More than ever these days, our data is digital. But, having all your important files on a single device is a big risk, arguably even more so than keeping everything in physical form. If your PC or laptop ends up being lost, stolen or just isn't working properly, this data could be lost forever.
That's where backup software comes in. Regularly making a copy of your files, that's stored in the cloud, is the best way to prevent losing something really important to you. Most services have been around for a few years and so have become extremely reliable and affordable, but it can still be hard to know which ones should be trusted with your valuable data. We make that easier with this roundup of the best free and affordable options around.
Is cloud storage backup?
Many people use cloud services such as Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive and others that appear in our best cloud storage services roundup. They're a hugely convenient way to keep your files both in the cloud and on your device.
It's important to note that cloud storage is not backup. These services keep your files in sync across all your devices, which means if you delete a file from any device, it's then deleted from the cloud and all your other devices.
Some can be configured not to do that so you don't accidentally lose important files, but while they are useful, you shouldn't rely on cloud storage as a backup for when things go wrong.
What to look for in backup software
Backup software falls into one of two basic categories; imaging or file-based. If you want to secure a computer so that it can be entirely rebuilt, with the OS and applications all installed, then you’ll need an imaging tool.
Alternatively, if all that concerns you is the data then a backup facility that targets files you create or modify is the perfect weapon of choice.
Imaging tools have to back up the entire hard drive of a system, every byte, and so you’ll need either a hard drive (internal or external) or a network drive - a NAS - with enough space to make a complete copy, and then hold any subsequent changes.
Conversely, file backups tend to be much smaller and require less additional storage. And with that reduced scale they can also be more easily backed up to cloud storage. Also, some software is designed to back up cloud-stored data, allowing new files to be copied down to a PC or mobile device once they’re available online.
Choosing the right software is a process of deciding what type of backup you are interested in having and then making sure that you have a tool that provides the right functionality. If you're looking for the best of both worlds, some of the more advanced applications offer both imaging and file backups.
What’s especially important is that the backup happens when it is appropriate. That it doesn’t interfere with you using your laptop or PC, and that in the event of a disaster the files are readily accessible.
If you're looking to keep multiple devices secure, it's also important to choose a service or plan that supports it. For especially sensitive files, look for some encryption options. Armed with this information you can choose the right strategy for you, and the appropriate backup application to execute that plan.
If you're looking for backup software for Mac, you'll find that on our sister site Macworld.
What's the best backup software for Windows?
Acronis True Image
Powerful, feature-rich and easy to use, Acronis True Image drive partitioning and backup software for Windows is a truly comprehensive solution.
You can pick and choose the files and folders you want to backup if you don't need to back up the whole computer, and recovery options let you hand pick files if you don't need to recover everything too.
Customisable backup plans let you choose how often you want to back up fully, and let you backup the most important files more regularly. Plus, the backup will run in the background to make sure that you're not disturbed while you're working.
The backup features end-to-end encryption to keep it safe and secure, and you can search for backed up files both on your machine and in the cloud to recover them at any time and any place.
A recent addition is Antimalware protection, with Acronis providing real-time scanning to ensure your data is secure, alongside on-demand antirvirus scans, web-filtering to guard against malicious websites, and there's even video-conferencing security that stops spying on Zoom, Cisco WebEx and Microsoft Teams. These are all part of the Advanced package, but Essential tier customers get a 30-day free trial to see if it's something they want.
Other standard features include notifications of backup status, only backing-up on selected Wi-Fi connections, ransomware protection, active disk cloning, along with Backup Statistics, Activity logs and the all-in-one recovery tool called Survival Kit.
The £34.99/US$49.99 Essentials Package, which is a one-time purchase rather than a subscription you'll need to renew, includes backup and recovery to a local drive, external USB, shared folder or NAS device for one computer.
If you'd like cloud backup options, want to protect Office365 data online, and those Antimalware protections then you'll need the Advanced or Premium packages, which cost £62.99/$89.99 or £87.49/$124.99 respectively for a year.
These solutions all cover a single computer, and with Advanced and Premium including 500GB and 2TB of Cloud storage as part of these deals. Additional storage and additional computers are available to add to your package at an extra cost.
EaseUS Todo Backup Free
EaseUS Todo Backup Free is (as you may have guessed) a free backup service that offers step-by-step instructions to help you quickly and easily backup and recover your files.
You'll be able to carry out a full system backup, or back up individual files and folders if you'd prefer. There are also options that allow you to secure only changes made since the last backup to save time and space, and there's a back-up scheduler that can be tailored to suit you.
The Home tier adds the technology to transfer a system to a different PC hardware and has special tools for Outlook email backup & recovery. You can find out more and download the software from the EaseUS website.
For most home users the Free release does enough to secure their systems. It even includes a specific disk closing mode for Windows 10 that's ideal if you wish to transfer from a hard drive to an SSD.
Considering it's free, the feature set is remarkably good.
Find out more and download on the EaseUS Home website.
