When it comes to CrashPlan vs Dropbox, both are big name cloud storage providers, but their focus is very different. CrashPlan is all about backing up users’ data in a convenient and transparent way in the event of a… well… crash. To this end, it provides some excellent software that not only backs up data to the cloud, but can also be used for local or remote backup – perfect for fulfilling the golden 3-2-1 principle.
$ 5.99 per month
$ 9.99 per month
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The CrashPlan software can, in fact, be used completely free of charge as a very effective local backup solution, without the need for purchasing a cloud data plan. On the other hand, Dropbox focuses on file sharing and collaboration. It can do this for both Dropbox users and non users as well as other devices, and is famous for the ease with which it facilitates this function.
Both CrashPlan and Dropbox allow users to store their data in the cloud (i.e. on their servers), but it is difficult to find two services that are less alike. Despite the crossover in functionality (both services store data in the cloud), comparing these services is somewhat akin to comparing apples and oranges.
CrashPlan was founded in 2007 by US based company Code42, and is now one of the biggest names in the cloud backup industry. With a strong focus on secure backup, CrashPlan is popular with businesses, but also provides a robust consumer-level service.
Its “killer features” include the ability to recover uploaded data even when deleted locally, strong file versioning, and an optional “seed drive” service (CrashPlan will send users a hard drive in order to speed up the often lengthy initial backup / restore process).
Also founded in 2007 by San Francisco based Dropbox Inc., with around 240 million active users each month, Dropbox is the most well-known and popular cloud service in the world, despite privacy concerns following Edward Snowden calling Dropbox “hostile to privacy,” and the appointment of Condoleeza Rice to its board.
Dropbox excels in the ease with which it allows users to share files and folders. Unlike CrashPlan, Dropbox synchronizes folders, so when files are deleted locally, they are also deleted “in the cloud.”
Round 1: Ease-of-use
No one wants to spend time on the boring task of backing up data, and it is also vital that users understand what has and what has not been backed up. Transparent operation and ease of use are therefore the watch-words when it comes to cloud backup services.
To use CrashPlan, users must download its client software. From here, settings can be changed, such as how often backups are performed and which folders are to be backed up, etc. New users can just hit the ‘start backup’ link, which in Windows uses the default settings of backing up their user folder every 15 minutes. From then on, everything is automated, and CrashPlan works quietly in the background, transparently backing up data at the specified time intervals.
To restore lost data, customers can use the client or sign-in to the CrashPlan website and select which files and folders they wish to restore based on time and date the backup was made. This simple setup also makes for a very robust file versioning system – simply download the file version from the preferred backup. Backups can be made to any computer (or mobile device).
When the Dropbox client is installed, it creates a new Dropbox folder (in Windows, this is in the user folder). This folder behaves just like any other normal folder, except that it is mirrored in real-time on the Dropbox servers. Any files placed into it are immediately (bandwidth permitting) uploaded to the cloud, and files deleted or moved out of the folder locally are deleted from the cloud.
All files and folders in the Dropbox folder can be accessed through the web interface or by any device with the software installed, making Dropbox great for sharing files across different computers and devices. Folders stored on Dropbox can be shared with other users so that they appear in their Dropbox folders as if they were via Instant Message, etc.
Dropbox integrates with a computer’s OS, allowing sharing and versioning with a right-click of the mouse. Speaking of versioning, every time that a file is changed, Dropbox makes a new copy, but old versions are saved and can be viewed and downloaded. The mobile app also makes it possible to automatically upload every photo taken to the cloud for effortless backup, which is a great feature.
Round 1 Winner: Dropbox (but apples and oranges)
CrashPlan does its job well, and after initial setup, is almost completely transparent in use, but we feel the simplicity and elegance of having a folder that mirrors onto the cloud is hard to beat. This is a little unfair as a comparison, though, as each service fundamentally aims to achieve different things.
Round 2: Reliability
We backed up 10 GB of random data, and then attempted to restore this data as if we had had a computer crash.
One of the best things about CrashPlan is that the software can also be used to make backups to local hard disks or NAS drives (or even a friends’ computer!), making it perfect for 3-2-1 backups (and the software can be used for free to make non-cloud backups).
$ 5.99 Monthly
$ 59.99 (-17%)
Includes 1 computer. 448-bit personal encryption key.
$ 13.99 Monthly
$ 149.99 (-11%)
Same as Individual plan. Best plan for 2-10 computers.
$ 10 Monthly
Includes: Real time dashboard/reporting and user level access. File sharing and syncing available through Shareplan.
We found that restoring files in our dummy-crash was ridiculously easy – just select the folders and/or individual files to be restored (using either the client or web interface), hit “Restore” and all files downloaded without a hitch.
Individual files and folders can be downloaded from the web interface, but the simplest way to restore files after a crash is to re-install the software.
|Dropbox Basic||Free||2 GB|
Free plan. Can be increased through referrals.
$ 9.99 Monthly
$ 99.00 (-17%)
Pro version with more sharing options (password protected links, expiration dates)
In which case, the newly (re)created Dropbox folder is repopulated with data stored in the cloud. In our test, all files restored perfectly.
Round 2 Winner is: CrashPlan
CrashPlan just has the edge in terms of ease-of-use when it comes to restoring from the cloud, but its local/NAS/backup and to a friend features makes it a hands down winner when it comes to keeping your data safe.
