Carbonite

We're not sure about the brand name of this new online backup facility. In the real world, Carbonite is the name of an explosive, based on nitro-glycerine. In the Star Wars universe, it's the material used to freeze Han Solo for transportation. Either way, the connotations aren't good for something that's supposed to keep your data secure, while giving you instant access.

The idea of online storage isn't new, but it does have a number of advantages over local backup, where local is a hard drive sitting next to your PC, or even one at the other end of the office. Should the worst happen, such as fire or flood, your key data remains safe on one of several remote sites maintained by Carbonite in the US.

Go to the Carbonite Web site, register for a 15-day free trial and download a 2.3MB applet to run on any PC you want to use the service to protect. Select the folders or drives you want backed up and wait. It's actually quite a long wait, as Carbonite is designed to work with your other Internet activities, so it gives way when you're doing other things and may take several days to finish its first backup - leaving your PC on overnight will speed this up.

After the initial backup, Carbonite makes incremental adjustments, which take much less time, so most of your backups are completely transparent. An indicator in the Windows task bar lets you know backup status.

Carbonite is a bit more expensive than local backup. An external hard drive of, say, 500GB and appropriate backup software will cost around £100 together and should give you fast, reliable backup for at least five years. Carbonite charges around £25 a year for unlimited storage, but because of current broadband speeds, you're unlikely to store anywhere near 500GB. This makes it a more costly alternative.

Where you may see extra value is in Carbonite's ability to offer up your data to any PC with an Internet connection. Using its secure site - all data is encrypted before it leaves your PC and remains so on the Carbonite servers - you can access and download your files anywhere in the world. With something like PC Anywhere, you can do this on your own PC too, of course, but there's extra cost and complexity involved.

Verdict

If you have fast broadband, want a fire-and-forget system, or need to access your information from different PCs, Carbonite may make sense. For anybody wanting fast and flexible backup, though, there are restrictions, like the lack of system backup.

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