We’ll also highlight some of the unique aspects of IDrive that set it apart from traditional online backup solutions, including collaboration and sync capabilities more commonly associated with cloud storage.
While IDrive may not be the ideal cloud storage solution, its hybrid nature ultimately provides more value to users than Dropbox, making it the better choice for your money if forced to pick between them.
The Difference Between Cloud Storage and Online Backup
When evaluating your file storage options, it’s important to understand the industry distinction between cloud storage and online backup to make sure you pick the right product for your specific needs. Both cloud storage and online backup are means of storing content remotely. In doing so, both let you safeguard your valuable data and access it from different devices.
Cloud storage, however, is built primarily around productivity, while online backup is designed to passively protect your hard drive.
While cloud storage enhances work productivity in several different ways, you can broadly separate the advantages into three categories:
- Syncing: real-time, automatic file transfers between device and data center
- Sharing: the ability to invite others to access cloud-based content
- Integrated apps: browser-based productivity apps connected to the cloud
While Dropbox wasn’t the first cloud storage solution on the market, they’re largely credited with perfecting the user experience seen across the cloud storage landscape today. That experience hinges on a file folder downloaded to your device’s hard drive: content that gets put in that folder is automatically copied to the cloud.
Online backup sends files to the cloud, too. However, rather than restrict those files to what’s contained in a single folder, the selection options are much broader. A few backup providers like Backblaze save files to the cloud based on file type. Most providers work like IDrive, though, letting you pick and choose which specific folders and files you want to backed up.
Online backup providers streamline this process with desktop interfaces used to make file selections and schedule backups. Web interfaces are also offered to help you access your content remotely.
IDrive: a Hybrid Backup Solution
While the line dividing cloud storage and online backup mostly holds throughout the industry, it’s seen some blurring. For most online backup services, this means the inclusion of file-sharing features. However, a few providers — notably IDrive — have taken things much further.
IDrive not only gives you a feature-packed backup experience, it also offers powerful sync capabilities. Like Dropbox and other cloud storage services, those capabilities are built around a sync folder allowing you to connect multiple devices to the cloud simultaneously.
Dropbox even offers a separate allotment of storage space to help keep your work productivity efforts separate from backup needs.
The Battle: Dropbox vs IDrive in 2020
Whether or not IDrive’s hybrid nature makes it a better pick than Dropbox depends on exactly what your needs are. Over the course of five rounds of discussion, we’ll detail each service’s capabilities side by side so you can make the right pick for you.
We’ll start by getting generally acquainted with each service’s pricing structure and supported platforms. This will help lay the groundwork for a deeper analysis. In round two, we’ll explore how each service lets you store files to the cloud. Doing so will shed further light on the basic differences between cloud storage and online backup.
Then, in successive rounds, we’ll compare each service’s respective sync and collaboration capabilities. This will help establish IDrive’s ability to compete with Dropbox as a work productivity solution.
Finally, we’ll take a look at one of the most important and frequently overlooked aspects of both cloud storage and online backup: security.
Price and Platforms
DropBox’s basic plan gives you 2GB of free cloud storage. This is a nice way to try Dropbox out or take advantage of some of its integrated applications should you elect to spend your money on IDrive, instead.
1-year plan $ 9.99/ month
$119.88 billed every year
Save 16 %
1-year plan $ 16.58/ month
$198.96 billed every year
Save 17 %
Otherwise, 2GB can run out pretty quickly. If you need more space, there’s Dropbox Pro, which provides 1TB of cloud storage at either $10 per month or $100 per year.
Dropbox’s pricing is in line with its chief competitors, including Google Drive and OneDrive (read our Dropbox vs Google Drive vs OneDrive comparison). However, Dropbox doesn’t offer as many plan choices as those two services.
Dropbox does grant both non-paying and Dropbox Pro users the chance to earn more space through a referral program. If you’re a Dropbox Basic user then you get 500MB per referral, up to 16GB. If you’re a Pro user, you get 1GB per referral, capped at 32GB.
