- Cheap, unlimited backup
- Peer-to-peer backup
- Top notch security
- 30 day free trial
- No file sync
- No file sharing
There isn’t much bad to say about Crashplan; the service offers unlimited online backup with no caps or throttling. Also, Crashplan doesn’t delete files, ever — even if you’ve deleted them from your PC. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer file sharing or syncing; but that’s because that’s not what Crashplan is meant to do. What it is meant to do is backup and restore, and both of those functions work flawlessly even with large quantities of data. Plus, you can sign up and test the service for 30 days completely free.
Who is Crashplan for?
One of Crashplan’s advantages is it’s very low price tag. So, if you’re looking for unlimited, affordable online backup, then you should definitely give Crashplan a free 30 day try. Keep in mind, however, that Crashplan is backup only; so you won’t be getting any of the fancy syncing or sharing features that come with other (more expensive) storage solutions. That being said, I think Crashplan is the perfect solution if you’re looking for off-site backup for either on-line or off-line use. If you only want to store your data offline: Crashplan’s software is completely free — and you can even backup to a friend’s computer (more on that later in this review). On the other hand, if you want to be 100% safe you can use the paid online backup plan, and your data will be transferred to the cloud. Pro users as well as the ‘average guy’ will see Crashplan as a good fit, because it is easy to use while also allowing some neat tricks which improve the backup experience, helping you to mold it into your perfect backup strategy.
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Crashplan online backup review
Crashplan is run by Code 42 Software, Inc and was first released to the public in 2007. The company itself was founded earlier, back in 2001, and since then Crashplan has received quite a lot of press coverage due to the service’s new approach to online storage and file backup. It is one of the few (if not the only) firm that allows peer-to-peer backup, meaning that you can safely backup your files to one of your friend’s PCs without needing to purchase any plan at all. Crashplan also boasts some huge clients: such as Google, Adobe, and Cisco.
Recently, the company secured $52.5m in veture capital, proving yet again that the online storage and backup market is constantly growing. And no wonder: as our lives get more and more digital, we’re much more likely to have multiple computers and mobile devices — leading to more data than ever. This data needs to be stored and, hopefully, backed up.
In this review, I’ll dive deep into Crashplan’s infrastructure, pointing out its pros and cons for you. If you need more answers don’t forget to watch my videos on Crashplan, and be sure to leave feedback or ask questions anytime!
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Sign up, Plans and Pricing
For many people the price is the deciding factor when it comes to choosing one service over another. Crashplan offers its customers very fair prices; in fact, it is one of the cheapest online backup solutions out there. Whenever I tell one of my friends that you can get unlimited storage with almost no caps for as little as a Caffè Latte at Starbucks they look at me in disbelief. And rightfully so: 5 years ago you would have had to pay hundreds of dollars per month — making those plans only viable for corporations. But as storage has become abundant, prices have fallen significantly. So let’s have a look at Crashplan’s pricing structure:
The standard Crashplan plan is free. You can download the software and backup to an external hard drive, a folder on your PC, or even a friend’s computer. Using this basic plan, you can test to see if you like how the software works, and decide whether or not you want to use it for your off-site backups. Keep in mind that the free version only encrypts your files at 128-bit, but that’s enough most of the time anyway.
Crashplan+ 10GB is the ‘baby plan’ that I’d recommend for the occasional backup of important documents, such as presentations, scripts, or a photo collection. You’ll get it for as low as $1.46 per month, but for this discount to apply you need to commit to a 4-year plan. However, the month-to-month plan is quite affordable as well, priced at $2.50/month.
In my opinion, the Crashplan+ Unlimited plan is the way to go. You get way more bang for your buck; remember, 10GB is not much, a couple of high res images and videos and that’s it. Sooner or later you will be in need of more storage space.
If you watch my video, you’ll notice that the prices advertised by Crashplan are always the annual or biannual prices broken down into price per month. This can be misleading for some people as one might think they could pay that on a month-to-month basis, which is not the case: You have to pay the annual fee upfront. You can choose the month-to-month plan, which costs a little more, but it won’t give you the feeling that you’re stuck. I can’t call that a “shady” marketing tactic, because it is a common practice among online storage companies, but I think it should be better disclosed (not only by Crashplan, but by any other online backup company that uses it as well).
You should also know that Crashplan has made getting the month-to-month plan quite tricky: If you click on “Buy Now” it will add the yearly plan directly into your cart. You need to digg a little deeper into the menus to find the monthly plan, and even then you still need to delete the yearly plan from your cart before you check out.
