Backup programs come in many shapes and sizes. Generally speaking, they fall into one of the following categories: File synchronization, cloud storage, and full system backup.
Backing up your data using file synchronization works by keeping a synchronized copy of your files at one or more locations. Cloud storage acts as a form of backup by keeping a copy of your files, along with a version history on a service provider’s servers. Cloud service providers sometimes keep a few historical versions of your files and protect against accidental deletion. Full system backups go beyond just backing up your personal documents. Full system backups include everything that is stored on your computer and can be used to restore the entire computer to an earlier time.
Best for Document Backup
Surdoc is perhaps the best free option currently available for backing up your personal documents to the cloud. You get 100GB of free storage along with a number of incentives that allow you to earn up to 1TB of total storage. Surdoc also allows you to access and edit your files online or through the android and iPhone Apps. You can also share your files with others.
The main drawback of the free account is that you are restricted to 5GB of storage for file that are not typical audio, video, or office files. A complete list is available on their website.
Zoolz is another great option for home users that is built with Amazon’s AWS robust back-end. Zoolz offers free users 50GB of storage and comes with a full featured backup program. The software interface is easy for beginners to set up basic backups and also had advanced options for more experienced users.
The main drawback of the free account is that your data is stored on Amazon’s glacier storage, which is slower than its premium offers. Glacier storage is intended for storing data that you do not need urgent access to when it comes to restoration. Restoring from glacier storage can take a few hours and full details can be viewed on Amazon’s AWS site.
Best for File Sync
BitTorrent Sync has been around for a little while now but it is still in beta, which means its features are likely to change until it reaches maturity. However, its main feature has to do with synchronizing your personal files across your devices using BitTorrent’s incredibly efficient peer to peer technology. There are no limits on files or transmission speed, and quotas as determined by your computer’s capacity.
One potential drawback is that there is no commercial version. If you run into an issue and need help, you have to rely on the user forums for assistance.
CrashPlan is a great option for beginners. It is designed so that once you go through the initial configuration, you can pretty much ignore it and let it work in the background. The free version of CrashPlan gives you the option to use your other computers or those of friends and family as backup destinations. This means that you can potentially set up an unlimited backup scenario.
The free version does not include cloud storage or mobile access. It also only allows you to backup one version of your documents. A list of limitations can be found on their feature comparison page.
Best for System Backup
Acronis True Image is one of the most robust backup solutions and might be the best option available for advanced users. Although there are other options available for free that have the same features, what sets True Image apart from them is its reliability and feature set. I’ve had the least amount of errors across different operating systems and configurations using this tool. Another plus is that it can often be used for free on Western Digital hard drives.
The main issue I have with True Image is that you have to use their cloud storage option. There is no official support for mounting cloud storage such as dropbox, which supports the webdav protocol.
Macrium Reflect is a good robust option as far as long-term support goes. Macrium Reflect has been around for a long time and has a strong track record.
The free option is fairly limited and resembles more of a disk cloning tool than a backup program. File and folder backups are disabled as well as incremental and differential backups.
Other Notable Mentions
COMODO Backup – 5GB free cloud storage, full backup feature set with no restrictions for home users
EaseUS Todo Backup – Standard backup features free: System, file, and folder backups.
These system backup tools show great promise but I think they’re best left for those who are able to do extensive troubleshooting on their own if or when things go wrong. For example, although COMODO backup has a lot of great features, I’ve had a lot of problems getting some features to work properly. The program is regularly updated which is great, but it also means that the documentation if often outdated.
For more information on safeguarding your data, take a look at one of my previous articles:
How to Recover Files Removed from Recycle Bin
How to Configure Outlook 2010 to Send a Signed or Encrypted Email
How to Get Free Tech Support