Dropbox can be used on unlimited devices. Supported platforms include:
- Windows (mobile and desktop)
- Apple devices
- Linux (Ubuntu/Fedora distros)
IDrive grants you 5GB of online storage space and 5GB of sync space for free. Separate buckets add value and help you manage your backup and work productivity storage needs without conflict.
For most people, 5GB won’t be enough to properly protect your hard drive, though. To remedy that, there are two subscription plans available with IDrive: 1TB and 10TB.
1-year plan $ 5.79/ month
$69.50 billed every year
2-year plan $ 5.79/ month
$139.00 billed every 2 years
1-year plan $ 8.29/ month
$99.50 billed every year
2-year plan $ 8.29/ month
$199.00 billed every 2 years
1-year plan $ 8.29/ month
$99.50 billed every year
2-year plan $ 8.29/ month
$199.00 billed every 2 years
1-year plan $ 16.62/ month
$199.50 billed every year
2-year plan $ 16.62/ month
$399.00 billed every 2 years
1-year plan $ 41.62/ month
$499.50 billed every year
2-year plan $ 41.62/ month
$999.00 billed every 2 years
1-year plan $ 66.62/ month
$799.50 billed every year
2-year plan $ 66.62/ month
$1599.00 billed every 2 years
1-year plan $ 124.96/ month
$1499.50 billed every year
2-year plan $ 93.73/ month
$2249.50 billed every 2 years
Save 25 %
1-year plan $ 249.96/ month
$2999.50 billed every year
2-year plan $ 249.96/ month
$5999.00 billed every 2 years
Both plans include matching buckets of online storage and sync space, so you’re really getting 2TB or 20TB to work with.
Other than the fact that it supports sync, the key benefit that separates IDrive from many of its online backup competitors, including Backblaze and Crashplan, is that it doesn’t limit how many devices you can backup.
IDrive also supports mobile device backup, which many online backup services do not.
Platforms currently supported by IDrive include:
- Windows (mobile and desktop)
- Apple devices
Round One Review
Both Dropbox and IDrive offer 1TB storage plans. However, IDrive’s plan comes at a lower annual cost and really gives you 2TB — even though those terabytes are divided between online backup and sync space.
IDrive also has the advantage of offering a 10TB plan, while Dropbox limits you to 1TB. Dropbox offers a monthly payment option and Linux desktop support, but in terms of overall cost-to-storage value IDrive has more to offer.
File Storage Process
As discussed, transfer of files from device to the cloud with Dropbox is built around its sync folder. This folder is created in your device’s file system when you install Dropbox.
It looks and behaves just like any other folder but with one major difference: content moved into this folder is stored on both your hard drive and in the cloud. This dual-storage system makes it possible to synchronize content across multiple devices.
Rather than move folders into your sync folder on your desktop, files can also be uploaded through the Dropbox web interface. Just click the “upload” icon near the top of the interface and you can pick and choose the files you want to save.
It’s important to note that uploads through the interface create a copy of that file in your sync folder, however. The file in the source location is not synced.
The fact that Dropbox forces you to move files linked to the cloud to your sync folder is part of what makes it a bad choice for backing up hard drives: it doesn’t preserve your file structure. The other problem with using Dropbox for backup is that it doesn’t have a tool dedicated to managing that process, which would make it really hard to try and save every important file.
Unlike Dropbox, IDrive is purposefully designed to easily backup your hard drive. With IDrive, you can not only store folders and files in the cloud, you can copy your device’s file structure there for later drive restorations.
Even better, the entire process is managed through a feature-packed desktop client.
From the client interface, you can tag files and folders that you want IDrive to keep. Upon installation, IDrive will also automatically scan your hard drive and pick a few common folders it thinks should be imaged.
Another nice thing about the desktop client is that it lets you schedule routine backups. That way you can plan big uploads for when you’re not working. Such flexibility is immensely helpful, since the backup process can consume a good deal of bandwidth.
During scheduled backups, IDrive scans your files and copies those that have been modified since the last backup was completed.
If you’re working with sensitive files that you’d rather not wait to backup, IDrive includes a continuous backup setting that sends file updates to the cloud nearly in real time. This feature is limited to content under 500MB in size, though.
