If you’re looking for the best Mac backup solution, you’ve come to the right place. During this roundup, Cloudwards.net will be looking at three top Time Machine alternatives that each feature both local and cloud backup capabilities: Arq, Duplicati and CloudBerry Backup.
We’ll evaluate each of three and Time Machine based on storage, features and support before anointing CloudBerry Backup — uh, before anointing a winner. The suspense is palpable.
If you’re looking for iCloud alternatives, have a look at our article on the best cloud storage for Mac, too.
Time Machine is Apple’s own backup solution, which comes free of charge with MacOS. As such, it’s often the only tool that consumers look at. However, there are much better options out there, including several that backup to the cloud. Three of the most popular are Arq, Duplicati and CloudBerry Backup (read why in our CloudBerry Backup review), each of which lets you integrate with your choice of cloud storage.
Coming up, we’ll break down all four solutions over the course of three rounds to help you see what they’re all about.
Round One: Storage Options
During our first round, we’ll look at storage options each of the four services provides, including cost.
Time Machine doesn’t cost a thing and comes already installed with Mac OS. The only thing you need to do is set it up. As far as storage options, however, like many things Apple, Time Machine doesn’t always play well with others. Meaning, the storage options it allows for are pretty limited compared to the other three tools we’ll be looking at.
One option is to backup to an Airport Time Capsule, which is an WiFi-enabled external hard drive specifically built for Time Machine. There are a few different storage capacities available, but, like most things Apple, they can be a bit expensive, starting as they do at $300.
Alternatively, you can backup to local disk, which includes any external drive or network drive available. That, however, is pretty much it. Since it isn’t a cloud solution, you can’t access your files from anywhere and or use it to create a hybrid backup plan.
Arq takes an approach to storage that users who enjoy choice will absolutely love: It lets you choose which cloud platform you backup to.
The options include popular cloud storage platforms like Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. The advantage of using Arq with one of those services is that it lets you turn an ordinary cloud storage platform into a backup solution, which typically they aren’t geared to do.
That’s because cloud storage services don’t included backup schedulers, unlike cloud backup services such as IDrive, CrashPlan and Backblaze. If you don’t need much in the way of storage, this will actually let you save money in the long run because you don’t have to pay for a backup service subscription.
The Arq software itself costs $49.99 per computer and you only have to pay once.
Other storage options include Amazon S3, Amazon Glacier, Google Cloud Storage, Backblaze B2 and Wasabi, all of which charge per gigabyte of storage, which makes them scalable and ideally suited to businesses.
Arq also supports FTP to backup to a server, and can be used to backup files to a NAS or location on your system, including external or network drives.
Duplicati works like Arq in that it lets you backup your Mac to a range of different cloud storage services. In fact, the options are much broader. Duplicati includes most of the options Arq has, plus services like Azure, MEGA and Jottacloud (we have a MEGA review and a Jottacloud review for those interested).
You can also transfer files to a server using FTP, SSH or WebDAV. Additionally, Duplicati can be used backup files to a local drive or NAS.
In addition to more options than Arq, Duplicati is also open source and completely free, so it’ll save you $50, too.
CloudBerry Backup for Windows offers over fifty different cloud integration options for backing up your files. The Mac version of the software isn’t quite as impressive, but still has a nice selection.
Popular picks include Amazon S3, Amazon Glacier, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Storage, OpenStack and RackSpace. You can also backup directly to your file system, which again means you can backup to a local or network drive.
There are two versions of CloudBerry Backup for the Mac: a freeware version and a paid version called “Pro.” Pro costs $29.99 for a perpetual licence and adds both compression and encryption features.
Round One Thoughts
The ability to store files both locally and remotely in the cloud is a huge advantage when backing up data. Local storage means you have an copy of your data close at hand, which can be restored more quickly, especially if you’re able to take advantage of your Mac’s Thunderbolt 2 connectivity.
Remote, cloud storage, meanwhile, means you have a copy of your data backed up in a secure data center. There, your data gets backed up on redundant servers in case one server fails, and server facilities are generally built withstand both natural disasters and virtual attacks. Remote storage also means you can access your data from anywhere.
Read more about the advantages of local versus cloud storage — and why they’re better together — here.
Time Machine provides only local storage backup, so let’s count it out for this round.
Of the three, remaining services, Duplicati provides the best selection of consumers and business cloud storage integrations, with options ranging from Dropbox Plus to Amazon S3. Also, its free.
Round One Winner: Duplicati
Round Two: Backup Features
During our second round, we’ll take a look at basic backup capabilities and provide you with a look at the user experience at the same time.
Time Machine provides a straightforward means of setting up backup plans with its straightforward wizard. Just start the application and it’ll walk you through everything.