Of course if you like discounts and don’t shy away from commitment, you can choose to pay 4 years up front and reduces your rate to $2.92 per month, which is as cheap as it gets (there is no unlimited online backup service below $3).
How does it stack up against the others?
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As we can see, Crashplan offers the lowest price of all the unlimited online backup services I’ve tested. The rates are based on a two year commitment, because this period offers the highest savings with most providers. Crashplan, however, also offers a 4-year commitment where you end up paying only $2.92 per month; but obviously, you have to pay it up front.
None of the unlimited backup services offer synchronization of your files which is a shame, but it would bump up the price for storage significantly. If you desperately need file sync, I recommend combining online backup with a file sync service such as Dropbox or SpiderOak.
If your main focus is ease-of-use, then you should probably go with Backblaze, as this service just backs up everything without you having to think about it at all. Crashplan, while still very easy to use, will allow you to geek out as well.
Installing Crashplan+ on my Mac was a breeze and should be equally easy on your Windows PC. Crashplan is a cross-plattform application which supports Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris. The setup wizard will guide you through the setup in a quick and easy fashion without forcing you to make a backup decision right away like, for example, Carbonite does.
It is a light piece of software that doesn’t take much space on your system, and it also goes easy on your computer’s other resources when it’s running. As a bonus, if you feel your machine slows down significantly while using the program, you can reduce the CPU power alloted to Crashplan, which should do the trick. Keep in mind, though, that your backups will take longer as a result.
Preparing your first backup
Isn’t it exciting? You can finally start your first backup and I guarantee you, it feels great once that process is over and your data is fully backed up. When I did my first backup it came with a great feeling of relief. Yes, it’ll take some time to setup, but it is well worth it. Five years ago, even local backup was a real pain in the butt, let alone off-site backup which wasn’t affordable for the consumer anyway.
What makes Crashplan special?
Crashplan is indeed special, and we’ll cover the ‘why’ in just a moment. Let me first ramble a little on the importance of having multiple backups. If you’ve “been there, heard that,” please bare with me a second. Many people think it is enough to back up their data to an external hard drive; but this is actually not the case. As unlikely as is it might seem that your external hard drive can also fail or be exposed to other damage — like water or fires — it can and has happened. That’s why off-site backup is so important: you need to store your files somewhere else so as to make sure that whatever external source led to the loss of your data, it will only have effected the machines in your home or office.
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This off-site backup is exactly what Crashplan allows you to do, in not only one, but three different ways:
- Backup in the cloud
- Backup to another machine in your network
- Backup to a friend
Crashplan Central will transfer your files into the cloud (i.e. onto Crashplan’s servers) wherever they happen to be located. They will also keep your files redundant, making multiple backup copies on their end as well.
Crashplan also allows you to backup to an external hard drive or even to another machine in your network. FOR FREE! You can download and use their software without having to pay for it. Only Crashplan Central will cost you money.
Have you thought about finding something like a backup buddy? Probably not. No worries, I haven’t either; but the idea of peer-to-peer backup is great. We will be talking about this feature in detail a little later.
Crashplan stays remarkably true to its name: it provides you with a thorough data crash plan that is well thought out and goes right along with my philosophy of having multiple backups — even if you aren’t paranoid about your backups like I am.
Backup in the cloud with Crashplan Central
Let’s start by talking about the cloud backup that is only available to paying customers. Don’t worry though, you can test Crashplan for 30 days free and then decide if this is something you want to commit to for a longer period of time.
Backing up your files with Crashplan is far from rocket science. The most important part is choosing which files to backup. If you have an unlimited plan (which I strongly recommend) you can just backup everything. In fact, if you have the unlimited plan, this is Crashplans standard setting. It’ll take your User folder and scan the whole file system; and when you click on “Start backup” it’ll backup the entire selection.
One of the questions I get all the time is: how does a backup service prioritize which files to backup first? Well, this is different depending on which provider you look at. Crashplan always backs up the files with the most recent changes first. Therefore, it ensures that you never lose a file that you’re working on right now (you can disable this feature in the options).
On a slightly techy note: if you are working with a virtual machine and you feel like the backup never is never complete, it is recommended that you create backup sets for larger files. Just go into Settings -> Backup -> Backup sets and enable it.
The standard backup doesn’t allow you to prioritize files; however, you can create multiple backup sets and set the priority accordingly to tell Crashplan which files and folders to backup first. Yes, this is a little complicated, but it isn’t usually necessary. In the end, I think Crashplan made a pretty safe bet on backing up the files with the most recent changes first.