Another key feature of IDrive is that it allows you to simultaneously backup content to both the cloud and an external drive. Storing your data both remotely and locally is the recommended method of protecting your hard drive.
Since initial backups can take days or even weeks to complete over an Internet connection, IDrive also offers subscribers use of a free mailing service called IDrive Express. With this service, IDrive will send you an external drive to load your data onto. Send it back and they’ll transfer your data into your online account for you. IDrive Express can also be used to speed up full restores.
These features are all designed to help users easily backup their data. As noted, though, what makes IDrive somewhat unique among backup providers is that it also supports sync. IDrive’s sync process works just like it does with Dropbox by creating a dedicated sync folder on your hard drive.
Round Two Review
Using Dropbox is a decent way to protect your most valuable files but IDrive offers a more flexible and powerful solution.
By granting users the ability to perfectly preserve both their files and file structures, IDrive is better suited to rebuilding hard drives in case of a catastrophic failure, damage or stolen device. It’s backup management tools, which Dropbox does not have, simplify the process.
To better weigh each service’s sync capabilities against one another, I performed a few file transfer tests on my Windows laptop. These tests included the upload and download of a 258MB compressed folder comprised of multiple different file types.
Tests were performed over a wifi network located just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Speedtest.net results performed just prior to the tests indicated upload speeds averaging just over 30 Mbps.
For both tests, I just moved the test file into each service’s respective sync folder on my desktop. Doing so typically results in faster upload times because the encryption process executed via browsers doesn’t take full advantage of system resources.
Dropbox outperformed IDrive in both my tests but it’s pretty close. Depending on where you’re located in proximity to each service’s data center, the results could very well be different.
Both upload times will keep you waiting, even though they’re in line with what I would expect for a 258MB file. That’s why it’s nice to see that both services help speed up the sync process with block-level incremental file transfers.
With block-level transfers, when you make a change to a file only the parts of the file that were changed get transferred, rather than resending the entire file. Many cloud storage services, including Google Drive, simply transfer the entire file over again when you make a change to it.
To see how much time block-level transfers saves with each service, I performed another set of upload tests. This time, I made a small alteration to my 256MB compressed folder: I deleted the final file inside of it.
As you can see, block-level processing saves you quite a bit of time regardless of which service you use. IDrive applies this same architecture to its backup process, too, helping to speed along this sometimes slow process.
Round Three Review
As far as sync upload, both services performed very well. Most people won’t be routinely uploading 256MB files, either. Dropbox did perform slightly better with both initial and altered file transfers, though.
Granted, different users will likely get different results based on a few variables. Also, as we’ll see in round five, IDrive incorporates a more robust encryption approach, which likely contributed to the slightly slower sync speeds.
For my tests, however, Dropbox does come out slightly ahead.
Sharing and Content Control
Dropbox lets your share cloud-based content with others in two different ways:
- Create a shareable URL link to a file
- Create a shared folder
Dropbox helps you control access to shared content by password protecting links and giving them expiry dates. Both of those features do require a Dropbox Pro account, though.
Link shares restrict invitees to viewing and commenting. They can’t edit the document.
If you want to work together more actively, you can do so by creating a shared folder, which lets you grant edit permissions.
From the Dropbox web interface, you can easily monitor your shared content from two different different pages: sharing and links. The sharing page lets you check which folders and files you’ve shared. The links page lets you manage links you’ve created.
There’s a third page called “events” that lets you audit general account activity, whether by you or by a collaborator. Should somebody make an unwanted file change or accidentally delete a file, Dropbox also lets you recover both deleted files and previous file versions.
You can recover deleted and previous versions of files so long as it’s within 30 days of the event. If you’re a Dropbox Pro user, there’s also an option to purchase extended version history (EVH), which bumps that up to one year.
Whether in you backup storage or in your sync folder, IDrive content can be easily shared with others by generating a link to it.
