year). I found that many of the other services offered limited data backups, such as 20 GB, 50 GB, or 100 GB. If you want to back up more data with these services, the monthly price quickly doubles or triples. Since I needed to backup over 300 GB of data, Carbonite's unlimited plan for less than $60 a year was very appealing.

I signed up for the trial and installed the Carbonite software. The Mac interface is a slick System Preference pane that provides the status of the backup, along with several useful controls. You can choose what files to backup and what files to exclude. You can also restore files directly from the System Preference interface, which is pretty great.

Carbonite Initial Backup System Preference

I was pleased with the Carbonite interface, as it was intuitive and did exactly what I wanted. However, as my initial backup progressed, I was not too pleased with was the backup speed. While I have a 3 Mbps upstream connection through Comcast, my upload speed was maxing out at about 1 Mbps, which is about 10GB per day. It took over two weeks of leaving my computer on all day and all night to upload my initial 150GB of data.

Once my initial backup completed, I selected another 170 GB of data to upload. I was not too thrilled to find out the new batch of data was uploading at a maximum speed 256 Kbps, or 2 GB per day. A few days later, the upload speed slowed to 192 Kbps, or about 1 GB per day. At this rate, it would take over three months to upload my remaining 110 GB of data. Since my data changes on a daily basis and therefore has to be "rebacked up" regularly, I soon realized my backup would never finish.

Carbonite Mac OS X Backup Progress

I contacted Carbonite support via email, and the support representative told me that Carbonite was not throttling my data upload speed. I then called Carbonite and they confirmed that my backup speed was being throttled, even though it shouldn't be. I learned that Carbonite throttles users' backup speed after 200 GB of data has been backed up (which was not clearly posted on their website). However, due to an error in their system, my backup was being throttled to about 1 GB per day well before I hit the 200 GB mark.

I had two more phone calls with Carbonite support and they screen shared my Mac trying to figure out the problem. I did my best to help with the troubleshooting, but in the end, the Carbonite technicians were unable to figure out why my backup speed was being throttled. They said there was no way they could manually increase the upload speed either.

Once I learned Carbonite could not improve my upload speed, it became clear Carbonite would not work for me. I asked for a refund, and to Carbonite's credit, they gave me a full refund for the 3-year plan I purchased, without prorating it. The customer support representatives agreed their website was not clear about the data throttling and they have since updated the wording to avoid confusing other users.

While Carbonite had a lot of potential, its slow upload speed was a fatal flaw. It may be a decent service if you have less than 200 GB of data to backup (which is true for most people), but since the upload speed is so slow, I wouldn't recommend it even if you have over 100 GB. However, if you have less than 100 GB of data to backup, Carbonite might be worth a try.

Rating: 5/10

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