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Backups to Crashplan Central can take weeks depending on your internet connection and computer configuration. Take a look at how much time it will take to backup my 700GB:
For this review I’ll only backup a 1GB test folder to speed things up. If you only want to backup individual folders or files — like I had to for the test — click on “Change” in the Files section of the Backup tab and you can select which files and folders you would like to backup.
Backup to another machine
If you don’t want to pay for Crashplan’s cloud offering, you can download the client anyway and use it to backup to another machine in your local area network (LAN) or an external hard drive. The good thing is that it is a) free and b) automatic — so you don’t have to remember to move your files into your external hard drive.
All you have to do is install Crashplan on the target computer and activate it for incoming connections.
The advantage of backing up to another machine over a LAN is that it’s pretty fast, a lot faster than over the Internet. Therefore, I would highly encourage that you start with that type of backup, so that you have at least one copy ready in case of a hard drive failure.
Back up to a friends’ machine
A very interesting and unique feature among online backup provider, the ability to backup to a friends’ machine regardless of where this friend is located is definitely something Crashplan has going for them. So if you have a friend in Germany who happens to have 200GB of free storage space on her machine, she could go ahead and allocate any percentage of that space she wanted to you, and vice versa.
All it takes is a simple email invitation, and she can grant you access to her machine for file backup. Obviously, your files are fully encrypted, so your friend won’t be able see them. This peer-to-peer backup sharing allows you to have another off-site backup without any additional cost.
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In order to see a detailed walk-through of how this process works, I recommend you watch my video and skip to around minute 22. I explain the process in great detail and also get a friend to invite me to backup to his machine. Great stuff!
You can also backup to a friend’s machine using a backup code that you can copy and paste into a Skype conversation if you’d like, saving yourself an email.
One thing I like about Crashplan is its ease-of-use coupled right alongside the feature-richness it provides for more advanced users. Somehow they’ve managed to get it all under one roof without overwhelming my grandma when she does her backup of our family photos.
If you are a more experienced user, you can make use of several backup settings. Normally, Crashplan will backup your files continuously: whenever there is a change in one of your files, the new version will get backed up immediately so that even if your PC goes out in the next few seconds, you’ll have a backup of your file.
If you happen to have a slow internet connection (yes, those still exist) or a slow PC, adjusting some setting in the backup settings panel might help:
You can schedule your backups during certain times of the day. Let’s say you’re at work from 8:00 to 18:00: you can have your backup run during those times, saving your bandwidth and resources for when you’re at home and need to use them.
There are also other interesting options that you might want to take a look at. For example, you can exclude files with a certain extension. Let’s say you don’t want to back up movie files, using this feature you could go in and tell Crashplan to exclude all files with “.mp4″ extensions, which would probably accelerate your backup significantly.
You can also choose whether or not you want to back up files that are currently open, or enable or disable compression of your files. Data de-duplication is one of the most important parts of any online backup software: it will detect duplicate bytes in your files and only upload the bytes that have changed. This speeds up the backup immensely. You can, but shouldn’t disable that option unless you experience tremendous performance issues.
A great way to speed up your backup is to seed the files. How does that work? Well, if you want to backup to a friend’s computer, you can prepare an external hard drive and meet him for coffee at his place. Just plug your hard drive into his machine and setup the Crashplan software for a seeded backup. From now on, you’ll only need to use the Internet to back up the files that have changed.
If you don’t have a friend who lives closer by, you can also have Crashplan send you an external hard drive, copy your data onto it, and send it back to them. They will make sure that your data gets moved onto their servers in a matter of days. While making a seeded backup at your friend’s house is free (unless you invite him to a coffee for doing you a favor) Crashplan will charge you $124.99 for a 1TB hard drive that you have to send back to them — and this service is only available to US customers.
Crashplan backup security
You shouldn’t take the security part of your backups for granted. That’s why it pays off to think a little bit about encryption and data transfer security, and do thorough research on what differences there are between the different providers. If you want to ease the pain of ploughing through each and every provider, you can take a quick glance at the major differences by looking at my online backup comparison table.
Crashplan’s security features are up-to-date and provide good overall security. Locally, your files are encrypted with a 448-bit blowfish encryption; and you can also specify an additional security key other than your account password to protect those files. Put simply: the longer the key, the harder it is to decrypt your data. You need both the blowfish key as well as your private password to do this. More information on blowfish can be found here.
I do recommend setting up a private key in addition to your account password; however, I do this with a big warning! Don’t lose this key EVER. You won’t be able to restore your files. Even Crashplan won’t be able to do anything about it because they won’t have access your data either.
