Carbonite Automatic Remote File Backup Utility Review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, September 2012
Published by: Carbonite Inc.
Requires: Any Windows PC desktop or laptop computer running Windows XP or later (all versions of Carbonite) any Apple desktop or laptop computer running Mac OS X 10.5 or later (Home, Business and Business Premier versions of Carbonite)
MSRP: US$59-$149 per year (Home & Home Office version), US$229-$599 per year (Business or Business Premier versions)

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Carbonite is a small, stable utility which is designed to run in the background on Windows and Mac OS X computers, and on Windows Servers (BusinessPremier version) and back up selected files and folders by using encrypted uploading to a remote data storage center managed by Carbonite and its data storage partners. Once the utility is installed on almost any Windows or Mac OS X computer, you can add as many files or folders of files as you like for backup, remove folders from the backup set, restore files from the remotely stored backup, delete files from the backup, set the timing and processor/system usage level for backups, and even do local mirror-image backups.

As with most utility software, Carbonite arose out of a very specific need. Carbonite was developed by a man with a daughter who lost some important files. As David Friend, Co-founder and CEO of Carbonite tells the story, "Several years ago, when my daughter was a sophomore in college, she called me, sobbing. Her hard drive had crashed and she lost the term paper that she had been working on for 6 weeks!" There's more to the story, but you get the idea. Her loss was our gain.



Carbonite is, to all initial appearances, deceptively simple. It's power lies under the hood with respect to a short list of critical, easy to use features:

  • Uptime - if you have a computer problem and you've lost or deleted files, you want Carbonite's servers to be up and running and fully accessible. We've tried accessing backups, on and off at random times, for many years and the systems and services are always up and running. We haven't delved into the Carbonite's data center partnerships, but they're very good indeed.
  • Background operation - Carbonite's only real weakness is also one of its strengths. Because Carbonite is designed to run in the background, using relatively few processor cycles to get its work done, backups are slow, on the order of 2-4GB per day depending on the real speed of your high-speed Internet connection and the overall size of your backup already online. That's the weakness. The strength is that Carbonite activates itself as soon as your computer is idle for a while or according to the schedule you set, or even continuously if you like, and starts perking along, backing up new files, checking old files for changes and backing up anything that has been updated.
  • Consistency - Carbonite works essentially the same way whether installed under Windows or Mac OS X. It's easy to go from operating system to operating system when restoring working files to a variety of new Windows and Mac machines when replacing or upgrading your computers.
  • Mobile version - Free Apps are available for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android smartphones and tablets. You can access data files, or play backed up songs directly or view photos directly through the mobile app.
  • Mirroring - Carbonite HomePlus and higher comes with the free Mirror function which is designed to mirror any number of drives to an external disk. Effectively, with Mirror, Carbonite becomes a true archival storage system (albeit only locally) in addition to its secure, remote file backup functionality.
  • Security - All backup processes are encrypted, so no human-readable data is ever uploaded. You can't get at your backups without a Carbonite client.


Install it and then go to your main file storage folders to select files and folders to back up (right-click in Windows, or use either the Carbonite Preferences utility or Ctrl+Click in Mac OS X 10.5 or higher). You can limit Carbonite's Internet system impact by dialing down its processor usage, but that's up to you. At the default settings, we've never found or noticed any appreciable system slowdown or effect. We've also found that Carbonite's default backup settings work for almost everyone, but you should use the Windows File Explorer or Carbonite Preferences in Mac OS X to add whatever the default settings have missed, or deselect things that are not in need of backup. You'll also note that Carbonite by default does not back up Windows or Mac system files or folders. The reason is that restoring an old system backup to a computer that has been hardware modified or otherwise altered since the last system files backup can actually mess up the computer to the point of unusability.

Be clear about one important thing. Carbonite is an online backup service - and a very good one. But it is not a permanent, archival file storage service. Where Carbonite is concerned, online backup and online storage are two things are different for one notable reason: If you delete a file or folder of files from a hard drive being backed up by Carbonite, after thirty (30) days, that file or folder of files will be deleted from your Carbonite online backup as well. Don't forget that, and life with Carbonite will be very good indeed.

All that means Carbonite online back up is great, but it's not quite a one-stop online solution. Consider subscribing to a Carbonite HomePlus account or higher, because you get something called Mirror in the deal. Mirror does a complete drive backup to a local, external hard drive, and the backup is archival. It makes for a very complete, secure, backup plan.


I've been a unswerving Carbonite user since 2006, the year after the company started in business. It has been an interesting and satisfying ride. In 2010, a boot drive crash on my main home-office PC combined with a failure of the same system's internal local backup drive had me dithering in anger until my wife reminded me that everything was backed up by Carbonite. I had been using the utility for so long without having to resort to it for file retrieval, that I had forgotten it was even around. After replacing the somewhat aged, dead PC, restoring all of my files - and I do mean all of them, including a file I'd been working on only a few hours before the catastrophic drive failures - was a matter of a few hours of downloading. The only things that have changed in my backup security since 2010 are that I now have a Drobo unit running specifically for digital image and digital video files (a secondary backup), and I'm using Carbonite HomePremier instead of the basic Home version. As for Carbonite's value? It's priceless. Set it and forget it. A single Carbonite license can be installed on any number of computers because charges are for data backup, not individual computers. Carbonite pricing is extremely competitive and it's a superb value.

Cons: Check carefully which version you're buying. It's explained clearly enough on the Carbonite site, but note that while Carbonite Home is available to Mac OS X users, Carbonite HomePlus and HomePremier are not - the last two are Windows-only for now. Both of the current business versions are available for Windows XP or later and Mac OS X 10.5 or later.

Pros: Carbonite saved me once. It has saved several of my staff more recently. If you currently have a back up system that is leaving questions in your mind, you need to resolve the matter by putting in place something which is automated and very easy to manage. School, college and university studies and research (laptops, laptops, laptops and more laptops), and home-office management and small business management are tough enough without also having to agonize over complicated data backup 'strategies' which are sometimes not there when you need them. Carbonite just works. You can get into somewhat greater depth by using Carbonite Mirror for local backup of entire systems too, which is not necessarily a bad idea either. Carbonite has evolved into a very complete and robust service that is standing the test of time. The data you save may be your own, but more important, the data you can get back quickly after a drive failure or a local backup failure, will be the data and files you need right now. Carbonite works exactly as its makers say it's supposed to work. No surprises. We've got lots of file backup software purchase links on this page, but Carbonite itself is sold only through the company's web site. Highly recommended.

KSN Product Rating:



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