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First Look: Carbonite Online Backup for the Mac

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Get ready for yet another cloud-based backup offering for the Mac. The folks at Carbonite are now shipping a beta version for us Mac folks. Should we be excited? Well, let’s see…

After trying out their software, I can’t say that it does anything more useful than my current solution, Backblaze. In fact, I can say it is less useful. Read on for details on the positives and negatives.

Installation & Main UI

Installing Carbonite is pretty straightforward. You download the package from the Carbonite site and follow the standard install process. Once installed, Carbonite adds a menu item and System Preference Pane.

Main UICarbonite Primary UI

Within this screen, you can define if the Backup is Enabled, Disabled, or Paused. There is also a checkbox for using low-priority mode to conserve bandwidth. Honestly, I can’t tell if this is useful or not, as it took the app over 10 minutes just to calculate 100GB of data. Let’s say that from what I can tell, Carbonite is not speedy.

If you choose to disable Carbonite, this screen changes by adding an Uninstall button for quick and easy removal of the software.

Backup UI

What’s interesting here is that Carbonite works similarly to Mozy in terms of backing up specific data rather than just backing up all of your data like Backblaze or Time Machine. On the flip side, you can completely customize what you want to backup. However, you cannot specify applications or system folders.

Backup UICarbonite Backup UI

Restore UI

Carbonite can restore your files via this simple UI. Just select the files you want to restore and then specify the drive for restoration.

Restore UICarbonite Restore UI

It also has a restore wizard. So, if your drive fails and you need to restore to another Mac, you can simply walk through this wizard and wait patiently for your files to download.

Restore WizardCarbonite Restore Wizard


Carbonite has done a reasonable job providing a simple Mac client for users who want offsite backup. The product is easy to set up and is competitively priced. However…

If given the choice between Backblaze, Carbonite, or Mozy, the answer appears to be simple: Backblaze. For the money (each service is approximately $50/year), you get more coverage with Backblaze and more recovery options as well. Mozy is a great alternative if you want some free storage (2GB) and then decide to add more.

In the end, what Carbonite is offering for the Mac is decent. You get roughly a two-week trial, so if it fits your needs, then please give it a shot. If you’re a small office and have been running Carbonite on your Windows PCs, then to maintain consistency it makes sense to use Carbonite with your Macs.

However if you are looking at all of the options available to Mac users for online backup, I would recommend looking elsewhere.

90 Responses to “First Look: Carbonite Online Backup for the Mac”

  1. The comments here were very helpful to me in choosing a backup provider for my family. I ended up choosing CrashPlan (which I wouldn’t have even known about if it wasn’t for these comments), and I’m really happy with it.

    The things I like about CrashPlan:
    – unlimited data, no bandwidth throttling
    – very reasonably priced plan for up to 10 computers
    – excellent data retention policy (they keep old versions and deleted files forever) and fully configurable
    – backs up external USB drives, and keeps the data even if the drive is unplugged
    – the program will also save the backup to an external USB drive, another computer, or friend’s computer
    – higher security, with the option to create my own public/private encryption key
    – user interface is nice, and works the same on our Mac and PCs
    – restore feature is accessible both in the program and on the website
    – network and CPU throttling is configurable based on whether I’m using the computer
    – filename exclusion using regular expressions

    The data retention policy is a biggie. Most of the other companies seem anxious to delete your files. BackBlaze, for example, will backup an external USB drive; but if for some reason you go 30 days without plugging it in, they’ll delete the files. They describe a workaround in their help section that doesn’t make me confident. In contrast, CrashPlan will keep those files indefinitely. This really is what sealed it for me.

  2. Kathleen

    I’ve had a really terrible experience with Carbonite. At first I loved it. It operated in the background, detecting and saving changed files without interfering with the rest of work. I got the Carbonite app for my iphone which was extremely useful on several occasions when I didn’t have my laptop with me and needed files.

    My love affair ended abruptly, however, when I had to restore my files after a catastrophic hard disk failure. Although carbonite had consistently informed me that my backup was up to date, a large portion of my music library was missing from my restore. The links were in my itunes library but the files were gone.

    Customer service was tragically unhelpful. I contacted repeatedly, but nobody seemed to understand my problem and only made vague suggestions like reinstalling carbonite or restarting my restore. Tech support even took remote control of my computer to try to find the files in the restore file and could not. The problem was forwarded to engineering but nobody ever followed up. I was honestly surprised they did not want to get to the bottom of the issue to prevent future information loss.

    I’ve begun using time machine to back up my system, but since I still have an active subscription to carbonite I figured I’d keep using it until it expired at least for the cloud feature and mobile app (despite its unreliability). Now my backup has stalled for over a month, with over 100 GB of files awaiting information. I am told that this is because I am over the 200 GB limit. But I only have 150 GB of information on my mac, so how is this possible?

