Experts agree that all computer owners should use some kind of backup system to protect their important data. If your files are stored only on your computer, you are only a theft, fire or hard-drive failure away from losing everything. Online backup services, also called cloud storage services, are a good alternative to backups on CDs, DVDs, flash drives or external hard drives, though most experts recommend backing up both locally (to an external hard drive or flash drive) as well as to an online service for absolute peace of mind.
Online backup services allow users to store their most important or largest files (such as music and video) on a secure remote server. Most services have the same basic features. They allow you to either manually select files to back up or schedule a full system backup. The majority do incremental backups, storing changes to a file already backed up on the system within a short time after the change is made (ranging from seconds to hours).
Online backup services also typically feature a fully automated backup operation that kicks in when the system detects idle time or low processing activity on your computer, although services with more advanced features let you play around with these settings. Most online backup services also offer file versioning, so you can restore older versions of your files, if needed.
More and more online backup services now specialize in synchronizing your files across multiple computers and mobile devices. If you don't have many files, some leading online backup providers provide free accounts with up to 2 GB of storage. That's enough to store about 200 MP3s or hundreds of digital pictures. Some of the top file synchronization services up that amount to 5 GB or even 7 GB.
If you need more space, paid subscriptions are available that offer more storage. This is good choice if you want to back up the contents of your entire computer. Many online backup services create local backups as well, automatically copying your data to an external hard drive or another computer as well as to the company's servers.
We found a number of good reviews for online backup services, but details can get outdated quickly. As a result, we focus on the most recent reviews. Several excellent comparative tests come from British sources such as Pocket-lint.com, PC Pro and TechRadar.com. These sources conduct group tests, rate each online backup provider and declare the best choices overall. Computerworld.com, NotebookReview.com, PCMag.com and Laptop Magazine also have a good number of backup reviews and roundups.
User reviews are scarce because most of these services aren't sold by third-party retailers, meaning there are few places to post user reviews, although a comparison review of file synchronization services on TheVerge.com receives over 600 comments from opinionated users.