The first step is to select a backup disk location. You’ll need to have your external hard drive connected via USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt to your Mac before doing so. Alternatively, you can select a Time Capsule or macOS server on your network, or connect your external storage to an Apple Airport Base Station.
Once that’s done, click “select backup disk” and pick you backup option.
After that, your backup will be running. Unlike other backup solutions, Time Machine backs up everything on your Mac by default, though you can exclude files and folders if you want. It also takes hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for all previous months.
There’s also a button check box to encrypt files before sending them to storage and a toggle to turn backup off and on.
Beyond that, though, there’s really not much you can to do to customize your backup.
Arq also has a pretty basic interface. Like Time Machine, it’s pretty drab, but it gets the job done.
Start it up and pick the cloud storage or local destination you want to backup to. If you’re going with a service like Amazon S3 or Google Cloud, you’ll need to enter you access key information, which you get from the service itself.
If you’re using a service like Google Drive or Dropbox, you just need to sign into your cloud storage account.
Arq will automatically certain folders for backup like desktop, documents, downloads and pictures. You can edit those selections if you’d like, both at the folder and file level.
Arq compressions files to reduce upload size, which will also speed up recovery later. It also performs deduplication to make sure the same content isn’t being uploaded, and lets you encrypt files before they leave your computer. Finally, Arq performs block-level transfers so that only the changed parts of files get uploaded. This, again, helps keep things moving and reduces bandwidth used by the application.
Arq runs backup incrementally just like Time Machine. It backs up files every hour for the past 24 hours, maintains daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for every other month. There’s no way to alter the schedule, other than to force backup to run manually.
Duplicati takes a web-based approach to backup management and provides a generally more aesthetic look than what you get with either Time Machine or Arq, which is unusual for an open-source product.
Click “add backup” and Duplicati will walk you through setting up a backup plan, including picking a place to send files. As with Arq, you’ll either need to enter access keys or login into your cloud storage if you’re storing remotely.
You’ll also need to pick which files you want to backup. Unlike Time Machine and Arq, Duplicati doesn’t just tag everything for backup. However, you can choose high level folders to save time. Duplicati lets you exclude system and temporary files to save space. You can also set custom filters to ignore specific file types.
Next, you set a schedule. This is where Duplicati really starts to separate itself from Time Machine and Arq, because it gives you more options to customize.
You can pick which days and between which hours backup runs. You can choose to run backup every few minutes, hours, once a day, once a week or once a month. There’s even an option to run backup on an annual basis.
Duplicati also compresses files and runs deduplication. Block-level backup is not an option, though, which means backing up changed files can take some time.
Duplicati also has a command-line interface if you don’t want to use the web UI.
CloudBerry backup uses a desktop client like both Time Machine and Arq, but it’s much better designed. In fact, it’s better designed than Duplicati’s web interface, with a wizard that looks better, has more features and is just as easy to use.
It’s clear that the developers spend time really thinking about user experience and listening to feedback.
To create a backup plan, start the application and click “backup files.” The tool will walk you through the process, which should be easy enough for even inexperienced users to follow.
You’ll need to pick your backup destination. If that’s a remote destination like Amazon S3, you’ll need to acquire and input your credentials.
By the way, if you’d to know more about S3, now’s a good time to mention that we have a beginner’s guide on how backup with Amazon S3 works. Our guide not only shows you how to set up S3, it uses CloudBerry Backup as an example of how to actually get your data there.
When picking content to backup, CloudBerry Backup lets you either pick your entire Macintosh HD or select specific folders and files.
Don’t worry about grabbing too many files here. The next screen lets you narrow down the options with filter options far exceed those Duplicati gives you. The options include the ability to both exclude and include certain file types.
That means you could select your entire hard drive for backup in the previous step, and then limit backup to documents, photos and videos here to avoid picking up everything. CloudBerry Backup automatically skips system files already, although you can turn that option off if needed.
The only thing we wish the tool did differently was automatically select certain common file types like .doc, .jpg and .mpv so that we didn’t have to input them manually. Still, we like the feature.
CloudBerry Backup also has a compression feature to decrease file sizes. The program can also encrypt files client-side before being sent to the cloud using AES. Another option is the ability to set up your own file retention policy, giving you a degree of versioning control the other three services don’t offer.
The schedule options available with CloudBerry Backup match those of Duplicati, letting you set daily, weekly or monthly backups. You can also run backups in intervals as little as one minute.
CloudBerry Backup also supports notifications, which saves you from having to monitor and make sure your backups are always running. You can receive notifications by email when your backup completes or fails.
