Carbonite Review: I Finally Tried It

Update circa 2013: I’ve been using Carbonite for several years now and have had a chance to experience the software a bit more intimately as there have been several cases where I wanted to restore files. However, recently I reformatted my hard drive and my Outlook PST file that I had backed up became corrupt. The file contained about 15 years of emails and I spent hours researching how to repair it, investigating various recovery methods including the scanpst.exe tool (didn’t work) and even went to the extreme of getting some advice from Microsoft Support (yes, they do answer the phone).

I was on the verge of trying either a third party repair tool for $100+ or a local data recovery service when about that time I remembered that I had installed Carbonite. Luckily the file had been backed up automatically by Carbonite and I was able to restore it and only lose about a weeks worth of email. Plenty better than 15 years I would say. I know there are other popular backup tools that work great and I’m not saying Carbonite is superior. My bias is toward getting something in place that backs up important files while running in the background and not interfering with gaming.

I have been wanting to test and write a Carbonite backup software review for quite a while. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this online backup service for the common PC user and kept waiting for it to fade away. But, it didn’t.

Another reason I wanted to try Carbonite was because I desperately need a backup service for my PC. Carbonite is for Windows, by the way. Promise me you won’t laugh at me for my previous software backup “process.” I certainly deserve it.

  1. Manually select files on my PC
  2. Copy them to a CD or DVD
  3. Physically take the backed up data CD/DVD to another location
  4. Rinse and repeat every 6 months

Sad, huh? This doesn’t work for obvious reasons.

A small business owner recently told me that he hired an IT company to come in and configure his computers  for automatic backup. He probably owns 1 to 3 machines. I believe he said is paying them around $200 per month to setup and manage this task. He referred me to the contact at the IT company and we scheduled a visit. Ironically (and thankfully), the technician called me at the last minute to cancel the appointment. He said that his wife was having a baby and asked if we could reschedule later. He never called back.

After a year or so of continued nervousness over losing my data, I finally signed up for Carbonite backup today. I used their free trial that lasts for 15 days and doesn’t require a credit card. The service costs $54.95 per year and doesn’t seem to put any limitations on the amount of files that can be uploaded.

The first thing I noticed in Carbonite’s marketing was the emphasis on “simple” and “automatic” terms. I want simple. Automatic is find as long as I have control over when backups are performed. I don’t want Carbonite to start backing up my files when I am about the business of defeating an opponent in an online multiplayer game!

Installing Carbonite Backup

Installion was indeed simple with these 3 steps.

  1. “Run” the File Download
    After clicking “Install Now”, click “Run” on the File Download window.
  2. “Run” the Setup Software
    After the file downloads, click “Run” to start installing.
  3. Finish the Installation
    The Installer will automatically open when the download is complete.

The next thing thing was to walk through a few screens courtesy of the Carbonite Backup wizard. One of the options was to manage encryption manually or let the software do it automatically, the recommended option.

Carbonite Backup software wizard

Selecting files to Back up

The next step is to select the files for Carbonite to back up. This is done conveniently through a Windows context menu. Color coded dots indicate whether the file or folder has been backed up yet.

Select the files to back up

Running Carbonite

This is a screen shot of the actual program as it backs up my files.

The Carbonite Backup software program

Conclusion

I have to say that using the Carbonite software to backup my files online was indeed simple as claimed. It was automatic and required very little brain activity. I guess backing things up should be a pretty brainless task. The scheduling feature enabled me to set up times for running the software that didn’t conflict with my PC gaming activities. Using Carbonite Backup was a lot faster, easier and safer than my previous method of backing up to discs every 6 months and storing them at another location. It seems that others share a similar view:

“Carbonite is the closest to perfection we’ve seen so far” – TechCrunch

What do you think?

Emory Rowland

Emory Rowland is editor and keeper of the flame at Clickfire. He's a fanatical blogger, entrepreneur and builder of Internet things from way back. Emory's love for social media and success with organic search led him to start a SEO consulting venture. Apart from the Internet, he could be considered by many as pretty worthless. More...

