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Livedrive review

Unlimited backup but how long will it take to store a PC's worth of data?

Backup data button on a keyboard
Price
£3 per month (single PC) / £22 per month (basic business tariff)
  • Cheaper than most of the competition; Access to individual files stored remotely; Set it and forget it.
  • iPad and Windows 8 apps awkward to navigate; Service speed; "Excessive" bandwidth policy not transparent.

Promising “unlimited” online backup from as little as £3 per month, LiveDrive looks like an inexpensive off-site safeguard for your critical files. Is it a service you can trust with your data? And how long will it take to get a PC’s worth of data backed up into the cloud? We’ve got the answers.

Price plans

LiveDrive has a variety of tariffs for consumers and business users. On the consumer front, you can get “unlimited” backup of a single PC for that £3 per month fee – but only if you’re willing to sign to a two-year contract. If you don’t wish to commit, that fee rises to £5 per month (inc VAT), plus £1 for every extra PC you add. LiveDrive’s website is irritatingly opaque about its pay-as-you-go pricing, which doesn’t exactly build confidence in a company that wants to look after your critical data.

Alternatively, the company offers a Dropbox-like synchronisation service called Briefcase, which offers up to 2TB of storage starting from £7 per month. The Pro Suite combines both backup of up to five PCs and 5TB of Briefcase synchronisation from £11 per month (or £15 on pay as you go).

LiveDrive also offers two backup tariffs for businesses, starting at £22 per month for up to three users, or £75 per month for ten or more. The business tariffs include extra features such as team folders for collaboration with colleagues and the option to build a company portal to share files externally.

Compared to rivals such as Mozy, which charge £4.99 per month for only 50GB of storage, LiveDrive’s “unlimited” storage seems like an unbelievable bargain, but as with all services that throw that word around, it comes with a health warning. Livedrive last year cut off the accounts of up to 400 customers who the company deemed had used “excessive bandwidth/storage” – sometimes without warning nor any means of recovering their data.

When pressed by The Guardian, Livedrive refused to stipulate what it considered to be excessive usage, which gives the company a worrying amount of latitude to close accounts on a whim. Reports suggest you’d need to be uploading several terabytes of data before you’d push Livedrive’s patience – we’ve had around 350GB stored in Livedrive for several months without complaint. Still, once again, it’s hard to trust a company that operates in such an opaque manner.

Performance

Livedrive’s performance is a mixed bag. Our initial backup of 315GB of data took more than three weeks to complete, on a fibre connection with a 20Gbits/sec uplink, using a PC that was running for at least ten hours per day. The company offers a fortnight’s free trial, but we suspect most people won’t even have completed their backup by the time that trial expires.

Yet, once that initial upload is complete, the service runs seamlessly in the background. The PC client can be set to backup files in “real time” or to an hourly or daily schedule. In our tests on the same connection, a 681MB video file took only 2 mins 28 seconds to upload to our Livedrive. However, a 227MB folder of 32 PDF files took almost as long, at 2 minutes 5 seconds, despite being less than half the size. That perhaps explains why that initial backup was so tardy: it takes Livedrive longer to process lots of small files than it does large ones.

It’s easy to check that your files and folders have been backed up properly. The Livedrive web interface provides a clear Windows Explorer-like view of your backup, allowing you to check that the files and folders have been replicated as they appear on your PC. Photos and videos can be viewed directly in the browser, whilst documents can be opened using the Zoho online office suite. The Livedrive PC client also includes an integrity checker, which can be used to verify that the files on the PC match those stored online.

Livedrive keeps the past 30 saved versions of files, so if you’ve accidentally overwritten a critical file, it’s simple to turn back the clock. It also keeps copies of deleted files and folders for 30 days, which is great for those moments when a file mysteriously vanishes.

When it comes to restoring backups, you can either download a file/files individually from the web interface or install the Livedrive Restore client and restore the entire backup (in case of hard disk failure on your backed up PC, for example) or selected files/folders. You can also install the Restore client on another PC and download the lot or specific files/folders. It took us 44 minutes to restore a 7.1GB folder containing 320 photos on an 80Mbits/sec fibre connection, however, which means Livedrive should be regarded as an emergency fall back for full recovery rather than a replacement for a local hard disk backup. Again, you are looking at days to fully restore a PC with hundreds of gigabytes of data.

Apps and extras

Livedrive offers a variety of mobile and tablet apps for iOS, Android and Windows 8 that give you access to files stored in your backups - very useful if you want remote access to a file. All of the apps include a music player (although the one in the Windows 8 app is particularly poor), which allow you to stream albums and songs stored in your PC’s music collection, which is nice touch. The apps can also stream video files, although the streaming quality is so poor that you certainly wouldn’t want to watch an entire movie this way.

There’s also plenty of room for improvement in the design of the apps themselves. The iPad app is awkward to navigate, with a slide-out navigation panel often getting in the way of the content you’re trying to view. The Windows 8 app is equally awkward: click to view a photo or document, and you have to right-click on it before the back button appears to take you back to the parent folder. Everything’s just a little too much effort.

Verdict

Overall, we have mixed feelings about Livedrive. On the one hand, it’s cheaper than almost anyone else in the online backup market, and once that initial upload is completed, you can pretty much leave it running in the background and forget about it, safe in the knowledge that there’s an off-site copy of your critical files. We’ve been testing it for months, and not had a single problem. Yet, we find it hard to place complete trust in a company that’s not entirely transparent about its pricing or its “excessive” bandwidth policy, and the speed of the service could certainly be improved. We’re marginally inclined to give Livedrive the benefit of doubt and give it a qualified recommendation for anyone who’s not seeking to upload terabytes of data, but it’s a close-run thing.

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