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IDrive Cloud Backup Review

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If you’re a power user, you’re probably very particular about the way your backup program works. But the more feature-filled a backup program is, the more expensive it is…usually. IDrive bucks that trend by offering a ton of features at a very affordable price (See pricing and options on the IDrive website), making for an extremely enticing package.

Cloud backup options vary wildly in price and functionality, and are increasingly necessary for peace of mind and data security. I thoroughly evaluated IDrive along with several other leading packages based on three main criteria: pricing, features, and performance.

IDrive – Design, Features, and Pricing

IDrive isn’t the prettiest program around, though recent updates have finally gotten away from the Windows XP-esque interface it used to have. But put aside the bland, out-of-place looking menus, and you’ll find it’s chock full of options that power users will love.

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IDrive’s base feature set one-ups a lot of its competitors, especially for the price. With a paid cloud plan, you can back up unlimited devices, including external drives, network drives, tablets, phones, and even social media accounts. Most cloud backup tools limit the number of devices you can back up in some way, so having the ability to “do it all” is rare and refreshing.

IDrive offers 5GB of space for free, but if you want to back up more than a few files, its cheapest plan gives you 2TB of space for $52 a year, or 5TB for $75. (Ignore the “limited time only” disclaimer – that pricing has been the same for years now.) 2TB is a lot of space, and even many power users will find that to be competitive with cheap-as-dirt services like Backblaze (which, for $50 a year, gives you unlimited space…for one device, no network drives, and a few other restrictions). There is one catch: IDrive’s price goes up $20 after the first year ($70 per year for 2TB and $100 per year for 5TB). You can, however, save some money by purchasing two years up front. It’s a shame the company doesn’t offer smaller plans such as 500GB or 1TB, though.

Even at its “normal” price of $70 per year, you get a lot for your money. IDrive keeps up to 30 versions of your old files, and doesn’t remove any deleted files from your backup, ever, until you manually click the “Archive” button. This is a huge bonus, and while those files take up space, it means you’ll never ask yourself “Hey, where’d that old file go?” like you would with more limited services.

However, there’s a big drawback here: IDrive does not offer deduplication like most other backup services. That means if you move a big file to another folder, IDrive will not recognize that it’s already uploaded that file, and it’ll upload it a second time, leaving two copies in your cloud storage. Again, the Archive button can help with this, but only when you’re willing to delete your old files, so it requires a little more fine-tuned management than other solutions. IDrive contains a file syncing and sharing service through a folder on your PC, à la Dropbox, if you need it.

You can even create full disk image backups and restore them using a boot disk if anything ever goes wrong with your system. You can schedule backups as you like, including “continuous” backups that upload files as they’re changed. Oh, and it has loads of settings to customize your backups, most of which are accessible from the web, so you can manage your backups remotely.

All that comes in a neat desktop package that’s decently easy to navigate. The big stuff is where you’d expect it to be, but some of the more fine-grained options are confusingly worded. For example, to restore files from a certain date, you click the “Snapshots” button, or right-click a file and choose Restore Versions, which took me a while to find. The Disk Image backup is its own button separate from the other tabs, which is a little weird – though the feature doesn’t exist on the Mac version of the program, which may explain this design choice. During Disk Image backup, you’re prompted to “select the drive you wish to create Disk Image,” which – besides not being a complete sentence – is a little confusing at first. Thankfully, most options have a little “?” icon that you can hover over to get more information about what the feature does. It just doesn’t have a very polished design like some of its competitors (Acronis and SpiderOak One, for example).

IDrive – Backup and Recovery

When you sign up for IDrive and install the program, you’ll be asked whether you want to use a private encryption key to secure your backups. You’ll want to make this decision now, since if you change your mind later, you’d have to re-upload your entire backup. A private encryption key secures your data under a second layer of encryption so that even the IDrive service cannot access your data (with caveats, which I’ll talk about in a moment).

After you make that decision, IDrive will open the Backup tab, ready to upload your documents, music, and other user folders. You can click the “Change” button to add any other files and folders to your backup, giving you lots of flexibility. (Be careful though, as casting too wide a net will cause IDrive to encounter system files that are currently in use, leading to a “failed” backup (though it will still upload all your other files, so it isn’t really a failure). Again, you can get around this, but it requires some trial and error.

You can then schedule your backup or click “Backup Now” to begin. If you have a particularly large backup, you might consider using IDrive’s courier service, known as IDrive Express. The company ships you a hard drive, you back up to it, and mail it to them.

Your files will be online in a few days, and depending on the size of your initial backup, this could be much faster than trying to upload the files from your PC. IDrive offers this service for free once per year to Personal users (subsequent requests will cost $60, but you probably won’t need one).

The Scheduler tab allows you to adjust when your computer backs up, lets you set up email and desktop notifications for failed backups, and more. The Sync tab lets you enable the Dropbox-esque file syncing feature, and the Server Backup tab is where you’ll find some of the more advanced backup features for SQL and Exchange servers, though these features are only available for the more expensive IDrive Business subscription.

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The Settings tab contains basically all of the other advanced options you may want to tweak, and unlike other backup programs, this button is front-and-center instead of tucked away in a corner. Here you can enable or disable IDrive’s “continuous” backup, adjust what IDrive considers a “failed” backup for notification purposes, wake the computer for backups, adjust your bandwidth usage, and exclude certain files or folders. There is, unfortunately, no way to exclude files over a certain size.

Lastly, you’ll see two buttons at the bottom of the sidebar – one for Disk Image Backup and another for Entire Machine Backup. Again, these are weird spots for these features, and it’s confusing what each one does. Disk Image Backup does exactly what it sounds like: copies a 1:1 image of your drive to another location, so you can restore your drive exactly as it was if something goes wrong using a boot disk. When I tested this feature using an external drive, it worked without a hitch.