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Crashplan sends your files securely via an SSL connection — the same connection used by major institutions such as banks — and then stores your data on their servers.
Restoring your files with Crashplan
When the day finally comes when your PC just won’t start, you’ll thank me for this review because all of your files will be backed up and ready for you to retrieve. That’s why the restore part of online backup and restore is so important.
- Your data needs to be correctly restored
- You want your data fast
It is very important that your online backup service provider restores your data without flaws or errors, because you don’t want any more stress after a computer crash. That’s why, if I were you, I would do several ‘test restores’ of your files to make sure that everything works all right.
There is nothing worse than a slow restore when you need your files as quick as possible. Obviously, this depends on your internet connection, but the provider’s servers do also have a major impact on restore speed.
Again, I restored my 1GB folder to test if everything restored correctly, and also how fast it worked. You can watch my video, to see exactly how it works.
To restore files, just head into the restore tab. Crashplan will load your list of files that have been backed up successfully. You can then choose which destination you want to restore from. If you have a backup on one of your other machines in your local area network, go ahead and use that, since it will be a lot faster than restoring via Crashplan Central.
A very useful feature is the ability to search for files in your backup stack. Let’s say you have been working on your master’s thesis and suddenly your PC turns black and you cannot switch it on. Tomorrow is the deadline! What could ruin your career plans in a matter of seconds is now a piece of cake: just search for your thesis and restore it immediately without having to wait for a full restore of all your other files — you know, the ones that won’t determine your future.
The overall restore took a little longer than anticipated: 1GB took 30 minutes, which is not bad but didn’t impress me either.
Access your files via the web browser
Wouldn’t it be great to have all your files available whenever you need them? It’s happened to me a lot of times: I have been preparing a presentation for ages and then I forget to bring it with me to the presentation venue. Duh!
With Crashplan I can get access to my files wherever a web browser is available. Hey, it even works with Internet Explorer! So all I have to do is go online and search for my file; and in one click I can download it to the device I am working on.
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The web client works much the same way as the desktop version. You can browse your files or search for a specific file extension or file name. But don’t forget that you need your private security password to access your files!
Access your files with your iPhone
As bonus feature, Crashplan offers its customers a native app for your Android or iOS devices. Watch my “in action” video to see how it works:
Crashplan Review: Bottom Line
The question with Crashplan is not what it can but rather what it can’t do. I tried to review all of the features that might be interesting to people but I am sure I forgot at least one or two. That’s why it’s so difficult to write good reviews about online backup services: everybody has different needs. So let’s have a look at what you can’t do with Crashplan:
- No file sync
- No file sharing
Crashplan is an online backup service only. You cannot sync your files among multiple devices. And while that is a downside, you can always combine a free 2GB Dropbox account with an online backup account at Crashplan. Granted, 2GB is not much, but certainly enough for the occasional file sync.
Crashplan lacks the ability to share your files with friends and family. That is a shame, but certainly no deal breaker; there are other services that do that for free. If you feel the need to file-share, you might want to take a look at SugarSync, which offers 5GB of syncing and sharing space for free.
But now lets focus on my favorite parts of Crashplan:
- Unlimited online backup
- Restore deleted files – forever
- Back up external hard drives
- Cross-platform compatibility
Crashplan+ offers TRULY unlimited online backup. No caps: unlimited file sizes, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited data. Period. That alone could be considered reason enough to sign up. But hey, you can test Crashplan out for 30 days for free. And if you’ve paid and you change your mind, you’ll get a refund for the unused portion of your plan. Now that’s great service.
Unless you tell Crashplan otherwise it won’t delete files that you have deleted from your PC. Forever. That is actually pretty incredible, because it means you can expand your hard drive without actually having the physical space.
Crashplan allows me to back up to external hard drives for free, and they will stay backed up forever even if they’re not plugged in. Crashplan is one of the few provider that does this.
Crashplan is available for all major operating systems, which is a blessing if, for example, you are constantly switching between a Mac and a PC.
I could go on here, but I’ve already covered the most important parts in this review. I think backup and restore speed could be improved for European customers, but their focus group are clearly people from the US, so that’s a fact I’ll just have to live with here in Berlin.
I know I’ve pointed out very few downsides, but that’s because there aren’t many of them in Crashplan! If you read my other reviews, you know that I am always honest about how I think a provider performs, especially since I am a paying customer of all the tested online backup services. All in all, you can’t go wrong with Crashplan. Do yourself a favor, drink one less Caffè Latte at Starbucks each month and get a backup, finally.
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