Ashampoo Backup Pro 15
Another stalwart in the backup area is Ashampoo, a German company that has steadily improved its Backup Pro suite for many years now.
The interface is clean and easy to understand, which is helpful because there are plenty of features on offer. Backup Pro 15 allows either specific files, an entire disk partition, or the whole system (Windows included) to be backed up, so you can completely restore a PC after a crash or other catastrophic event.
Background backups mean that you don't have to pause all activity while the process is ongoing, plus there is now improved support for a wide range of destinations that can be used to store those created. These include your local drive, external storage, as well as a wide range of cloud-based solutions such as OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, any NAS, and it also works with OneDrive Business and Office365.
Other features of note are 256 bit-AES encryption, versioning, compression (7Zip/LZMA), automatic backup verification, and a scheduler to ensure that backups run when it's most convenient for your workload.
Ashampoo Backup Pro 15 costs £39.99/$49.99 but is often on sale, with the company offering the software for £23.99/$29.99 at the time of writing. At either price, it's well worth a look and there's also a free trial so you can give it a test run.
As a special offer for Tech Advisor readers, Ashampoo is offering a completely free version of previous edition - Ashampoo Backup Pro 14 - which you can claim by clicking this link to download the program, then registering the product with your email address to activate it.
You won't get the elegant new interface or some of the improved support for cloud services, but it's a hugely powerful tool that offers many of the same features of the newer version. Some might say that Ashampoo is a bit mad to be making an offer like this, but it shows that it trusts its software and that once you start using the platform you'll probably want to stay.
Learn more on the Ashampoo website.
Unlike some of the other solutions here, IDrive is cloud based, which means you're backing up your files to a server on the internet.
Many cloud backup services offer a trial period, usually 15 or 30 days. Instead IDrive gives you 5GB of free space indefinitely, allowing you to see if it's the right one for you.
If you’ve more than 5GB of data to secure, and most people have, then you can upgrade to IDrive Personal, which costs £49.99/$69.50 a year for 5TB or £71.99/$99.50 for 10TB, which should be enough for even the most hoarding of souls.
IDrive works across multiple PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads and Android devices without additional licensing, so you can use the same account on all of your devices. There's also a new Teams option that allows five users five devices each and costs £71.99/$99.50 for 5TB of storage.
Of course, if you're a family, then a single account could be used across all your devices to secure everybody's files for a very reasonable sum.
Another bonus is that IDrive also works very much like Apple Time Machine, in that you can go back and restore a file at any point in its history. Ideally before it was corrupted or encrypted by malware. You can even recover files you’ve deleted, as long as it is within 30 days of the point where you put them in the trash.
You're also able to set up a Sync folder which will automatically share files you place in it to your devices. These can also be accessed via the iDrive web client.
If you're away from your computer, you can use the iDrive web client to manage your backups, scheduling or restoring them on any device that has access to the web. This is great if you realise that you needed to backup something up or if someone at home needs older files.
If you need a complete clone of your drive, including the OS, then you can use the Disk Clone tool in the iDrive desktop client, which comes with a wide range of other features.
A new feature is ZipDrive, which acts as a personal cloud service that turns your PC into a kind of server which allows you to access files on your other devices via the web. It's not something that will be for everyone, but if you want to move files around or share your creations with friends and family around the world, then it's a nice option to have.
Should you prefer a simpler life though, without all the configuration choices that the powerful desktop client has to offer or the various online adventures, then the new iDrive Basic is a stripped down interface that helps you set up backup schedules, restore previous versions, and share files with friends all with only a few clicks.
Just as with all Cloud backups, IDrive is suitable for those with high-speed unlimited bandwidth broadband, and those with capped connections should avoid this type of solution.
Find out more about all the available options on the IDrive website.
Paragon Backup & Recovery
Paragon's Backup & Recovery is part of Paragon Hard Disk Manager Advanced and offers a range of features that'll help keep your files safe. It can backup individual files or the entire system, so provides the complete package rather than focusing on just one aspect.
The interface is clear and easy to understand, with step-by-step assistance for the various backup tasks you require on the schedule you set. You can perform regular or one-shot backups if that's all you need, and if there isn't enough space in your backup destination, you can even split the backups into smaller portions to solve that problem.
The combination of defined scenario and ad-hoc backups is a very flexible one that fits well with those who use their computers in an especially dynamic way, who therefore need their software to be equally adaptable.
It is also one of the few tools to support the backup of virtual disks, like those created by major hypervisor vendors VMDK, VHDX, VHD, pVHD (like VMware, Hyper-V, VirtualBox). And these backups can be mounted by virtual machines if you wish to investigate their contents quickly.
It can even secure Microsoft Bitlocker encrypted volumes, should you use that technology.
Paragon Backup & Recovery is available for £63.84/US$79.95 and for the full list of features and more information about the application, visit Paragon's website.
If you only need the basics of backing up and restoring, then there is a free version available called Paragon Backup & Recovery Community Edition, so be sure to also give that a look to see if it will meet your needs.