Round 3: Speed
How quickly data is backed up is a major issue, especially when performing an initial backup. We tested using our 10 GB test folder on a 20MB/s down / 2 MB/s up UK connection.
CrashPlan uploaded the data at a steady 1.1 MB/s, taking around 24 hours to upload the full 10GB, and full restore took a couple of hours. As discussed in the features section below, CrashPlan’s “seed drive” service will deliver a hard drive to customers and pick it up when done, making their initial backup (and restore, if needed) much faster.
Dropbox was slower in uploading data, taking around 35 hours, with upload speeds never exceeding 200 KB/s. As with CrashPlan, downloading the test folder took around two hours.
Round 3 Winner is: CrashPlan
Round 4: Features
Comparing features between cloud services is always tricky – especially when they set out to do different things. How do you compare a feature-rich service with one that does just one thing, but does it very well? This problem is never more evident than when comparing CrashPlan vs Dropbox, as CrashPlan is a straight data-backup service (and software tool), while Dropbox is primarily a file sharing and collaboration tool. We shall, nevertheless, try.
CrashPlan: Features Overview
CrashPlan provides a wealth of backup-related features and functionality. Its software can be used for free to automatically backup data to local media (e.g. external hard drives), remote locations (e.g. NAS drives), or even to a friend’s computer. It lacks any real sharing features, although individual files and folders can be downloaded to any device using the web interface or CrashPlan’s client/app.
- Triple Destination Protection – allows you to use cloud backup, local backup and peer-to-peer backup in one client
- Unlimited data backup
- High level of security (448-bit) (but closed source)
- Mobile access to files
- Continuous backup protection
- Local and remote backup
- Deleted file protection (CrashPlan keeps your files even if you delete them from your computer)
- Seeded backup
As already mentioned, one of CrashPlan’s more interesting features is its “seeded backup” service. This is not included in the standard plan, and is only available to customers in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and all overseas US Armed Forces PO, and covers initial backups only, but could nevertheless be very useful to those needing a quick backup and restore solution.
Seeded backup costs a one time fee of $124.99, while the emergency restore-to-door service costs $164.99.
Dropbox: Freatures Overview
The popularity of Dropbox rests on how easy it makes sharing files across devices and with other people, although its full desktop integration is another powerful factor.
- Fantastic integration with desktop OS
- Mobile access to files
- Data protected by SSL and AES-256
- Two-step verification available
- Real-time backup of files
- Easy to share files using a link
- Easy to share folders with other Dropbox users
- Auto-backup of photos from mobile device
- Robust file versioning
Users can simply drop or save files into the Dropbox folder at work, and when they get home, the files are sitting in their home computer’s Dropbox folder, as are any folders shared with them by friends or colleagues. Sharing a file is simply a matter of right-clicking on it, selecting ‘Share Dropbox link’ and pasting the link into an email, etc.
Round 4 Winner is: A Draw
It really does depend on what you are looking for.
Round 5: Security
With everything from Edward Snowden’s revelations that any unaccountable government organizations are spying on everything everybody does on the internet, to the recent celebrity nudes scandal, it is clear that the security of our data is of utmost importance.
CrashPlan encrypts all data client side (before uploading) using proprietary 448-bit encryption (128-bit for free customers). Because CrashPlan is a US based company, data stored with it will almost certainly be monitored by the NSA, and Code42 can be required to hand over data to US authorities (even if not stored on US servers) under the Patriot Act or the FISA Act.
To its credit, CrashPlan does allow users to generate and keep their own encryption keys, but this is not enabled by default, so in most cases, accessing customers’ data is a trivial matter for CrashPlan employees (and anyone they are cooperating with). Even when users do keep their own keys, both the encryption cipher and software doing the encryption are proprietary (i.e. closed source), so we just have to take Code42’s word for it that only the user has the key.
Details of how CrashPlan implements its encryption can be found here. Users whose threat-model is simply private hackers and cyber criminals (rather than the NSA) should find it more than sufficient.
As noted earlier, and probably in large due to its massive popularity, Edward Snowden has singled out Dropbox as “hostile to privacy.” The service has come under intense (and unfavorable) scrutiny by security experts and has been the subject of a number of high profile hacks. The fact that ex-Bush era Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who is known for her anti-privacy stance, was appointed to the Dropbox board, has only alarmed privacy advocates further.
As with CrashPlan though, if users’ only concern is that their data might be stolen by crooks, then Dropbox’s security measures are probably fine. Connections are secured using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), and data is encrypted with the AES-256 cipher (the same cipher used by the US government to protect ‘sensitive’ communications.) For those wanting further security, Two-step verification is available. It should be noted, though, that encryption is performed once data has been uploaded, all software is proprietary, and it is known that Dropbox monitors content for pirated files, etc.
Round 5 Winner is: CrashPlan
In reality, neither service is ideal if privacy is a top concern. SpiderOak and Wuala are both much better, but they are also closed source. Cyphertite is open source, but is strictly a backup solution. Users planning to use either CrashPlan or Dropbox should seriously consider encrypting their data with programs such as EncFS before uploading it to the cloud.
With three wins to one (and a draw), CrashPlan seems to come out as the clear winner in this contest, but we do feel this is a little unfair given just how different the two services are. Put simply, for backing up large amounts of data in a no-fuss manner in case of a major computer crash, CrashPlan wins hands-down. But Dropbox is still king when it comes to sharing files across devices and with other people.