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Entire Machine Backup, on the other hand, was problematic. In theory, this is supposed to create a backup of all your files, including the operating system, allowing you to restore individual folders or – in the case of a machine that won’t boot – use a boot disk to restore the entire machine exactly as it was. When I tested it, the backup worked fine, and IDrive was able to see the files within. However, I wasn’t able to restore it using the boot disk IDrive provides – it just wasn’t able to find the “IDMachineBackup” file it needed for the full machine restore. IDrive support tells me this is because the backup is encrypted, and I have to restore this file from within the IDrive application on a working computer. Then I’m supposed to transfer that file to another external drive, then that external drive can be used with the boot disk to restore my machine. They assure me this is the intended behavior, even though it’s absolutely ridiculous, and there’s no hint of this anywhere in IDrive’s instructions on the topic. Even tech-savvy users will not understand how this feature works without spending an hour with support, so I consider it an incomplete feature with insufficient documentation – stay away from it for now.

Speaking of encryption, IDrive’s cloud security is a tad confusing. When you first sign up, you’re offered the option to use a private encryption key, and if you’re serious about security, you should definitely choose this method. This adds a second layer of encryption to your files, so that no one, not even IDrive, can decrypt the files without your encryption password.

However, any time you go to view or restore files, even in the desktop app, you’ll be required to type in your private encryption password, which will then be sent to IDrive’s servers. IDrive says it does not store this key, but when I spoke to IDrive Support for my original review two years ago, they explained that don’t decrypt the files locally, even if you use the desktop program. This is slightly less secure than the way SpiderOak One and Acronis True Image perform encryption, and while it’s still much more secure than not using a private encryption key at all, it does mean your files will exist decrypted for short periods on IDrive’s servers.

In addition, IDrive offers two-factor authentication to protect you from password thieves, which is surprisingly lacking in other backup programs. It only works over email, not SMS or apps like Authy, but that’s better than lacking the feature entirely like Acronis and SpiderOak One. IDrive also offers an option to remotely disconnect a device from your account if your laptop or phone is stolen, which provides some worthwhile peace of mind.

Finally, IDrive has one other major downside (at least, depending on your view). While most cloud backups will stop backing up when you reach your storage limit, IDrive will continue backing up, and automatically charge you for the overage. That means you have to keep a very close eye on your storage use to avoid going over and getting charged extra, something many people find annoying. It’s also problematic when coupled with IDrive’s lack of deduplication – if you move a couple big files around, that could be enough to put you over the limit and pay extra money, which could be a non-starter for some. But it also means you’ll never miss out on a backup, which is nice. If you keep an eye on your usage and you aren’t always at the edge, you should be fine. (I haven’t encountered this problem in the two years I’ve been using the service.)

iDrive – Recovery Options

IDrive offers two methods for recovery: you can download your files from the cloud, or you can have a hard drive shipped to you using the IDrive Express service. However, IDrive Express recovery costs $100, and you have to send the drive back when you’re done. That makes it a much more expensive proposition than, say, Backblaze’s courier service, which is free if you return the drive within 30 days. But considering you should keep local backups as well as cloud backups – which IDrive itself can do! – you’ll only need the courier service in case of a major disaster like a fire, so the $100 cost isn’t the worst thing in the world, and you can always just re-download the files.

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Recovery from the cloud is easy, however. Just head to IDrive’s Restore tab, expand the folder tree to find the files you’re looking for, check them, and click the “Restore Now” button. You can restore them to their original location or elsewhere on your drive, and the “Snapshots” button allows you to restore file versions – or your entire system – from a certain point in time.

IDrive – Testing

IDrive used about 10-15% of my 2.7GHz i7-7500U CPU during the backup process with the main window open, and with encryption turned on (I recommend using your own encryption key for any cloud backup you perform). It also used about 116MB of RAM, which was about middle of the road for the programs I tested. You won’t necessarily see these exact numbers on your system – resource usage will vary depending on your PC’s capabilities, your backup set, and so on – but it does give you an idea of how it runs on our test system when compared with other backup programs performing the same task. (You can throttle IDrive’s CPU and bandwidth usage in its settings if it’s impacting your work, though.)

Notifications were prompt, using Windows’ built-in popups, and configurable so you can make them as intrusive or unintrusive as you want. In terms of speed, backups uploaded at around 11Mbps, which was slow compared to other programs – and restores only downloaded at 33Mbps, which was painful on my 200Mbps connection. That meant it took a little under 9 minutes to restore my 2GB test file, but if you have a very large restore, you’ll be waiting a while.

That said, a cloud backup should be your second line of defense. I always recommend using IDrive for a local backup to an external drive or NAS in addition to cloud storage. If you do, large restores will be much faster except in those rare occasions of fire or theft. When I contacted customer support with questions, they were decently quick to respond, though it took a bit of back-and-forth to find the answer I was looking for.

Purchasing Guide

IDrive’s pricing varies according to how much storage you need, and whether you want one or two years of coverage (there are no monthly plans). There’s a 5GB plan that is free, which lets you try out the service and never expires. If you need more storage, you can get 5TB of storage at the rate of $74.62 for one year, or $149.25 for two years. There are also discounts for students available here, as well as a rash of deals you can grab from other pages hidden around the site. For example, this page offers 75% off your first year (5TB for $17.38), while this page offers the first year’s 5TB for $6.95 if you offer proof that you switched from a competing backup provider.

This article was originally published by IGN.COM

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