15 comments

  1. Roaming

    You might have bothered to test restoring your files. There you might realize that lots of your files were automatically or inadvertently excluded from backup, that you can’t readily restore onto another PC, or that due to some product defects your backup would get overwritten or clobbered. This has been my painful story in trying to recover my files after a disk crash using Carbonite.

    You might also have tried the vendor’s support and found that you’re lucky to get a response within the advertised 72 hours (!) that response is typically wrong or incomplete and you have to wait another 72 hours to get clarification.

    I am a long time user and I do not trust this product or its vendor.

  2. Emory Rowland

    Roaming, sorry to hear about the problems. When I tested the restore function, it worked fine for me. I restored only to the one machine that I backed up from, so I didn’t get to see how Carbonite would behave on other machines. At some point, there should be a limit to the height of expectations on a product priced under $50 per year IMHO.

  3. I.M. Clapper

    Listening to Carbonite’s ads on the radio, I think they might be responsible for maybe inflating expectations of what their software will do- I can see how someone might be dissapointed based on what they promise.

    However, apparently Jimmy Kimmel likes it, and he has mission critical data to be backed up:

  4. Robert

    I have mixed feelings about Carbonite and Roaming raises some good points. Personally I like IDrive online backup. Similar to Carbonite, but in my experience quite better (and restores are easy and pretty fast).

  5. Emory Rowland

    Carbonite Restore

    Today was the first time that I “had” to use Carbonite to restore lost data. I woke up and opened my email client, Eudora (yes I know it’s old school and I haven’t had time to switch it out yet) and for some reason, all email messages from 2008 had disappeared from my outbox. I did some research and found the 2 file names needed, then went into Carbonite Backup’s restore mode and picked a restore date of a few days earlier. It worked. Got my files back.

  6. Lawrence Attaway

    After hearing about Carbonite on the radio, I think it was Kim or Rush, I installed it even though I could not remember the promo-code. What seemed like 5 minutes later, actualy about 2 months, my computer died. I took it an a couple of old ones and mine combined to make this one. All I had to do was log on and download. I just a couple days my computer was all better. I have since advised my Father to use Carbonite and I think that says it all.

  7. Have been a carbonite customer for 12 months and have had to perform two restores using this product due to Dell hardware problems and recent virus issue requiring o/s rebuild including disk format. I have no problem with the backup side of this product but the restore and support is poor at best. The files eventually get restored after several days but you have to watch the process like a hawk. Their restore status is not accurate and they recommend reading their lengthy log files. The process hangs “waiting for connection to carbonite backup server”. This requires carbonite to log on to your computer and reset their processes (several times). In some cases they have to reinstall the software. They do not handle Outlook file restores very well, a 500MB file took 24 hours on a DSL line and they were not saturating it. Support wait times were 10-15 minutes during the day and some of the support staff were rude, demanding that we restore the software each time and when you ask for a supervisor they magically fix the process. We are now looking at Mozy along with a local backup option for Outlook. Make sure you take the time to test not only the backup but the restore!

  8. Steve C.

    I read many reviews saying that Carbonite was quirky and slow. But, I figured I was tech savvy enough to figure out how to get it to work for me. Sadly, I was not. My data system crashed hard a couple days ago. And, Carbonite backups did not work at all for the restoration process.
    Their system does not allow for a total system rebuild.
    If you need to recover a deleted file then it is sufficient for that. If you lose everything, Carbonite did not work for me.

    If I had understood exactly how unreliable the Carbonite system was, I would have tried my system recovery in another fashion. Their system is just not reliable enough when things really get messy.

    -steve

  9. i am sick about using carbonite
    at first i thought it was fantastic, i could look at files remotely….that was great
    now i have had to replace a computer that the hard drive went out of and everything comes up……..no files available.
    i don’t get it the folders seem to be there but NO files
    it is easy to back up and look at remote access……BUT it seems to be STUPID about restoring.
    i would have to say the average joe needs to stay away from carbonite

  10. Emory Rowland

    tracy, did you ask Carbonite support why that was happening? Did you get your files back?