Once you’ve set notifications, your backup plan will be complete. You can monitor it and make quick changes from the UI going forward.
There’s also a “play” button to kick off a manual backup if you don’t want to wait for the scheduled one.
Round Two Thoughts
Time Machine and Arq are easy enough to use, but both have pretty boring interfaces and limited features to create backup plans with. Neither is in contention for round two.
Duplicati is quite good for a free backup service. We appreciate that you can set filters to ignore certain file types and create a custom schedule. If CloudBerry Backup could talk, however, it’d probably say, “that’s cute.”
CloudBerry Backup provides far better backup features than Time Machine, Arq or Duplicati. The ability to backup only certain file types will save you from overlooking files and save space at the same time. The retention control is great for dealing with accidental overwrites and file corruptions, including those caused by ransomware.
The scheduling features keep backups from interfering with your work and the notifications keep you informed of what’s going on when you’re not looking.
Round one was a close call depending on what your needs are. Round two isn’t.
Round Two Winner: CloudBerry Backup
Round Three: Support
During our third round, we’ll take a quick look at support channels and resources available.
Apple maintains a general support page dedicated to Time Machine. There, you can find articles on the basics and guides for troubleshooting. Overall, though, there’s not much information with just 12 total articles at the time this article was written.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can contact Apple directly. Apple has support networks in multiple countries, so be sure and make sure you pick the correct one.
Options for direct support include chat and telephone. Apple posts the wait times so you know what to expect; when we tested its support, times were under two minutes.
Alternatively, you can send Apple support an email or head to the Apple communities for help from fellow Mac users.
There’s no question the support options are excellent, as you might expect from a company of Apple’s size. On the other hand, the fact that Apple supports so many different products makes it hard to find someone knowledgeable in backup.
Arq offers email support should you run into any problems. We tested the response time with Arq, and got a reply back in just under two days. We’d have liked to get a faster response given the potential importance of backup, but that’s not the worst response time we’ve ever seen.
Chat isn’t an option like it is with Time Machine, but that’s not really a surprise given Arq’s relative size. There is also an option to send Arq a tweet for help, too, which we didn’t test.
Arq also maintain a support page with documentation. Overall, this resource was much better than Apple’s Time Machine page, with categories for getting started, backing up, restoring, optimization and configuration.
While Duplicati has done well so far in this roundup, support is one area that it really lags behind the rest of the bunch. That’s because it’s an open source application, and those tend to have very bad support due to lack of money behind them.
In short, there’s no official support page or support email. If you need help, you’ll need to head to Duplicati’s GitHub wiki page and hope someone’s posted an answer. Alternatively, you can open a new GitHub issue and hope for a quick response.
CloudBerry Labs maintains a detailed support documentation page and FAQ specifically for CloudBerry Backup. The company also maintains a Reddit page and is active on Server Fault if you’d like to access community help.
If you’d rather get in touch with a support representative directly, you can open a ticket with CloudBerry Labs. This ticketing system won’t leave you hanging; you can check up on your ticket status whenever you’d like to make sure it isn’t in limbo.
Chances are, it’ll never get to that. We’ve tested support response times several times, and generally receive responses within an hour during weekdays.
Round Three Thoughts
Apple has the advantage of chat telephone support, but getting answers for Time Machine can still be problematic. The company has too many different products and no direct line of support for Time Machine.
Arq support is merely okay, while Duplicati relies on a GitHub wiki.
CloudBerry Backup, meanwhile, benefits from being the the product of a company that specializes in backup and has many business clients. The support resources are deep and response times very fast.
Round Three Winner: CloudBerry Backup
While we’d venture a guess that it’s the most used, there’s little doubt in our minds that Time Machine is the weakest backup option of the four we’ve featured. It only supports local backup and doesn’t have much in the way of features besides. About its only redeeming quality is that it’s free. However, so is Duplicati, and both Arq and CloudBerry Backup don’t exactly break the bank.
Of the three remaining services, we have to hand Duplicati the runner runner up trophy. It’s greatest quality is its flexibility: You can use top-shelf backup storage options like Amazon S3, Google Cloud and Azure, or send files to your preferred cloud storage platform to turn it into backup.
While somewhat more flexible with regard to options than CloudBerry Backup, however, there’s no question that CloudBerry Backup has a better feature-set and support than Duplicati. That’s why it’s our number one pick among these four options for Mac backup.
Winner: CloudBerry Backup
That’s our position, anyway. We invite you to tell us your own thoughts in the comments below.
If you’d like to learn more about CloudBerry Backup as business backup option, read our SMB backup article featuring it, Acronis, StorageCraft and Macrium. It’s also featured in our article on best Windows server backup and review of best image-based backup options.