[UPDATED Oct. 1, 2018 with IDrive People facial recognition. This review was originally published May 15, 2018.]
IDrive doesn't boast the most features or the lowest prices of any online-backup service, but it has pieced together the best balance of features and value for owners of multiple computers who don't have massive storage needs.
IDrive Personal has virtually every "nice to have" feature that is on our list, save for unlimited storage, making it an easy recommendation for anyone who can stay within the reasonably priced 2TB storage tier. IDrive Personal backs up phones, offers a syncing option, has unlimited versioning and lets you quickly "seed" your account by sending in a hard drive with your data. If you're willing to spend more, there's a 5TB plan, which should be enough for most people, for $100 per year.
If you have just one computer and would prefer to keep things sweet and simple, you should consider Backblaze, a no-frills "set it and forget it" option that offers unlimited storage for a single machine for only $50 per year. But everyone else may find IDrive's greater flexibility and wealth of options worth the extra cost.
What Online-Backup Services Do and Don't Do
Online-backup solutions aren't the same as online-syncing services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud or OneDrive. Syncing services facilitate easy access to a specific set of files or folders across all your devices, while also providing tools to share those files with friends or colleagues. But it would cost too much to use a syncing service to back up all your personal files. This is where online-backup services step in.
Online-backup services handle all the personal files on your computer that could not be replaced in the event of theft, damage or hardware failure. If you have thousands of photos, videos, music or any other files that you can't imagine losing, an online backup service is what you need. Most offer either unlimited storage or backup for any number of your devices — and, in some cases, connected external drives — for a reasonable subscription fee.
However, the online backups often do not include operating-system files or installed applications. (IDrive Personal does, but you'll have to select those files manually.) The assumption is that you'll be able to reinstall those files in the event of a catastrophe. If you have any software that requires a license key, make sure you've saved that key elsewhere.
To back up everything on your hard drive, you'll often have to do a full-disk backup to an external hard drive, connected either directly to your machine, or on the local network. Most of the online-backup services, including IDrive, include software to do this, but Windows 10 and macOS also have built-in solutions.
Costs and What's Covered
Technically, IDrive offers a free plan, but as it is limited to 5GB of storage, it would be useful only as an online-syncing solution. Few people interested in online cloud backup have less than 5GB of personal data on their machines.
IDrive is one of the few cloud-backup services we tested that fully backs up your smartphones and tablets.
Moving up to the IDrive Personal plan gets you up to 2TB of storage, and while IDrive doesn't quite match the unlimited storage offered by some of its competitors, it does let a single user back up as many computers as he or she would like, including external or locally networked drives.
At the moment, IDrive Personal costs $52.12 for the first year ($69.50 per year thereafter), or $104.25 for the first two years ($139 thereafter). That puts it nearly on par with Backblaze, which costs $50 per year indefinitely but backs up only a single machine per account. (Tom's Guide readers get even more of a discount for IDrive, at $13.90 for the first year.)
Unlike some of its competitors, IDrive doesn't offer monthly subscriptions. The only upgrade option is a 5TB plan: $74.62 for the first year ($99.50 per year thereafter), or $149.25 for two years ($199 per year thereafter). That's still quite reasonable compared with some other online-backup services.
The IDrive client software runs on Windows 7, OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich or iOS 9 and later versions of those operating systems.
IDrive is one of the few cloud-backup services we tested that fully backs up your smartphones and tablets, rather than simply offering mobile access to your backed-up computer files. For users of the built-in backups on Android and iOS, this is probably going to be a duplicative process, but having an extra copy of your files can't hurt.
To evaluate and test the cloud-backup services, we used a 15-inch Macbook Pro 2017 running Windows 10 via Boot Camp. We tested mobile apps on a Google Pixel XL 2. We evaluated each service individually, then uninstalled its software from both devices before the next test. Our set of files to back up included 16.8GB of documents, photos, videos and music. We uploaded this data to the cloud and then restored a 1.12GB subset of these files to the laptop.
We used GlassWire to monitor upload and download speeds in Windows, and the built-in Resource Monitor to track computer usage. We conducted our tests using TDS Telecom Extreme 300 (up to 300 Mbps down and up) home internet service in Middleton, Wisconsin. Real-world speeds during testing were typically closer to 280 Mbps down and 120 Mbps up, according to speedtest.net.
Our initial upload of 16.8GB of files using IDrive's standard settings took approximately 1 hour and 32 minutes, an average data-transfer speed of 26.1 megabits per second (Mbps). This was far and away the fastest upload time of any of the cloud-backup services we tested in 2018.
If you need to upload a significant amount of data, IDrive's rapid speed could theoretically do it a few hours faster than the next-fastest service, Backblaze — and days faster than a slower option like SpiderOak One.
Restoring 1.12GB of photo and video files took approximately 18 minutes and 20 seconds. According to Speedtest.net, our connection provided 295 Mbps download at this time, while IDrive transferred the files at 8.8 Mbps.
This restoration speed isn't terrible, but it's not as good as Acronis and Backblaze, which each took about 10 minutes to restore the same set of files. None were as fast to restore as SpiderOak, which took an incredible 1 minute and 55 seconds. (SpiderOak had by far the slowest upload speed, though.)