  11. Karl the Roadie

    So after several years using Carbonite on multiple machines I had the inevitable hard drive failure. No problem! I have Carbonite!!

    So I replaced the hard drive, installed a new OS (Windows 7, I had XP previously) reinstalled all the programs (that were Win 7 compatible) and then I asked Carbonite to restore everything it had backed up at the point I lost the drive.

    After 4 days of downloading data I finally got all my emails, documents, music files, spreadsheets, and photos, but to my horror I had NO FLIP VIDEOS.

    In addition to all the home videos of the grand children I had also been working on a documentary (shot completely with Flip Video) and all my raw footage was on that drive (yeah I know, really really stupid but… HEY, I HAD CARBONITE SO WHY WORRY?)

    Why oh why in the wide wide world of sports would Carbonite EXCLUDE all video files???

    I read where Carbonite “warned” me to manually select the folders with video if I wanted to back them up (as if I WOULDN’T want to back them up) but I don’t read all the dumb a s s fine print on everything I agree to on the web and doubt 99% of the people do.

    I now see in the Carbonite FAQ section that I should have known that video files and files larger than 4 GB are NOT backed up unless manually selected.

    HERE’S A SUGGESTION…..

    Dear Carbonite

    When I first back up a computer’s hard drive give me a list of files NOT backed up (e.g. video files and files larger than 4 GB) and then ASK ME if I want them backed up or not.

    This documentary footage was shot over a two year period, involved two trips to Las Vegas, one to Nashville, and six to San Antonio. They were shot backstage at 20+ concerts involving several dozen artists and is IRREPLACEABLE.

    I am so glad however that all the sample jpg photos included in windows (like the sunset, the Jellyfish, and the chrysanthemum) were important enough to back up, but my FREAKIN VIDEOS were not.

    I can’t believe I actually had banner ads on my websites promoting this service.

    My last hope is that the guy trying to “repair and recover” my orginal hard drive has success.

    Shame on you Carbonite. Your quest for limiting the size of my backup (how much would that have cost these days? $1.02?) has ruined my documentary.

    Karl the Roadie

  12. Michael Fiedler

    Carbonite doesn’t work. Started OK, though uploading is very slow, even slower than my ISP upload speed. Then stopped uploading altogether. Even on “low” setting used up to 90% of my CPU cycles, dramatically slowing my computer down. Had to disable carbonite during the day when I wanted to actually use my computer. Poor customer service – that never helped fix the problem then tried to act like it was my problem. DO NOT RECOMMEND.

  13. Charlie

    I have had Carbonite for a couple of weeks now. I am not very impressed. It has only backed up 5% of my files (about 300GB) and frequently hangs, requireing me to end the processes associated with Carbonite and manually restart the software. I am REALLY worried about the posts from people who have had trouble when they have a major failure. I can restore my own files if I accidentally delete them. I really need a solution that will be reliable when I need everything back again. It seems that layered backups solutions are a good answer. I need a clean mirror of my drive using Acronis or similar software to keep on site, and Carbonite to keep my photos and files off site.

  14. Ted

    I used Carbonite for a couple of weeks. I noticed the icon on the task bar gave access to my backed up files at carbonite without requiring a password. Anyone who accessed my screen could also access my backup files. I asked Carbonite about it and they said I would need to uninstall and reinstall the Carbonite software if I ever needed a technician to work on my laptop.

    I accessed my backup files at Carbonite after using the service for about a month. All of the folders were still on Carbonite, but the files had disappeared.

    I decided if my files were not secure at carbonite, the service was not trustworthy and I would not renew my subscription. I attempted to uninstall the program. I found it to be more invasive of my system than Norton ever was and unlike Norton, they don’t provide a removal tool on their webpage. I have pieces of Carbonite all over my hard drive and can’t track all of them down and can’t seem to clean them from my system.

    I’m just using a second external hard drive with encryption to backup my system and files.

    Ted

  15. Suzanne

    Ted,
    I had the exactly same experience..have gone to external drive backup, too.

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