Shared links can be posted to Facebook, Twitter or sent to specific recipients via email. You also control those links by attaching either view-only or edit permissions to them. Links can be further protected with passwords. IDrive doesn’t let you set links to automatically expire on a certain date, however.
IDrive’s web interface has a “shared” tab that can be used to audit what content you’ve shared. There’s also a “shared with me” tab to see what content other IDrive users have shared with you.
In case of collaborations gone wrong, IDrive lets you recover any of the previous ten versions of a file. Deleted files can also be recovered for up to 30 days.
Round Four Review
Given Dropbox’s success as a work-productivity solution, it’s not surprising that it comes out a bit ahead of IDrive when it comes to collaborative ability. The bigger surprise is that it’s not a enough for a clear victory. Dropbox offers better audit capabilities and lets you set link expiry dates. The optional EVH feature is also nice. Otherwise, the two services work pretty similarly.
To be fair, Dropbox does have a few other collaboration capabilities that won’t be touched on in this article, including integration with work-productivity apps like Office Online.
Dropbox encrypts user data being transported between device and data center with a secure TLS tunnel boosted with 128-bit AES encryption. Once files arrive at the Dropbox data center, they’re decrypted and re-encrypted with 256-bit AES.
During this process, however, your content metadata is left in plain text. This includes file names, sizes and dates. While this helps with the indexing process and enables file previews, it is something of a security concern since there’s a lot a person can tell about you from your metadata.
The biggest concern I have with how Dropbox protects your data, however, is that they don’t give users the option of end-to-end encryption. Also known as zero-knowledge encryption, with this layer of security only you, the user, have a copy of your encryption key.
The benefit of this approach is that nobody — not even the service itself — can unscramble your data but you. It’s because of this that we here at Cloudwards.net frequently voice our support for cloud services that do incorporate zero-knowledge encryption like Sync.com and pCloud.
Dropbox does give you the option to enable two-factor authentication to protect against weak passwords. Activate this feature and in the future you’ll be asked to enter both your account password and a security code retrieved on your mobile phone to verify your identity.
Like Dropbox, IDrive secures your data both while in transit and while stored at rest on its servers. In-transit data is secured with a TLS connection and 256-bit encryption. The higher encryption level used (256 vs 128) probably at least partially accounts for IDrive’s sync speeds being slightly slower than Dropbox’s.
Content secured in IDrive’s data centers — whether online backup or synced data — is also secured with 256-bit AES.
One of the best things about how IDrive handles encryption is that they actually give users a choice between standard and end-to-end encryption. Typically, IDrive will assign an encryption key to you, a copy of which they retain. Choose private encryption, though, and only you will have a copy of your encryption key.
With private encryption your data will be unrecoverable should you forget your account password. However, private encryption also provides the best possible protection for your data, making it worth the risk. With a good cloud password manager like LastPass or Dashlane, losing access shouldn’t be a concern.
The only real problem with IDrive’s security setup is the absence of an option for two-factor verification.
Round Five Thoughts
Dropbox does well to encrypt your data at rest. Leaving your metadata in plain text and not offering end-to-end encryption, however, should give you pause. That’s particularly true when you weigh in the fact that Dropbox was target of a 2012 hack that led to the theft of 68 million user passwords.
By offering private encryption, IDrive protects your data from such breaches because there’s no password to steal. This is a tremendous advantage to consumers and one of the most compelling reasons to pick IDrive over Dropbox to protect your most important files.
While IDrive’s offer of sync capabilities sets it apart from most online backup services, it doesn’t quite compete with Dropbox as a cloud storage option. That’s mostly because Dropbox facilitates collaborations slightly better. However, the two services are closer than you’d think.
IDrive does a good job with both file syncing and sharing. Thanks to an option for private encryption, it’s actually a more secure cloud storage option than Dropbox, too. When you take into account the fact that IDrive is also designed to perfectly image your hard drive, the question of total value tips heavily in its favor.
Final Winner: IDrive
Tasked with choosing between Dropbox Pro and IDrive’s 1TB subscription plan, IDrive wins. That decision becomes even easier when you consider that most of the benefits Dropbox has over IDrive can be achieved with its free plan.