    All in all I’ve found my experience horribly frustrating. Please, if you have files that need to be kept safe, do NOT count on carbonite as your primary form of backup. You might be devastated later on.

  3. I’m a recent former Carbonite customer – and a current Backblaze customer. Here’s a summary of my experience with my MacBook Pro with OS X 10.6.5, and ~70GB of data to back up:

    – Consistantly (more often than not) high CPU utilization causing my Mac to run hot – even when there is nothing to backup. I worked with support and they played dumb – I’ve heard of many people with this issue, and I firmly believe it’s just the way the product works.
    – Does not backup video files by default, you must choose them manually. It is also not clear in the management interface that video is not being backed up – you must dig deep on their site to find this info. Misleading and unacceptable.
    – Very slow (apparently throttled) upload speeds for backup….especially noticeable on initial backup
    – Allows you to backup files larger than 9GB
    – Is a PITA to uninstall

    – This product is VERY EFFICIENT CPU-wise. I rarely see more that a few % of CPU even during the initial backup
    – Backs up all user data files (excludes system files), including video, automatically. The file types that are excluded by default are clearly illustrated in the Backblaze prefs, and can easily be changed.
    – Does not allow backup of files larger than 9GB, which for me is not currently an issue

    I asked for, and received, a refund for my Carbonite subscription which I had renewed last month (Oct. 2010). I am now using Backblaze, it’s lean and efficient, and I’m not looking back.

    David K.

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  5. I have both Dropbox and Carbonite and I am having serious issues with both of them. Carbonite hogs my system resources and makes my computer almost unresponsive. In addition to that, I have never gotten a full backup. It always shows I have so much data still to be backed up!

    Dropbox is wonderful… to a point. That point is it doesn’t seem to retain any resource fork information. I have some different filetypes that lose info and will no longer open with the software program they were created in. It is just crazy. So I use a sparsedisk image, which is having weird syncing issues that I cannot get anyone to address on their forum.

    I need an offsite backup, In case of natural disaster, plus the ability for several computers to share and collaborate on files that are kept constantly updated.

    So now I am throwing up my hands after spending about $200 for these 2 not so great products, I am trying out CrashPlan. It actually seems to be a cross between Dropbox and Carbonite. I disabled carbonite and have Crashplan backing up. My computer is now humming along like a top. I was able to completely control the way it backs up and the resources it uses in the process. When my computer is not in use it kicks up the usage, then drops back to very low usage when I am using it. As I type, I am only using 21% of my system resources!

  6. For those of you using CrashPlan, are you backing your data up to CrashPlan Central or to someone else’s PC?

    CrashPlan seems like a good option if you have someone to backup to. The only other computers I could maybe backup to are my mom’s, dad’s or brother’s. None is really a good solution for a number of reasons, not the least of which is I’m now creating a drain on THEIR storage and assuming they’ll (a) keep their machines on and (b) maintain, care for and upgrade THEIR hardware and software as MY needs evolve.

    Anyway, the bottom line for me is that I need a solid 3rd party/offsite backup supplier. Assuming this, how do should I compare CrashPlan (central) and BackBlaze?

  7. I see all these reviews suggesting that there is “one solution” for backup.

    My computers are important and the data much more so. My solution is using Carbonite for online automatic backup, several external hard drives for disk image backups, and I’ve moved as much as possible to the “cloud” with my marketing system/crm “infusionsoft”, Google Apps, Google Wave and Gmail.

    We also have a RAID NAS in office to automatically backup everything.

    It’s not elegant but it is very simple and redundant.

    My experience has taught me parrallel backups avoid problems. I never bet on one silver bullet as a vendor may go bankrupt, stop supporting my app or media may vanish or whatever….

    Suspenders and a belt! I really like Carbonite. It is well thought out and one of my keystones.

  8. I signed up for a trial of Carbonite a few months ago. After the trial period, everything was fine and although I wasn’t quite satisfied with the upload speed (which was going about 1-2Mbps even though I have 5Mbps upload from my ISP), I decided to pony up for the full year plan. A few weeks later, my upload speed started to crawl almost to nothing! This is on a computer that is doing nothing but backup. Carbonite is super slow!

    I have about 500GB worth of data to backup and according to the Carbonite status, I have uploaded 214GB of it in two months. However, looking at my MRTG graphs, it looks like my uploads are averaging around 150-200kbps. At this rate, it would take more than 6 months(!) to complete my “first backup”.

    It took a little over 1 month to upload the first 200~ GB. My guess is that they “throttled” me because of the large amount of data.

    I am seriously considering switching to BackBlaze at this point, but I have already paid Carbonite for a full year! My question is, does BackBlaze “throttle” you after you have reached a certain threshold of data?