IDrive used an average of approximately 4 percent of CPU cycles during the initial full backup, and the system load varied from 3 percent to 6 percent throughout testing. During regular computer usage, IDrive's background CPU load dropped to below 1 percent.
IDrive strikes a solid balance between information and presentation with its desktop-user interface. The program offers one of the more comprehensive feature sets of the services that we tested within a reasonably compact dashboard view. IDrive doesn't overwhelm you with buttons and options.
The primary section of the desktop interface is, naturally, the Backup screen. As with most of the services we tested, IDrive will make an educated guess regarding the files you would like to back up initially, but you are free to ignore this and instead make your own selections.
You can perform the initial backup immediately, or you can schedule it to occur only within specific time windows, in order to avoid taxing your system while you are trying to work or game. You can tweak this option at any time in the Scheduler tab.
IDrive strikes a solid balance between information and presentation with its desktop-user interface.
Restoring files is straightforward as well, and gives you the option to recover either your entire backup, or only specific files from it. You can restore the files to their original locations, or to any other folder on your computer.
File-syncing features are increasingly finding their way into online-backup services, and IDrive has one of the better, and definitely one of the most generous, implementations of this function. It creates a new Sync folder on all linked devices as soon as you enable the optional (but free) feature. IDrive then syncs the contents of that folder continuously across your devices.
The bonus is that the Sync online storage space can match the backup storage size at no extra cost. In other words, if you have 2TB of backup storage, you can get 2TB of sync space as well. Dropbox would charge you $99 per year for just 1TB, so this is definitely a bargain, at least on paper; we haven't tested IDrive's sync services.
File-sharing is another option that online-backup services are waking up to. IDrive's simple implementation is a little limited, as it lets you share files only with other IDrive users (including those with free accounts). You can choose whether the sharing recipient can edit or merely view the file. Removing sharing permission is as simple as navigating to the "Shared by Me" tab in the IDrive web interface and selecting the option.
You can't use IDrive to upload a full disk-image backup to the cloud as you can with Acronis, but IDrive does put the option to create a disk-image backup on an external drive front and center. It's a smart idea, and one we missed while we were using Backblaze.
Visually, the IDrive mobile app is bland and has slow navigation at times, but it is the most robust mobile app that we tested.
It offers previews of your files before you download them, including thumbnails for your photos and videos, as well as the option to share a link to your files from within the app. A little visual polish would really help this already-powerful app shine.
The IDrive app tries to compete with stand-alone photo apps in Timeline: a chronological view, using large thumbnails, of the photos and videos you have backed up from your devices. Timeline is much easier to navigate than the standard IDrive interface, and allows you to download or share selected files. Hopefully, this feature is a sign of a transition for the IDrive mobile app to a more modern look and feel.
IDrive Express is a courier delivery service that lets subscribers request a physical hard drive (up to 3TB) once per year to either perform an initial backup or restore a large number of files from an existing backup.
If you're doing an initial backup, IDrive will transfer the files to its cloud servers once the company receives the physical drive. Paid subscribers are able to use this service once per year for free. (You must return the drive, obviously.)
The fact that IDrive lets you do the initial backup to a local drive is a huge bonus for anyone with a substantial initial set of files to back up.
Backblaze has a similar restoration feature that you can use up to five times yearly for free (paying only shipping charges to return drives), but it doesn't take drive deliveries for the initial backup process.
The fact that IDrive lets you do the initial backup to a (temporarily) local drive is a huge bonus for anyone with a substantial initial set of files to back up, as this could spare you weeks of a backup service monopolizing your bandwidth.
Like Backblaze, IDrive lets you use a private encryption key if you're looking for a little more security than the default encryption. You must make this decision when you create your initial backup. You will then have the sole key to unlock your files, and if you lose it, your data will become useless.
IDrive's Facebook and Instagram backup feature lets you add all of the photos and videos posted to your social media accounts to your cloud backup.
The most recent feature, introduced in September 2018, is called IDrive People and applies facial-recognition to backed-up photos so that you can more easily tag and categorize images according to who's in them. It works only on IDrive's mobile apps for iOS and Android, however.
IDrive keeps up to 10 older versions of each changed or deleted files forever, whereas Backblaze deletes them after 30 days. This endless versioning is great if you're trying to track down an old file, or you're recovering from a ransomware attack, but the old files do count against your storage cap, so keep an eye on them. (IDrive's Archive Cleanup tool helps manage this.)
The unlimited device support sets IDrive apart from competitors that instead offer unlimited backup and must therefore limit the number of devices. But as long as your storage needs don't overwhelm IDrive's 2TB or 5TB limits, the ability to back up any and all of your devices to this single repository is tremendously convenient.
IDrive also backs up Facebook and Instagram photos and videos, including Facebook images that you've been tagged in.
Based on features alone, IDrive would be the clear front-runner in the online-backup market. However, Backblaze retains a place near the top as well, due to its low cost and overall simplicity. These two are really addressing different segments of the market, though.
Backblaze is for people who have a single computer, want to set up the automatic backups and then be able to forget about it. But power users with many machines will love the added functionality that IDrive brings to the table.
As long as you can live with IDrive's storage limits, the program's higher cost (compared to Backblaze, at least) will be worth it. The ability to perform the initial backup with the free IDrive Express courier service is, probably by itself, enough of a selling point to win over anyone with 1TB or more of data to back up.
Credit: Tom's Guide