O&O AutoBackup 6
O&O offers a quick and simple application that will automatically sync and back up copies of your files and folders to a hard drive or USB stick.
The difference with this solution is that it is triggered by the insertion of the backup media (i.e. a disc or USB drive), although you can also define a backup schedule if you wish to secure files in a very specific time frame. There is also a real-time mode that tracks changes to files in the highlighted folders and then copies them to the backup location.
O&O AutoBackup's backup on insertion is a neat trick, but the program is otherwise a little limited. However, it's very easy to use for those who aren't technically minded, as they won't easily be confused by the small number of options available. At £19.99/$27.99 it's also reasonably priced for those who don't want loads of bells and whistles.
For someone who captures data each day and wants to secure it at the end of their working day, the AutoBackup method works well. But it won't restore a PC that suffers catastrophic drive failure, as it can't secure a running operating system or boot partitions. For that purpose, O&O has DiskImage 16, a system imaging tool that comes available for £35.99/$49.95.
O&O also has DiskRecovery 14 Professional (£65/$99), a tool for recovering lost files and damaged partitions, along with specialist software for handling SSD migrations, cash mitigation and secure erasure of systems.
Find out more about each product on O&O's website.
Bvckup 2 is a fast and light Windows backup utility that's aimed at power users or those in professional IT roles.
Its interface can be a bit intimidating if you're not technically minded. That's not a problem though, as there are many alternatives on this list that cater for home users.
Described by its main developer, Alexander Pankratov, as 'like a chefs knife – simple in appearance, requires skill to be used correctly, but in the right hands it’s the best tool for the job.' Which we think is a rather fitting analogy.
The app can handle on-demand, incremental or schdeuled backups of your files, but you'll need another solution if you want disk imaging or complete system backups.
This focus allows Bvckup to specialise in speed, with asynchronous I/O keeping processes flying along. There's also the ability to copy huge files, retain long file names, and even include deleted, locked, or in-use files in the backup.
Specific external drives can be set to trigger particular backups when they're plugged in, all of which is automated once configured. You can also check what happened in the backup process thanks to hierarchical logs that show each step.
Some of these features are available in the Basic tier, which costs £21.50/$29.99, but for the more advanced options you'll want either Pro for Workstations £35.99/$49.99 or Pro for Windows Servers £108/$149.99, the latter of which obviously is for enterprise.
If you move to the Pro tier then you gain access to things like Delta copying, which speeds up the backups when compared to full file copies, and offers greater reliability thanks to intelligent error handling and detailed logging.
Another impressive Pro feature is how it utilises Windows shadow copy mode, allowing it to copy a file that's open for modification without causing a crash or exception.
While it doesn't specifically support Cloud services, if those services (such as OneDrive and Google Drive) are connected to the PC file structure then you can secure those folders locally or backup your working folders to the Cloud using Bvckup2.
You can run the program as a normal app or background system service, with or without admin level-access, plus there's the ability to control everything via the command line if that's your thing.
A chef's knife indeed.
You can find out more on the Bvckup2 website.
The concept behind Backblaze is simple; a Cloud-based secure service that keeps a copy of any files you create or store on your computer.
What that doesn’t include is the operating system, applications or any temporary data that is created by active apps. But it does copy away any documents, images, videos or other file types that are on your system, plus it works with Windows, macOS, as well as Android, iOS and iPad OS.
File versions are automatically stored for 30 days, so you can recover older iterations of files in that time, but for an additional $2 (£1.40) per month you can extend this so that it goes back up to 12 months. Very handy if you realise you've changed a document and lost something essential.
Should something unfortunate happen to your computer then you can download your files in zip format for free or - for $99 (£76) - BackBlaze will put them on a 256GB USB drive for you.
For those with more files than will fit on a USB stick, an 8TB hard drive can be bought for $189 (£145). The cost includes mailing those storage devices back to you, avoiding the time and bandwidth consuming act of downloading all those files.
The limitations of this solution are that it won’t rebuild your computer from scratch. And, if you have lots of files it will take some time and broadband bandwidth to secure it all or restore it. Those with bandwidth restricted or data capped connections are probably better off with a local solution.
For those without broadband limits though, a flat fee of $60 (around £45) per year per computer for practically unlimited Cloud storage seems like a really good deal. Alternatively, Backblaze can also be purchased for a monthly fee for $6 (around £4.50) or on a 24-month cycle for $110 (around £83).
In addition to their personal storage solutions, Backblaze also has Business options that cost as little as $6 per month for each terabyte held. The Business model can also secure VMs and database structures, and not just conventional documents. The B2 Cloud storage service will also be of interest, as it provides enterprise-grade service and will even help you migrate your data from Amazon S3.
As good as Backblaze is, it won’t do a bare-metal restore. Therefore, you should use it in conjunction with a system imaging tool, for complete peace of mind. Or choose different software entirely if you do need full system backups.
Find out more about both personal and business offers on Backblaze’s website.