Clear, well-designed interface. Backs up to your own remote computers. Unlimited storage plan. Fast file processing and uploading in our testing. Strong security options.
No File Explorer integration. Limited Web and mobile interfaces. No file sharing.
- Bottom Line
CrashPlan is an innovative online backup service that boasts an excellent interface, unlimited storage plans, and the ability to back up to your own (or even your friends') Internet-connected computers.
Editor's Note: On August 22, 2017, Code42, the maker of CrashPlan, announced that the company would focus on business customers and end support for personal, consumer-level accounts on October 22, 2018. It's no longer possible to sign up for a new consumer-level account or to renew an existing one. For a selection of alternatives, read PCMag's roundup of online backup services.
//Compare Similar Products
You have a lot of choices when it comes to online backup services, and CrashPlan ($59.99 per year) is one of the most capable, affordable, and innovative. Most online backup services simply offer remote server storage, but, in addition to a reasonably priced paid online storage option, CrashPlan lets you securely use any computer connected to the Internet or a local drive as a backup target—in which case the software is absolutely free. CrashPlan also boasts one of the slickest and simplest interfaces we've seen. That along with an unlimited storage plan, good security options, and unlimited version-saving makes CrashPlan one of the best cloud storage solutions around. It's a shoo-in for an Editors' Choice among online backup services, along with IDrive and SOS Online Backup.
If you bring your own storage, whether it's attached to your computer or anywhere on the Internet, CrashPlan is completely free. If you need to buy online storage from CrashPlan, a one-computer paid plan costs $59.99 per year and gets you unlimited storage. As with most services, committing to multiyear plans lowers that cost. The $149.99 family plan also comes with unlimited storage and increases the number of covered computers to a generous ten. For comparison, Carbonite's unlimited storage for one computer is also $59.99 year, and IDrive gets you 1TB for unlimited computers for $59.50 per year, while SOS Online Backup's unlimited storage plan for one computer is $79.99 per year. You can try the full CrashPlan service out with a free 30-day trial account, no credit card required. Business users should consider Code42's extensive enterprise offerings, which extend CrashPlan's capabilities with a private cloud option, support for regulation compliance, user policy management, and more.
Getting Your CrashPlan Set Up
The CrashPlan software is available for Windows (XP SP2 through 10), Mac OS X (10.7.5 to 10.11), and Linux. I tested on an HP Spectre x360 13t running Windows 10. The Windows installer is a 47MB download. After running it, you simply accept the license agreement and enter a name, email, and password to create your account. The account creation dialog states "no spam, no obligation, and high security," all of which seemed borne out by my testing.
The main program window is an attractive tab-organized affair. The setup process also places an icon in the system tray, but it doesn't add right-click options in File Explorer for backing up or restoring files on demand. The tray icon lets you "sleep" backup operations or open the main program window.
CrashPlan automatically selects your user folders (Documents, Pictures, and so on) for backup. You can change what's backed up by clicking Change under the list of files, which pops up a folder-tree view of your drives, where you can check or uncheck anything you like. External and network drives are fair game for backup.
With CrashPlan, you have yet another choice: destination. CrashPlan, unlike most online backup providers, doesn't just offer its own online storage as a backup location. You can also choose a local drive, another computer of yours, or even a friend's computer connected to the Internet. Don't worry, though, because the friend won't have access to your data, which is encrypted.
When you use another machine for your backup storage, CrashPlan sends an email to the owner (though you should probably ask first), and, when that person accepts, you get more storage targets in CrashPlan's Destinations tab. You also get a code to send to friends whose data you're willing to accept.
As with any other online backup service, once the backup set is created either by you or by the program, you can adjust the upload schedule. By default, the online backup file set is checked for changes once a day. You can tune it all the way down to once a minute. File versions are checked for every 15 minutes by default. You can specify blackout times and throttle Internet usage to match your needs. As with SOS Online Backup, old versions are never deleted.
Backed-up data is encrypted with a 448-bit Blowfish algorithm before being uploaded. By default, it bases the key on your user password, but you can strengthen security settings to require a separate password (as you can with SOS Online Backup). You can take another step up the security ladder by specifying a custom key (as you can with SOS and SpiderOak). In this case, not even CrashPlan staff can get access to your data, so be darned sure you don't forget your password.
For performance and bandwidth testing, I test backup speeds by backing up a 100MB set of 100 folders and files (188 files in all) of mixed content types and sizes and timing how long it took to complete. I used PCMag's superfast 177Mbps (upload speed) corporate Internet connection so that bandwidth wouldn't be the limiting speed factor.
With a test time of just 47 seconds, CrashPlan was nearly as fast as our speed champ SOS Online Backup's 41 seconds. Along with that service, it handily beat out the still respectable IDrive and Carbonite, and walloped players like Backblaze, MozyHome, and Livedrive. This speed could factor into your service decision if you want a large number of gigabytes uploaded quickly, since the differences among services would be multiplied as the amount of data increases. A faster program also leaves more system resources for the things you really want to do with your computer.
The table below shows how the whole set of online backup providers fared in our tests:
The CrashPlan control application's Restore tab makes it clear where to start getting your files back, in case of a mishap. This tab simply shows the folder tree of your backed-up files, which you can expand and collapse to taste. A search box simplifies finding particular files if you don't know their location. Check boxes let you choose to show files deleted from the PC or hidden system files (both unchecked by default).
Some helpful choices at the bottom of the Restore page include choosing earlier file versions from a calendar, changing the landing folder (Desktop by default or the original location), and renaming or overwriting files that already exist at the restoration location. If a file has multiple backed-up versions, you simply expand them with an arrow in the folder tree; each has a date and time. It's as clear and flexible and helpful as you could ask for.
You can restore backed-up files from CrashPlan's Web interface after logging in to your account, but it's no frills. There isn't even a search option. Nor is there any file sharing or video playing capability on the Web. You can also manage computers connected to your account, but that doesn't include things like remote wipe or remote backup configuration, which you get in SOS Online Backup.
CrashPlan offers mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. They're all nearly identical, and they're nothing fancy. The apps give you access to files backed up from your account computers.
There's no feature for backing up photos and other data originating on the phone like you get with SOS Online and IDrive, and unfortunately there's no search feature to help you find files. Instead, you have to navigate to the correct folder. The app can, however, display images and play media files as do some other services' mobile apps. You don't get extra goodies, though, such as SOS Online Backup's device location and wiping.
The Best Plan for Your Data Disaster?
Not only does CrashPlan add a new twist to the online backup game, with its bring-your-own-storage option, but it's top-of-the-line in interface, adjustability, speed, and value. CrashPlan is a PCMag.com Editors' Choice, joining IDrive and SOS Online backup. If you're looking for extras like sharing and collaboration, you'd be better off with one of those services. But for straightforward, secure, and flexible online backup, CrashPlan is a great choice and a good value.
Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine’s lead analyst for software and Web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine’s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of Web Services for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine’s Solutions section, which covered programming techniques as well as tips on using popular office software. Most recently he covered services and software for ExtremeTech.com. More »
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